Jessica Mohandes-Barg questions her ethnicity in relation to Australian Culture. She explores the challenges of fitting in or perhaps standing out alongside her inner-child.
“Quiet wog.” Have you ever heard that saying? I know it’s cruel in nature but nonetheless true. It’s puzzling.
Of course it was a belief I always mocked as a champion for nurture over nature. Maybe this affliction towards nurture stems from the neglected inner child within myself. You see, since I was a child I gripped onto the hope that I could be trusted with a baby polar bear. Logically it made sense that I had the metaphysical capabilities to raise a baby polar bear in the summer heats of Western Sydney to adore and love me simply due to my nurturing capabilities. Mrs. Baby Polar Bear (deep down I knew she was married) would walk with me to school everyday, share my disdain for loud and sweaty boys eating crayons at the back of the class and lie down on the grass littered with bindis with me during recess. We never talked but we were always bound; bound by our blooming and buzzing thoughts.
At some point the idea of Mrs. Baby Polar Bear left, she probably drifted off on some unfortunate sheet of melted ice in the Arctic. Other strange changes preoccupied my time as I grew up, like learning to ride a bike, perpetual sarcasm, the mystery of Tumblr. But the most puzzling of all was learning to drive.
I remember being 16 sitting in a car with a driving instructor who had a painful habit of producing garbled noises out of his mouth (his excuse for small talk). I distinctly remember his astonishment finding out that I was a Christian Iranian, apparently something more obscure and mythical than spotting Big Foot at Bunnings. It took everything in me to not swerve his Toyota into oncoming traffic putting us both out of our misery.
But he told me something.
Something that struck a chord.
“I didn’t know wogs like you exist.”
Of course you can understand my astonishment.
“What do you mean?” I mumbled, my eyes piercing into a telephone pole with the burning desire you only see in the eyes of students in week 12 of uni begging for it all to be over.
“Well, I guess you’re just so quiet. Oh! You don’t shout or use the word yallah like all those other people.”
Those other people. If I’m not those other people, then what type of people could I fit myself into? I feel like this is a great time to let you know that growing up, my parents taught me both Farsi and English, so I never felt excluded. I was the only Middle Eastern kid at my Christian High School but I never even realised until I graduated. In fact, I wrote in my highschool Major Work for English Extension 2 (thanks Mum and Dad for the English skills) about how proud I am of both my Australian and Persian heritage. As hard as it may be for both the whites and ethnics to understand. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been ashamed of my ethnicity.
In a way I’ve been torn by the fact of the existing dichotomy I am as an Australian. It never mattered how much I punched my puzzle piece, squeezing and bending the cardboard edges to fit in, I was never complete. Even in high school people helped me try to understand.
Maybe it’s internalised racism?
Maybe it’s because you can’t drive and don’t have a car to hoon in? It’s your fault for being mean to your driving instructor.
Maybe it’s because you are white passing?
I mean really white passing. White! Me. No way! No? Surely not, I mean I did tick that box in Naplan that one time… but you’ve got to understand there was no Middle Eastern option, it was either tick ‘white’ or tick ‘other’.
There is nothing worse than being other.
I suppose the saying is right. I am not an Iranian born in Australia who becomes an Australian. I am just an Iranian who was born in Australia. When you have no space to exist you always believe you are taking up too much space. My puzzle piece will never fit in with the thong-wearing Aussies and will also never be squeezed in with the Adidas tracksuit wearing Wogs.
It can be confusing, all these paradoxes and contradictions. It’s hard to know when I stopped being the child raising Mrs. Baby Polar Bear like a single mother and when I woke up and started questioning my identity as another sunburnt Australian.
All I know is that this is my voice, whether I want it or not.