Sara Burke says she is often asked whether she is of 'mixed' descent — but what does that even mean?

In the cultural melting pot that is Australia, we are all to some extent “mixed” — whatever that means, writes Sara Burke.

Are you mixed?” he unabashedly interjected as I turned the last page of a Kundera classic. 

It was an ideal day to bake and blatantly study the high proportion of shirtless men who tend to pervade the Flagstaff Gardens. Somehow, explaining my ethnic lineage to a lycra-clad stranger wasn’t high on my to-do list.   

You mean, of Asian descent?” I clarified—knowing perfectly well what he meant. 

It wasn’t the first time someone had presumed this cultural identity of me in the past week.

What is it?” I queried my Singaporean friend when—upon first meeting—she asked what my other “half was. 

Sure I have black hair and a fair to olive complexion, and yes my face is rather round, “but my eyes are blue!”, I proclaimed when she struggled to identify what led her to that fallacious conclusion. 

Although I would eagerly welcome the bilingualism and petite frame that typically comes with an Asian parent, I have no such relations. Or so my Mum says. My father is Australian with Irish extraction and my mother, Jewish American with Eastern European roots. Despite the diversity of my cultural background, it is not generally regarded as “mixed”.

But what does this term, “mixed”, even mean? 

For most of us, living in a nation built upon immigrants means we are likely to possess some "unAussie" blood. It is more common than not to have a parent (or two) born in another country.

(Image via yarrahealing.catholic.edu.au)

Take my housemate for example. Her mother is German and father, Australian born with English and Irish ancestry. This is what one could categorise as a “mixed” Australian identity. Yet at a cursory glance, her immediate German descent is disguised beneath what is thought to be a quintessentially Australian appearance, immunising her from the “mixed” label that I am often, albeit, mistakenly given. 

So why is it that my ill-perceived Asian heritage is considered “mixed”, while the actuality of my Irish and Eastern European background not?

It would seem that in the cultural melting pot that is Australia, we are all, to some extent, “mixed. There is no homogenous Australian identity and this is the undeniable beauty of our country.

Perhaps a redefining of what it means to be “mixed” is in order before the term is rendered obsolete. By reclaiming this word, we can stand proud in the unifying thread that ties our miscellaneous backgrounds together: that we are all essentially, a little bit mixed.

Harmony Day is on Tuesday, 21 March 2017. Check out harmony.gov.au for events in your area.

Sara Burke, 19, is studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne. 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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