Being a migrant has been one of the most important ways I think of myself.
My current blogs mark the 60th anniversary of my family’s voyage to a new life in Australia; 60 years ago our ship (ms Johan van Oldenbarnevelt) was a few days out of Aden (in today’s Yemen) en route to Fremantle, our first Australian port of call.
As with so many things in life, there are pro’s and con’s to being somewhat of a stranger in one’s own country. Here are a few of them.
In many ways I belong to two worlds, cultures and histories.
For most of my life I have normally felt quite at home in Australia and despite everything that has distanced me from the Netherlands, the land of my roots and birth, I love and enjoy the quite different riches of each in a way tourists and temporary workers never could.
It’s great to be able to move between two countries quite easily.
Having migration in my experience-bank helps me to understand and empathise with the many other people who have moved from one culture to another – whether by choice or necessity.
It makes me angry to hear others (whether recent migrated or descended from immigrants) being so hard on people who have come to Australia in more recent people movements (today’s refugees, for example). I’m old enough to remember that’s how some of my school mates talked in the 1950s about Irish Catholics, Italians and Greeks. A generation later the boat people from Vietnam were feared and loathed, and now the blowtorch of the frightened and excitable is on those wanting to escape from the Middle East, Somalia, or Afghanistan. When it comes to people movements, some Australians must have a very short memory: just ask an aboriginal Aussie.
Migration probably slowed down the corrosive effects of secularisation.
My parents came from a rich and mature Christian heritage: a Calvinism that had a heart for both God and people, as well as respecting the mind. Sadly, this blend did not do well in the cauldron of post-World War 2 Europe: as I see it, both the Dutch church community from which I come and many of my relatives lost the Christian plot, the core of the Christian faith. Or, perhaps they never really “got” the core, the good news that Jesus Christ has been to so many people. Coming to Oz has enabled many people of Dutch background to recognise, rethink and embrace the Christian faith, perhaps some for the first time. I have seen many Afrikaaners go through the same process in the past decade. (There’s another blog in this!)
In many ways I belong to neither of the two worlds in which I have shares.
There are times when I feel that although I belong to both I’ve never really been part of either. Culture is so rich, but there is a special joy in being immersed in just one, rather than half-in and half-outside two!
Migration has separated me from my extended family.
My parents were probably children of their times in their reticence to answer their children’s questions. I would love to have been closer to my uncles and aunts and cousins to be able to embrace my roots and genes with greater understanding.
Being a migrant kid set me back in some ways.
Let’s face it, migration costs, in both financial and social terms. Because of this, as a school kid I missed out on many of the things a good education should give us: a wide variety of experiences, from school excursions to sporting and social events. I attribute part of my lack of social confidence to this. But there is no doubt that my family’s migration and my father’s work gave me some compensation also.
I deeply respect my parents’ decision to respond to what they were convinced was God’s challenge to them (see last week’s blog). On balance, their migration was a plus, and I believe our family has always regarded it this way. But there has been a cost – so be it.