"Our identity is at once plural and partial.
Sometimes we feel that we straddle two cultures;
at other times, we fall between two stools."
What does it mean to be both?
As an Asian-Australian, I stand on the hyphen that both connects and separates. I am Rushdie’s subject, standing within two cultures, whilst simultaneously falling between. I struggle to navigate the bothness of which I am composed. This bothness which makes me fuller, stronger; this bothness which sees me diminished, attacked, or flattened to stereotype.
In 1901, the year of Australia’s foundation, one of the first pieces of legislation introduced to the federal parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act, a policy that specifically targeted Asian immigration into Australia. It remained a fundamental government policy well into the mid-20th century. Our ostensibly boundless plains to share, ripped so violently from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, were only to be shared amongst an ideal white populace.
We now live in a country where 'migrants' and their children make up over 25% of our population. Though the Immigration Restriction Act was gradually dismantled by successive policies and dissolved in 1966, nearly thirty years later Pauline Hanson informed Australians they were in danger of being ‘swamped by Asians.’ Yet if we consider the representation of Asian-Australians today, the wave Hanson once promised seems but a trickle. Flick on the television and we’re lucky to see a glimpse of ourselves in the white-washed Australian imagination. Australia seems still so very keen to present herself as the monoculture constructed in the year of our federation.
Our hyphens—our identities—have largely been refused or erased from the Australian cultural imagination. This erasure is a violence we must refuse. Increasing the visibility of Asian-Australians will not completely counteract this violence, but opening spaces for expression and representation is an integral part of this process.
Liminal magazine will host interviews with Asian-Australians to explore questions of race, representation, and identity; what does it mean to be Asian-Australian in 2017? How does it feel? What does it look like? The subjects interviewed by Liminal will span a range of disciplines and fields—from visual art, illustration, photography and fashion to performance, poetry, dance, writing, and beyond.
I have named this project Liminal because the word escapes simple, singular definition. As well as a ‘boundary’ or ‘threshold’, liminal can also mean ‘transitional’, or ‘initial stage of a process’. Asian-Australians are still on the boundaries of representation. This project is just a small part of a larger movement to reclaim our hyphenated identities. To stand in two places and yet fall between—to build a community in this interstitial space. To be seen as we are: not as halves, but as beautiful, complex and whole.
So. What constitutes Asian-Australian? Where is Asian-Australia?
Liminal does not set out with an answer to these questions in mind, nor do we have a definitive destination. We hope that you will join us in this process of discovery. For Asian-Australians are here—and we are ready to define ourselves, in a million possible ways.
Leah Jing McIntosh