MELBOURNE, Australia — My father survived the killing fields of Cambodia, where he was threatened with having his tongue cut out with a sickle for speaking his native language, Teochew Chinese. When he and my pregnant mother arrived in Australia in 1980 and discovered that their new country encouraged them to maintain their language and culture, they were incredulous. My father named me Alice because he believed I was delivered into a Wonderland, a place that allowed for the full expression of human personality and potential.
The White Australia policy, which barred nonwhite immigrants, had recently ended, and a new era of multiculturalism had begun. National policy mandated that at school we all learn another language in addition to English. There was an explosion of international food and festivals.
But Australia’s fling with multiculturalism was temporary. In less than 15 years, politicians began advocating assimilation for nonwhites. In Australia today, the discussion around race and immigration has deteriorated to the point where many politicians no longer appear to believe that assimilation is even possible.
Racism has returned to the front of public discourse. Visiting Australia this week, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, condemned Australian politicians for “xenophobic hate speech.”