It is not hard for me to understand why people do not think of me as an immigrant. This label is usually reserved for the political refugee and those coming to Australia for a better life. I grew up as an American and represent one of the lowest immigrant populations in Australia. Why? The simplest explanation is that Americans generally do not immigrate. Regardless of people’s views on the current politics of the North American nation, there is not much incentive to leave behind the land of opportunity, but our family did leave it behind and in the process fell in love with our new homeland.
Most days this aspect of my story does not cause too much strife in my life, until the other night while moderating a discussion on the topic of immigrants in Australia at a Reel Dialogue event. Sharing the stage with two Australians from different heritages than my own, I realised that I was the only true immigrant on the platform. Even though the panellists were able to speak into the experiences of their relatives immigrating to this nation, they could not provide a first-hand account of what it was like to move their family to Australia from another nation. They grew up in Australia as Australians.
Our family chose to move to this amazing country from the United States by choice in 2006 and went through the four-year process of becoming citizens. Now we can say, we are Australians. We love it, but interestingly each day we get reminded that we were not born here. Despite filling out the paperwork, paying the legal fees and taking a test, one thing that has never manifested itself in our lives: the Australian accent.
Despite loving the games of AFL (GWS Giants) and NRL (South Sydney Rabbitohs), adapting to hot Christmases, our children marrying Aussies and realising that there is no place on earth like the beaches of Sydney, we still get asked the regular question, ‘So, where are you from?’
Due to that distinguishable American accent that is impossible to shake or hide, this is a question that has proven irresistible for people to ask. One might suggest that we try to put on the Australian accent, but they do not understand that this is an impossible task. Americans may get the Aussie vernacular down (How you going, mate?), but any attempt to do the accent is downright embarrassing to observe. Opposed to stressing ourselves about it, we just choose to live with the notion that this probing question will occur throughout our lives in this sunburned country.
Many may say this is a minor burden to experience compared with the discrimination that some go through as new arrivals in this country. This is true and this article is not to complain about this cross-cultural experience, but to state that this unique accent is actually a gift.
Not to be overly patriotic or showing pride in our heritage, but to relish in the opportunities this funny accent provides, because of the inevitable second question that comes, “Why did you move to Australia?”
This is the opening that is needed to provide us with the opportunity to talk about the very thing that brought us here. To share with the enquirer the connection to the work of City Bible Forum and talk with people about the bigger questions of life, specifically about the impact that Jesus can have on people’s lives. How this small means of crossing the cultural divide that allows for something more than a nice conversation, but the chance to share the most important aspect of our lives.
We love this country and the people who ask the question, ‘where ya from?’, and we hope they stick around long enough to ask the follow-up question and to hear the answer.
Check out the great talks from our speakers at The Edge on the topic of Crossing the Cultural Divide: What can we learn from each other?
While you are there, check out the other speakers who spoke at The Edge in 2018.
Russell Matthews started following Jesus when he was 14 years old in the United States. After high school, he obtained a business degree from University of Maryland and a masters degree from Faith Baptist Bible College. Russ worked in business management and sales for Pfizer and Gap for 14 years prior to moving to Australia. Russ enjoys working with the large public forums, Reel Dialogue and The Edge ministries. In his free time, he enjoys spending as much time with his family, watching films, reading and his daily workout routine. Russ is married to Cathy and they have four children and one grandchild.