Children's views of their migrant parents

There are certain disadvantages associated with being the offspring of migrant parents. These have been brought out most dramatically by those second generation writers the world over, reminiscing over their childhood days, which included the discovery that they are somehow different. (see for instance, Bloom,1986, Hoffman,1989, Webby & Wevers, 1987, Sebald, 1993). As Vitali Vitaliev, an émigré from Russia put it: "the emigrants from the Soviet Union are easily and unmistakably recognisable (even before they start speaking) by their gait, conduct and expression.." At some stage in their development children realise that their parents look different, speak different, eat different kind of foods, and in general are marked as a minority group. This often is associated with the realisation that they are also a marginalised group, one with reduced rights and poten-tialities.

The reaction to this discovery can vary considerably. For many it is a passing phase which may even help to spur them further, in an effort to demonstrate to all and sundry that they are as competent as the rest of them. They soon find that they can easily compete in sport, including athletics, football and so on. They may find they have a special academic or artistic talent, although this is not so much a status grabber among their peers as competence in sport. Their grasp of the host language will open up opportunities and vistas not available to their parents.

Often they may also find that their special talents, such as their intimate knowledge of another ethnic community may be put to use in their social studies. Their knowledge of another language would invariably be found helpful in learning other languages, as has been well established for bilingual children. I have mentioned earlier that the strong cultural value-systems entrenched within certain ethnic groups have helped in ensuring that second generation students do well within the academic system.

Having said all this, however, there are others who may falter along the way. Many second generation persons have wondered who exactly were they, being half of this and half of that. They may have vacillated between value-systems of two different cultures, and this could have a long lasting psychological effect. In extreme cases this might be the last straw leading to nervous breakdown (Briffa, 1999, Proctor, 1999).

I well remember a 25-year old lad of Maltese background, who had never been to Malta all his life, coming to the Maltese Community Centre in Melbourne, distraught and almost suicidal, demanding that he be sent to Malta! These rare cases merely highlight the tensions that simmer below the surface and that can at times lead to uncontrollable behaviour. It also points to the continuing need for ethno-specific services long after the actual migration process has all but come to an end.

Young Maltese Australians constitute nearly one per cent of the Australian population. They have become integrated within the fabric of Australian society. Some have excelled in areas, including sport, the arts, sciences, trade union leadership, and all other areas of activity. They have become unrecognisable from the general stock which has now become sufficiently broad to include a wide range of physiognomies, colour and sizes. It is no longer background and parentage that prognosticates performance, but individual ability which results from intrinsic values and acquired skills. These I believe is what they have to rely on in building their future.

Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999

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