Monday, October 26, 2009

Actually Asian?

I was born in Australia in 1940, in the country town, Grafton, that will be celebrating its 75th Jacaranda Festival from October 30 to November 8. My great-great-great-grandparents from Tipperary—the convict Patrick Hickey [1782-1858] and his wife Elizabeth Brerton [1784-1850]—had reached New South Wales a century earlier, respectively, in 1829 and 1837. So, my ancestors—like those of countless Australian compatriots—have been Down Under for quite some time. But there's a question that has often bothered me: Are we Australians actually Asian? Genetically, older generations of Australians such as my ancestors had few marriage links with folk from the traditional lands of Asia... although this situation has evolved, to a certain extent, these days. So, I would be incapable of saying whether Australians remain merely superficially Asian, because of the geographical location of our continent, or whether our nation has indeed started to be an integral element of modern Asia.

Meanwhile, for the last 42 years, a ten-member organization named ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] has existed.

They even have a corny anthem:



As you can see, Australia is not included in ASEAN, whereas most of our closest neighbors are members. So, I've often felt that we have there a credible answer to my earlier question: Are we Australians actually Asian? The answer would seem to be no.

Now, ASEAN had a summit meeting last week in the delightful Thai resort of Hua Hin, and Australia was invited along as an observer.

Prime minister Kevin Rudd even had an opportunity of pleading for the opportunity of teaming up with ASEAN nations in the establishment of a so-called Asia-Pacific Community. But he added a curious proviso. He wants to bring along a mate: the United States of America! Rudd's suggestion reminds me of my recent invitation to become a naturalized citizen of the French Republic. Reacting in the spirit of our Australian prime minister, I might have told the French authorities: "That idea of my becoming French is fine with me, but I would like you to also naturalize all my relatives out in Australia." I'm sure the French would have been intrigued and annoyed by such a proviso. And I can't even be certain that my Australian relatives would have appreciated this idea.

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