Being a migrant on January 26

I am no stranger to colonialism. My very body is an amalgam of colonial violence, I am mestizo, I am a racial mixture of Amerindian, African, and Iberian blood. My wheat coloured skin, kinky brown hair, and Roman nose are kept together by a Basque surname.

I can only trace my history in one direction, however. I know the names of the conquistadors who came to Latin America, I know the history of my surname as members of the Spanish Imperial Army that fought against Venezuelan independence against Simón Bolívar.

But I can’t tell you the names of the indigenous women the conquistadors raped as concubines to give me my skin. I can’t tell you where the Africans they enslaved and transported to the Americas to mine silver and cut sugar cane came from to give me my hair. I know only my Spanish history, my Basque history. There is a sense of loss in that which is compounded by my displacement as a migrant. I know the dissonance that comes with being a colonial body.

Which is why yesterday, January 26th, the day that marks the arrival of the First Fleet to Australia, and the beginning of the dispossession and genocide of Indigenous Australians, I could not celebrate. I went to work like any other day, I attended the Invasion Day Rally during my lunch break and stood behind Indigenous Australians as they mourned and displayed their resilience. After, I returned to my office.

I have come up against criticism for denouncing “Australia Day” as Invasion Day most strongly of all from other migrants. To them, Australia day is one of the only days in which you can actively see your own othered culture featured in parades celebrating our strong multiculturalism. A strong message of cross cultural solidarity, one that says to be “Australian” is a diverse identity that is open and available to us. Australia has been for the most part very, very good to us.

Australia has been very, very good to me.

Their criticism – that I should not bite the hand that feeds me – is still misplaced though. I understand the desire to celebrate this new home that has given us so much, but I cannot ignore the voices of Indigenous Australians reminding us that all of our privilege is built atop of genocide.

How can I on the one hand be aware of the genocide that created me, mourn the loss of my Indigenous and African history, but then celebrate the privileges I have that were built on top the genocide of another people?

When I was given Australian citizenship by the hard work of my parents, I received opportunity, but I also received responsibility and history. Australia’s colonial and genocidal history is my history as well.

 

If I am Australian, then I am colonial. And as a coloniser, I cannot ignore the voices of Indigenous Australians who protest Australia day. It is my responsibility as it is yours to listen, to stand behind, and to change the date.

Australia cannot become another place that can only trace its history in one direction.

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About Saúl A. Zavarce

Venezuelan-Australian journalist and international relations academic.

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