Writing in Context
Growing Up Asian in
Australia &
Mrs Novak 2011
Alice Pung:
Growing Up Asian in Australia
We were called 'power points'. This is back in the
early 90s, when Bill Gates was beginning to make
his fortunes, so I thought, 'That's awesome, we're
probably just slightly more dweeby than most
people and all these kids probably think we're going
to end up doing PowerPoint presentations or being
Microsoft magnates...'
And then one of my friends said, 'You know,
Alice, they're not complimenting you, that's an
insult. Have you looked at an Australian
power point socket?' And I said, 'Yeah,' and
they said, 'Well, doesn't it
look like a
sort of
And I had a look at it and I couldn't
understand. They saw two sloping
lines down and one in the middle,
they saw a face, but the power point
socket was white and that's...
The pieces in this anthology – like Asian-Australians
are so diverse, and the beauty of the book is that it
shatters all stereotypes people may have about
Pung: http://alicepung.com
What moved me was the resilience of
our writers, their creativity, humour,
quirk and insight – sometimes against
severe racism, personal illness, familial
pressures and pressure
from society to conform…
Pung: http://alicepung.com
I wanted to bring out the common
humanity of our authors, so that any
reader could pick up the book and be
amused, amazed,
moved and
Pung: http://alicepung.com
All the writers in this anthology explore the
idea of being both Asian and Australian. Many
write of the struggle to reconcile their two
cultures, while
others describe
feeling excluded
from one or
even both cultures.
While some celebrate the richness of
the different elements of their
identity, many of the writers have
found establishing a solid sense of
Asian-Australian identity to be a
painful process.
The anthology shows how a sense of being
different can profoundly affect a child,
causing loneliness, confusion and very
often a desire to deny their own culture.
Sometimes, racism and cruelty intensify
the misery.
The writers present the difficulty
of coping with family expectations, and with
parents who cannot comprehend
their problems of identity and belonging.
For some writers, assuming an
Asian-Australian identity has brought
estrangement from the family and
made it more difficult to establish a
sense of belonging.
Some Important Questions
Does growing up Asian in Australia mean
combining the best of both cultures, or does it
mean losing something important?
How much heritage must be lost in the process of
Are family fracture and cultural alienation
necessary by-products of becoming Australian?
Many of the writers tell of seeing a
stranger’s face in the mirror. Feeling
Australian while looking Asian
creates a destabilising sense of
dissociation from the self.
Parental demands sometimes seem
harsh to young people immersed in
an easygoing
Parents’ efforts to distance their
children from Australian culture can
lead to crises in family
Without the means of
expressing yourself and being
understood, you remain in the
shadows of your adopted
country, unable to belong.
Learning how to navigate Australian
culture is just as important as learning the
language when it comes to
finding a
sense of
A judgemental society makes
it hard for
someone from a minority
culture to feel accepted.
An independent identity sometimes
comes at a profound cost, such as the
loss of one’s birth culture.
Some young Asian-Australians describe
feeling ‘culturally bipolar’.
For some of the writers, their appearance does not
match their sense of who they really are. This
strange disconnection is expressed by those who feel
most at home in Australia: often third- or fourthgeneration AsianAustralians or the
children of blended
Anglo-Asian families.
Determining who we are and where
we belong as adults is influenced by
both our past and our present, by
what we already know and what we
yearn for.
Finding peers and partners who
affirm us is a vital part of this. It is
not only Asian-Australians who feel
uncertainty and confusion during the
adolescent journey towards selfdetermination.
Witness: Peter Weir
In Witness (1985)
Weir provides the
film audience with
a window onto the
world of the Amish
in America.
An Anabaptist Christian
denomination particular to
North America,
the Amish are a
devout, peaceful
They keep themselves separate from the rest of
society, believing that worldliness in the form of
such modern developments as cars, tractors,
electricity and telephones will distract them from
devotion to
God and living
a simple life.
Predominantly farmers, the Amish preserve
traditional ways, wear plain, old-fashioned
clothing and have a strong, supportive
community spirit. This unites them
and creates an
intense sense
of belonging.
Witness presents two contrasting
worlds – gentle Amish farm life
and the seedy
world of big city
crime and crime
Weir’s film explores what it means to
belong to these groups. He shows the
moral certainty and strong bonds
that come from belonging to a group
which is different from the
Weir explores the role that choice
plays in determining identity. It
becomes clear in the film that to be a
member of a group is a powerful
determinant of your sense of self.
Most people define their identity by the social
group (or groups) to which they belong.
The Amish have resolutely chosen to separate
themselves from mainstream American society
and there is great support and acceptance for
those who belong.
John Book, his sister Elaine and the police
officers, Carter and Schaeffer, are all products
of a modern, complex
world which requires them to
come into daily
contact with
violence and
The film depicts the clash of these two
cultures and also shows that a growing
understanding between people from
different cultures can force a painful
evaluation of one’s own values, beliefs and
sense of self.
The groups we belong to show us and the
world who we are. We develop a stronger
sense of self when surrounded
by people who
understand and
support us.
John Book desires to do the right thing.
Book’s passion for justice is a fundamental
part of his identity and is expressed in the
career he has chosen.
Book’s strong moral ethic is shared by Eli. The
Amish community and its beliefs shape his
identity and give his life meaning.
The experience of belonging to a family transcends
culture and Weir shows, especially through the
character of Samuel, that it is a social group which
helps to form the
identity at crucial
It is not easy to gain acceptance into an
exclusive group. Book and his hosts both
understand that he is putting his real identity,
purpose and police officer’s ways on hold for
a while. Only his carpentry skills, which the
Amish regard as useful, win him acceptance
among the men.
Some Interesting Questions
What happens when your sense of
self becomes destabilised? When
people enter an unfamiliar culture
they often begin to question their
own beliefs and customs.
How difficult would it be to
adopt another culture
permanently and how would it
affect your own identity? Do we
freely choose who we become?
The film plays with the possibility that Book
could live his life among the Amish. In the
end, the power of their established identities is
stronger than their desire to be together. It is a
measure of Book’s greater worldliness and
experience of life that he knows their love is
Writing in Context
So – what, exactly, do you need to do?
You need to write an extended piece that
demonstrates knowledge & understanding
of both the Context (Identity &
Belonging) and the texts (Witness &
+ &
You can write in an expository, persuasive
or creative style.
You must demonstrate direct links with
one, or both, of the texts studied.
Your writing must fulfil the requirements
of the criteria.
Good Luck

Writing in Context-Pung & Witness - Year12VCE