FILIPINIANA | IDENTITY

A merger of two cultures: what Australian universities are missing

Michelle Baltazar

Unlike in the US where Asian-American Cultural Studies is a fully-fledged course, very little is understood about the emergence of the Asian-Australian culture - but one Australian-Filipina hopes to change that.

Elaine Laforteza is passionate about understanding what drives people and how their cultural background shape them and the world around them. This is why she's invested nearly a decade at university studying Cultural Studies, with a double-degree in Media and Arts - and a PhD to boot.

What she's noticed, however, is that unlike in the US, which has a fully fledged stable of Asian-American Cultural Studies courses (particularly the University of Hawaii), Australia is still in its exploratory stage of offering Asian-Australian Cultural Studies as a course to Uni students.

"I don't really know about other states, but just from my research, universities in NSW don't seem to have an Asian-Australian focus. They either have Asian Studies or Australian Studies." 

One of Laforteza's goals is to convene, design and run such a course. "I believe that Aussie universities need to analyse that important and dynamic relationship and subject position; not just look at Australia and Asia as separate entities as there are subjects that do this already,"

"But in many NSW universities, a whole course dedicated to Asian-Australianness doesn't exist. As far as I know anyway!"

While she faces many roadblocks, including the continuing casualisation of academic staff and budget cuts in Arts across the board, Laforteza is finding other means to raise awareness on this crucial subject. She teaches Asian Cultural Studies and uses different Asian contexts in her other teaching, including in Introduction to Visual Studies, Gender Studies and Critical Race Studies.

"As a convenor of Uni subjects, I do have lot of freedom to adjust the given topics to highlight Asian-Australian examples and concerns when relevant." 

It also helps that she's got an attentive student base. In a lecturer feedback form, one student wrote, "One of the reasons why I enjoyed this course is the fact that I felt free to speak to the teacher to truly say what I thought and not what I thought she wanted.”

Another student wrote: “I really enjoyed attending tutorials because the discussions were unlike other tutorials … they were lively and friendly discussions that reflected her [Laforteza's] personality."

Picture: Elaine Laforteza (second from left) with her students.                                                                  

Elaine Laforteza (second from left) with her studentsAmong these students are aspiring journalists, educators, media practitioners and social policy experts. 

"I learn so much from meeting such a diverse group of people who have their own stories and different ways of learning," said Laforteza.

Blazing the trail alongside Laforteza are research networks, like the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) and Peril Magazine, which publishes articles on Asian-Australian issues.

For now, Laforteza is working to publish an academic book, which explores ethical ways of thinking and responding to migration and nationalism; and securing a full-time academic position.

Given Australia's highly polarised views on migration, her future plans are akin to braving a perfect storm. 

She has demand and interest on her side though. As one of her students once remarked, “She makes you want to go to class even though it is raining.”

Elaine Laforteza is currently a lecturer at Macquarie University, City Campus and University tutor at Macquarie University, North Ryde and University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

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