Finding my way
July 3,2023
By Frances Helena
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Being a person of colour in Australia, it’s the strangest thing but, especially being a mixed-raced female with a disability. I came back to Australia when I was twelve years of age (from China, Malaysia, México, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, we lived all over the world). I came with my Caucasian father and Asian mother and, as an only child with parents of two very different ethnicities and cultures there was a culture clash – both parents had different ideas and perspectives on how to raise their only female child in a western society.

Moving to a Western society from an Eastern society after a period of time, was a culture shock, especially to me and now having to go to school here. I was now exposed to a society where children could express themselves, they had an opinion, when they spoke they were heard, they could choose how their lives were going to be and, they could make decisions for themselves. This contrasted with my previous experiences living in eastern countries where children – especially girls – would stay with their families until they got married and women’s views and perspectives were not valued. Children would carry on this family legacy or inherit their parents’ businesses, regardless of how they felt – you couldn’t express your feelings. It was tradition and, tradition was never broken and, if it was broken, you bring shame on the family or you would be disowned by your families. Crazy right?! Well, it’s true and, to this day, my life turned out to be something I never expected but, for the better.


Frances performing with a Filipino association 


Now having attending educational institutions in Australia and making new friends especially with Caucasian people of my age, I became exposed to being able to express myself, standing up for myself and what I wanted. I realised that I had value, I mattered and, I had an opinion which is what I wanted for other females. As I saw women my age, being independent, taking actions in their lives – I saw empowerment! In many way I tried to embody this – while studying at university I worked three jobs and was hoping to move out of home. I became friends with people of all nationalities and this is where I experienced I noticed the different experiences of people of colour and of how we were perceived. One night a friend and I were outside near a corner store. A lady came up to us and, somewhat strangely, asked if we had shoes. To be honest I thought she must’ve been drunk. She goes on her way down the street and, then turns around and screams at me “Go home!!”. I remember not understanding what that even meant, until she quickly followed it up with “this isn’t your country”. By then I understood what she meant and it hit me. I finally saw how people in this country perceived me – as a ‘foreigner’. Having grown up with my British father and Filipino mother, race or ethnicity had never been a problem. But after this incident I realised that although I might have an Australian accent and have my Anglo-sounding name (Frances) as a person of colour I was and would always be seen as an outsider.

As the years have gone on this has continued to be prolific. When I go for job interviews the person interviewing always seems surprised – remarking or questioning whether I truly am the ‘Frances’ written on the CV. The added dimension of being mixed-race is that I have always been asking myself what I ‘identify’ as. At age 24 I found out that I was adopted. My mother told me that she hadn’t been able to have children and I had been found abandoned on the road – malnourished and very weak. But I was saved by God and, the family I had been given and, now I’m here, healthy, happy, have a university degree, know how to live independently, travelled the world, someone who wants to make an impact – so people who are like me can do the same – create, inspire and impact others.

Yet being mixed-race still seems problematic for some people. I am Polynesian, Asian and African – now that’s a cool mix I reckon! But the problem I face, is people still ask me stupid things like ‘which culture do you associate with the most?’, ‘Do you understand, what we are saying?’ ‘Do you speak your language?’. The answer is yes I do, I’m very proud of who I am, despite losing my hearing music – despite being depressed about having a disability because I thought, I won’t be normal now and, people don’t understand what it means to have hearing loss. When I take my hearing aids out, I hear nothing but peace, it’s silent and, you can’t hear a pin drop at all. Despite this loss of mine, I can still represent who I am (my Asian, Polynesian and African identity). I sing, I dance, I’m creative, I am able to speak languages other than English (even if it is not the best anymore – having lived in an English-speaking country for so long, my language skills seem to disappear but, it is something I can fix) but I understand what is being said. There are now many people who are just like me, who use their platforms to make an impact to represent mixed-raced people. Some of my favourite people, Dwyane Johnson (former WWE wrestler and actor), Naomi Osaka & music artist, H.E.R (recently won an Oscar and 2 Grammys). All these people are very proud of being mixed-raced, they embrace their identity in a positive manner and, people can feel that love, feel that positive energy that is needed today. We as a society should be encouraging this acceptance, as I feel other ethnicities and cultural groups do not accept mixed-race people because they believe we are less of a person than they are. When in truth, we are human beings who have been created so uniquely and did not have a choice in how we were created.

I remember a few years ago now creating an association at university and one girl came to me and said she wanted to be on the executive committee but, felt she was not capable of the job because she was mixed-raced. I told her to not let anybody tell who she was – cultural identity was from within and she was a part of our shared culture. There’s this saying from a Hawaiian animation film called Lilo & Stitch which states that, ‘Ohana means family and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten’ and, I feel we should apply this to everybody; particularly mixed-race people who sometimes don’t feel like we fit in. All these experiences have pushed me to keep going, to keep hustling, to never give up on dreams – keep believing in wanting to make an impact, for people to see what you believe in – and acceptance of identities.

About the Author:

Frances Helena (she/her) is an Australian mixed-race woman who believes strongly in addressing racism to call out problems and find solutions. She wants to educate people on understanding other cultures and ethnicities to stamp out discrimination.

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