Friday, October 9, 2009

Fierce loyalty

When I was conscripted I took 5 paperback books with me. The army is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, never something I was much good at. A paperback in the magazine-pocket of my 'browns' kept my sanity and, sadly for everyone else, my sense of humour. I can still quote swathes of most of them. One was Algis Budrys's 'Rogue Moon'. At one stage of the book the US government needs someone utterly trustable. So they turn to an immigrant from Eastern Europe - with the 'fierce patriotism of the New American'. It took me a while to understand this (I was only 17 and liked to think about things. I'm not 17 any more): but in a nutshell as a new settler the man was both intensely aware of the contrast between his birth country and his new home, and intensely grateful for being taken into it, and had a fierce desire to become more American than American.

Now I gather that is not so true in the US any more, with an odd 'well, America owes me' rationalisation among some migrants, who don't want to learn the language and fit in to the society and culture - bringing their own failed country with them, living in self-created ghettoes and resenting the country they now live in. To which I say: if you don't want to be there: go home. Money is not sufficient reason for that misery, and the one thing you as a foreigner migrant don't have is any entitlement at all. (If you were born there, your parents (and possibly their parents) taxes and probably blood spilled for the country 'paid' for your citizenship.) If you weren't, be glad if they'll have you.

In my search for drivers licence Info yesterday I went to the site - and happened to look at the citizenship tab, and follow it again. Now B and I intend to become citizens as soon as we possibly can - I think 4 years if memory serves (that's what I was looking up). On the site, that day (they seem to change them) was an audio of Bryce Courtney speaking about Australian citizenship. It plainly meant so much to him that he was unable to keep the emotion out of his voice. He said something that called very strongly to me: About a country that wants and loves you, and how much it means to return those feelings.

I remember, clearly, when the e-mail from my case officer at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship arrived, and I read it... twice, to make sure I had not got it wrong. Australia had accepted me and my family. Given us, on the strength of my writing, permanent residence visas. I sat and selfishly re-read it again, and a fourth time, devouring those words. Then I left my office and went and found and hugged B for a long time. I found it very difficult too, to manage a simple 'Australia's accepted us'.

I understand, perfectly, what Algis Budrys was getting at now.


  1. Yes. I understand.

  2. :) I just hope Australia meets your hopes and expectations.

    Re: people who go to another country - often to escape conditions there, but then resent their new place.

    Much food for thought.

    I was brought up that people were people, no matter what their race, religion, political creed etc or lack thereof. And I see there is good and bad in all.

    Sadly, we have these in Australia, particularly as we take in refugees from war-torn places.

    People from certain cultures wonder why there is resentment against them - which has bubbled over into violence in many cases. I'm not advocating that kind of behaviour, but I can understand why people feel that way.

    My Vietnamese-born (refugee) workmate often says that when she has asked some people why they haven't learnt English after being in the country for some time - in many cases over 20 years - they will say "Oh, but I don't need to, I live in Footscray."
    She hates this, but also knows it is hard for them to see any reason why they should change. In some ways she thinks it's because they didn't want to leave their home, but needed to to survive, and they've created the kind of place they wanted their home to be, but because of political reasons, it could not be in Vietnam.
    I get that too, but what I don't get is that many such communities - and I'm not talking about the Vietnamese in this case - refuse to follow the laws of this country, simply because they feel they don't have to. I have seen this getting worse over many years, working in the courts.

    It becomes a catch-22 situation. A certain kind of behaviour is expected by each group of each other, and many think if they're going to be treated like that they may as well act the way they are expected. Which breeds resentment and further bad behaviour. And no matter hat efforts are made to change this, the resentment lies to deep.

    The other thing I think both sides need to think about is that people do need time to adjust to major change, but what is a reasonable time?

    I had a whole lot more to say on the subject and my experiences with it, but I thought I should spare you.

  3. :-)In one way Australia has fulfilled my hopes and exceeded my dreams. At the risk of sounding like a sententious ass:

    "Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion,
    commitment to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of
    egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and
    pursuit of the public good.
    • Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or
    ethnic background.
    • The English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society."

    From the Australian values statement. These might seem quite commonplace things to you, but they're values I've spent my life believing in and doing my bit to see happened. They're values I have never left. I am not going to go into pages of showing how these ideals (which were important to those of us who opposed apartheid) have been basically destroyed and how SA continues down a path almost directly opposite to these values, but it is so, and I do not believe it will right itself for many years.

    I don't expect Australia or Australians to be perfect. I expect some things and people to drive me nuts. I expect to miss some things terribly. But I have met enough Australians to realise that for many that's actually quite an accurate statement of their personal values, even if they regard me as a complete drongo for coming out and saying it. (Smile) You have no idea how wonderful it is to have a society where these are norms for the vast majority. Yep. There'll be bigots. There always are. I can live with a few.

    "In some ways she thinks it's because they didn't want to leave their home, but needed to to survive"

    The intrinsic flaw in this - and it's a hard one to accept, but I believe it true, is the fact your 'home' culture and society created the circumstances that you could not survive in. It is relatively rare (it would take take a natural disaster, an invasion, or being a repressed minority) that it is entirely thrust on you from outside. It happens, but in many cases the reality the society and culture contributed to it. So: does it make any kind of sense to move to a happy, successful culture in which survival is not an issue - and bring the problem (say apartheid. Or fundamentalist Islam) with you? Of course you will bring some of your country of origin's culture, food, manners etc with you. But where these clash with those of the host country, common sense says the host country should trump, or you should leave for somewhere you can fit in.

    And finally, there is the issue of gratitude and respect. If you could not survive in your home country - but can your new one, you owe it a huge debt. You owe it your life. That seems reason enough to be grateful, and if (as appears to be the case) the only thanks asked for is to respect those values, then you ought to give it a go to the best of your ability. To not try and do so is an insult to generousity of your host. It shows no respect and no appreciation. Yep, I know people are badly screwed up by having to leave their home country. But you don't take that out on people who helped you out, when you were in trouble.
    Hmm. I better stop. Sorry. Soapbox banished :-)

  4. Too many people consider citizenship to be a right. Wheras for you, and the protagonist of the novel, it is/was something that has to be earned (and is therefore valuable in and of itself). Sometimes I think Heinlein had the right idea. Or the Romans, for that matter.

    I expect some things and people to drive me nuts.

    Oooh. Pick me! Pick me! I volunteer. It's really no trouble at all. Anything I can do to help... <grin>

    PS: There is an extremely subtle error in the your translation of the Australian values statement. You state that "Australians have a commitment to parliamentary democracy." Actually, a correct translation from Australian English into British or International English would be "Australians believe that parlimentary democracy [referring to the politicians and bureaucrats] should be committed."*

    [* You should be getting to Australia just as the Bill of Rights argument heats up again. At the moment we have no explicitly enumerated rights, just a heritage of "customary law" and a contested inheritance of English Common Law. Oh, and judges allowed to make their own decisions on the law... Who was it who said democracy is the government the people deserve.]