`That's My Australian Side': The Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality of Young Australian Women of South and Central American Origin

By Zevallos, Zuleyka | Journal of Sociology, March 2003 | Go to article overview

`That's My Australian Side': The Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality of Young Australian Women of South and Central American Origin


Zevallos, Zuleyka, Journal of Sociology


Isabel was born in Brazil, to a Brazilian mother and Spanish father. When Isabel was two years old her parents moved the family to Australia, and divorced when she was about nine. Isabel's father then re-married in Australia to a Chilean migrant. As Isabel had little contact with her Brazilian mother, she does not speak Portuguese. She was `raised Chilean' as a result of her (step) mother's large extended family living in Australia, and their family's extensive involvement with their Chilean community.

Isabel explains how she came to be `raised Chilean'.

   Because my dad's got all his family in Spain. And my mum's got
   her whole family in Brazil. But my step-mum's got half her family
   here. So ... I've grown up with a Chilean family ... I love it.
   And a lot of people think I'm Chilean. They get really surprised
   when I tell them, `I'm Brazilian.'

At the same time, Isabel is emphatic that she is not Australian:

   I've had this conversation before. Like, are you determined by where
   you're born, or where you've grown up, or what are you? What are you
   exactly? I don't see myself as Australian. I see myself as South
   American living in Australia. Australia's my home, but my culture's
   very much South American. And Australia's always gonna be my home.
   I don't really see myself as living in Brazil or Chile, from what
   I've heard. I'd go for a holiday, definitely, but no ... I don't
   see myself as Australian. I see wherever you're born, that's where
   your culture comes from. But there's also influences, definitely,
   from Australia. But yeah, absolutely, I would say I'm not
   Australian.

The case study of Isabel highlights the construction of ethnicity as a social process. There is an element of flexibility and choice in Isabel's ethnic identification. This article explores the social construction of ethnicity in the context of Latin identities in Australia, and the role of flexibility and choice in this process. It also investigates the paradox regarding `Australian influences', referred to by the participants as their `Australian side', and shows how the participants ardently reject an `Australian' identity, preferring to think of themselves as `Latin American living in Australia'. This qualified view of Latin-Australian ethnic identity will be discussed against the ideology of multiculturalism in Australia and its `lived experience'. This article will address the shortcomings of multicultural ideologies by investigating the implications of racial categorizations regarding Australian-ness.

Discourses on ethnicity and multiculturalism

The concept of ethnicity has long caused heated debate. For a long time the debate focused around the extent to which ethnicity was primordial or, alternatively, the outcome of instrumental interests (Banks, 1996; Hutchinson and Smith, 1996; Jenkins, 1997). Nowadays the controversy is more centred on the role of researchers and policy makers in promoting the idea of ethnicity to the wider public (Banks, 1996; de Lepervanche, 1980; Eipper, 1983). A further source of conflict is centred on the role that the ideology of multiculturalism plays in the construction of `ethnicity', ethnic identities and ethnic culture in Australia. The relationship between ethnicity and multiculturalism is fraught with contradictions and ambivalences, primarily due to its tensions with a national Australian identity (Castles and Vasta, 1996; Kukathas, 1993; Stratton and Ang, 1998; Vasta, 1993).

Multicultural policies (which, for the purposes of this article, concern only migrants' issues) were introduced during the 1970s following the former `assimilation' stance. The meanings and objectives of multiculturalism have undergone a number of contentious transformations both politically and socially (Lopez, 2000; Stratton and Ang, 1998; Vasta, 1993). Vasta offers four broad meanings of `multiculturalism' that operate in Australia. …

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