I have always felt a purpose within these white institutions, not for conformity, but a confrontation. It has long been the case us ethnic Westies have had our places questioned in spaces like Sydney Uni; but it’s in this very uneasiness we thrive.
Once you reach the outer fringes of Sydney, you have entered a new city entirely. Here, you walk through unkempt footy fields; you feel cracked pavements and balding grass under your feet; you pass peeling shopping centres untouched since the eighties–– here, the world is unphased by the changes of time.
Liverpool has been a site of immigrant housing since its suburban inception; like most Western Suburbs. Though, this immigration-intake policy meant I never felt isolated throughout school. I grew up familiar with international cultures since kindergarten; my best friends’ lolas, abuelitas and taitas would anoint me with love, with food, and with affectionate cheek pinches, the way my bà ngoại would. What I never truly realised was how we came together in these places with a shared story of escape. We, the immigrant family children, have grown to become the ripening fruits of our grandparents’ traumas and desires for prosperity.
Western Sydney is the most ethnically diverse region within Sydney, and arguably, Australia. The largest populations of non-English speaking peoples live within its suburbs, tracing back to immigration waves throughout history. A coexisting description of Western Sydney is its low socioeconomic condition. Regardless of Western Sydney’s nationally profound economic influence, the median income, standards of education, and life expectancy are profoundly short of the national average. In a political sense, the intersectional struggles that ethnic Western Sydneysiders face are systemic barriers to reversing social immobility. Looking at Sydney more broadly, the census statistics covering Sydney’s wealthiest suburbs are predominantly Anglo in heritage. It is indisputable fact that socioeconomic disadvantage is institutionalised under current neoliberal conditions; historically founded upon stolen land, and white nationalism.
The ‘battler’ stereotype has been long associated with Westies. Under this economic system, we are painted as being defiant against intersectional issues. We are commodified by our supposedly instinctive drive for wealth. This language used to communicate who we are is a feature of exclusionary politics. It is too common to hear of those who live ‘out west’; the ‘westie’ populace of ‘battlers’ who constitute a more ‘dangerous’ area. This language ebbs along the more explicitly belittling language used against low socioeconomic areas –– ‘povo’, ‘poorer suburbs’, full of ‘lebs’, and ‘asians’ with no manners. Of these sentiments, there is not one person I know from Western Sydney who has not experienced an offensive reaction to simply stating where they come from.
I ask our fellow Sydneysiders to remember that economic neglect of our Western suburbs is, in fact, the neglect of our more vulnerable, ethnic populations. Low socioeconomic conditions are rarely favoured. The Capitalist imagination of a fair reward for ‘hard work’ is, indeed, mythical. An insult against where I come from is an insult to my family’s history of struggle in this white country.
There is a unique power our ethnic communities hold. To view our stereotypes as limitations gives into sociocultural complacency. There is a distinct pride I feel walking through this historically white institution. The love in the sacrifice our parents and grandparents had made gives rise to our coloured excellence amidst these white spaces.
When I wait for my mother to pick me up from Liverpool station, I am met with sirens; junkies waddling in Tn’s; an old flat called ‘Demarco Chambers’, gold etched, crying dirty rainwater from its sides. I take a step back to soak in the truth of where I come from.
When I look up, there is a vibrant mural of a woman named Adi along an office-building wall. She is an immigrant mother now studying law at University of Wollongong campus in Liverpool. I am reminded that greatness comes from our resilience as a populace.
Within these suburbs live ethnic populations whose stories vary in struggle. The common denominator is the way those of us who represent our histories are surrounded with love. I remember learning love in different languages along my street as a child. There was not a cuisine or an ethnic-household aesthetic I had not come across. Within that painting of Adi, there lies the stories of Liverpool’s people. Our artworks drape along public walls as ornaments of our history. There are stories attached to the postcodes we carry with us, as signifiers of origin, and of home.
It is a place that remains unphased by its resentments. For when I pass the Quadrangle’s manicured lawns, I remember driving past withering housing commission streets. As I walk the halls white Prime Ministers and Chief Justices once took, I feel the burning pride of disruption. I itch for the day we see the Nguyễns and Muhammads engraved beside the Turnbulls and Gleesons.
My grandparents never took to the sea for complacency; we are revolutionaries by nature. I remember that my truth comes from a place of defiance.