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This issue discusses mental health and may bring up topics that can cause mental distress. If you or anyone you know needs assistance, please call Lifeline on 131114, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or 000 for immediate help.


Monbulk, Victoria – December 1996

She’s not my nanny, she’s my mum.

The first time someone asked if my mother was my nanny, my mum and I were in an elevator.  I was three and a half years old.  

I asked Mum, “what do they mean by nanny? And [why did] you respond to it with an angry tone?” 

When you look at me, you can see my Southeast Asian features: dark hair, bushy eyebrows, an oval face, and slightly slanted big eyes. And throughout my life, adults at parties and weddings would size me up and say, “you look just like your mum” while others would say “you look just like your dad.”  

This game adults play, to me, it was like they were guessing if I looked more Asian or White.

Moving to Australia

When I arrived in Australia, I can't see any people. The people in here, not all of them are friendly

My mum grew up in Marikina, Manilla, the third child and first daughter of seven children. Her father was a mechanical engineer living and working in Okinawa, Japan and her mother worked as a dressmaker in an American factory in Manila.

My mum left for Hong Kong when she was 21 in order to support her younger siblings, but she didn’t feel homesick there. Each Sunday after church, a massive community of Filipinos would head into the centre of Hong Kong, where a chorus of men, women, and children would eat and laugh together while enjoying the humid Hong Kong air.

In 1993 she met my dad in front of a ferry and started, according to her, “a long-distance communication until we develop a relationship after two years. After a disaster of a wedding in Hong Kong due to a typhoon, she arrived in Melbourne on December 22, 1995.

“When I arrived in Australia, I can’t see any people.”

Coming to Australia, mum found it lonely as the social interactions were limited. 

“When I arrived in Australia, I can’t see any people. The people in here, not all of them are friendly.”

“Even walking the street… I’m always being ignored when I say ‘hi,’ ‘hello.’ But in Hong Kong whether in restaurants or any nationalities, when you are on the street, on the road walking. everyone is saying hello. Hi. Even the old Chinese [people] know to say ‘hello’ and ‘hi.”

It was difficult for mum around social interactions in Australia, and those struggles unfortunately spread into her work life.

It Began with a Nosebleed

It all started with a nosebleed at my mum’s first job in Australia. When the irritation spread from her nose to her throat, mum visited a doctor. 

When discussing her condition with the doctor, he asked about a particular chemical mum was working with at the time. On the medical certificate excusing her from work for a brief time to recover from the bleeds, the doctor wrote that the chemical was the cause of her irritation. 

That’s when the threats from work started. They felt mum’s doctor was making an allegation against the company. 

“They’re threatening me, and harassing me, even leaving a message on [my] answering machine,” mum said about her co-workers. “That if you don’t come to work, we’ll fire you.” But they didn’t fire her, nor did she quit. 

When she returned to work, mum’s doctor instructed the company to provide her with a medical grade mask. But the company ignored this request and gave her a single-use mask instead. The irritation came back, and mum had nosebleeds again. 

When she explained to HR that the nosebleeds had returned, she was met with hostility. That’s when dad put her in touch with a workplace union and the threats and harassment finally stopped. 

This was my mum’s first experience with workplace harassment, something she had never experienced in Hong Kong nor the Philippines. 

A Place to Call Home

“When I gave birth to you, [that’s when] I stopped feeling homesick since moving.”

Since I was a baby, my family and I have frequently returned to the Philippines to visit.  Even though Australia was technically home, it was the Philippines that seemed to capture my heart, even at such a young age. But as I grew older, I felt that neither country was my home and yet, that both were simultaneously. 

The author and her mum, 2023

When we were staying in Manila with your second cousin. You never [felt] left out.”

“As soon as we took off (from the Philippines), you never stop crying. But we’re with Cathay Pacific [Airlines]. Most of the stewardesses are Filipinos, and they took you at the back because you are crying non-stop.”

“One of the stewardesses sings, what you call, bahay kubo (a kid’s song about a bamboo house) and you were enjoying it because you learn that song.  And every time you are upset, I sing that for you, [and] you stop. The (stewardess), they said, oh, you know, that’s good. You’re teaching your daughter in, in our language. So that she doesn’t have to be left out when you’re in the Philippines.”

Isolation and Exclusion

Mum and I see a lot of things similarly, and just as many differently. For instance, she believes that I had a good time in kindergarten, but I remember learning at a young age that any group I would join would find ways to exclude me. And unfortunately, this didn’t stop once I reached adulthood. 

I’ve frequently felt left out in Australia and believe that society here excludes you anytime you’re different. Perhaps this was one of the reasons that as a child, I refused to learn English. 

“You don’t understand English, [you] only understand Filipino. Uh language, you are really good. But for some reason, you decline to learn English. Even when I’m translating for you in English.”

“They have to call me at work because they do not understand what you are talking about [at school].”

To stop me from only speaking Filipino and not learning English, my mum stopped teaching me Tagalog – the national language of the Philippines – and I’m horrified that I have now lost the ability to speak or understand the language. A whole chunk of my childhood is locked away because I can no longer access my mother’s tongue.

I’ve frequently felt left out in Australia and believe that society here excludes you anytime you’re different.

Navigating Racism in Australia

My first word in English was a name… Jack. My grandparent’s lovely miniature poodle. I was absolutely in love with him, and he was in love with me. The thing about dogs is they never judge you no matter your skin colour or the language you speak. Unlike how I felt in Australian society.

I developed anxiety very quickly and had a very hard time in primary school. I was put in the lowest reading, writing, and grammar grades. 

While I do have some wonderful memories of those primary school years, it hurts to remember all the microaggressions and efforts to exclude that kids used on me.  And knowing now that adults have done the same to my mother, of course on a much different scale, increases that pain.

Countless times I’ve come across pockets of racism throughout my 26 years of living in this country.  I’ve found in Australian society that they tend to hide their racism under the guise of polite commentary. I’ve learned how to be whiter and how to talk to other white people. Even now as an adult, I mask a lot of who I am to fit into white workplaces.

When I first started applying for jobs, I noticed just how much workplaces here care about race. I’ve always noticed the shock on interviewers’ faces when I walk in and have noted the odd questions at the end to try and figure out my background. I’ve started saying at the start (with great pride) that, “I am Asian-Australian” which usually puts the awkward background conversations to rest. 

The past and future

While sitting with my mum and talking about our different lives – in many ways we grew up together – I realised the similarities as well as the differences of our experiences in Australia. We’ve both struggled to fit in, have endured racism, and have fought to be treated with respect. But in her eyes, I’m no longer Filipino and in the eyes of many Australians, I’m not one of them either.

While both my mum and I believe Australia is definitely becoming more inclusive, it’s still far from the multicultural utopia it advertises to the world.


Samantha Wheeler

Samantha Wheeler (she/her) is an Asian-Australian Freelance Digital Communicator and aspiring writer based in Naarm (Melbourne). She’s currently working with the Yes campaign, and previously worked with The Conversation Media Group as their Editorial Assistant and has diverse experience, working in fields such as digital media, science communication, and political research. She holds a Bachelor of Science and Arts degree from Deakin University, at university undertook an internship with the Jaipur Literature Festival, one of the greatest literary shows in the world, volunteered with the YMCA Youth Press gallery in 2021 and the Independent Publishing Conference in 2019.