Who am I without my trauma? Confessions and confusions of a part-time Asian Australian

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This essay is a revised and edited version of a keynote presentation to the Asian Australian Identities 7 conference, held in Melbourne on 8 November 2019. The essay responds to a request to consider genealogies of Asian Australian identity, particularly what it means to 'archive Asian-Australian identity'. My creative response is as follows.
What does it mean to archive an Asian Australian identity? Am I that identity, the object of the archive, the object to be archived? Or am I the noun, the archive where something called “identity”, and another related entity called “Asian Australian”, are deposited? I am ageing and I certainly feel historical; I’m not sure whether my writings and my life experience are still relevant to other Asian Australians today, or whether they should be quietly filed away in the archives, where other musty historical documents are kept. I need to make way, make room, for the present! If I file my life away, which life, which “me”, which “identity” do I store? Did these ever exist as something tangible in the first place? Or is being/having/doing an “Asian Australian identity” a process and a performance that, unrecorded, dissolves into diminishing echoes, a spasm and phantasm of phosphenes that, briefly, make patterns of starbursts when I close my eyes? And is it possible to be Asian Australian – or any other type of marginalised intersectional identity – without a perpetual stake of racism driving through my heart, through the heart of this fantasy called the Australian nation?
In this conversation, Dr Teo the academic, Ming the friend and family member, and Hsu-Ming Teo the novelist discuss, argue over and interrogate each other about whether they ever achieved Asian Australianness through their writings – creative and academic – and lived experiences, before compressing these critical and querulous conversations into a single historical file to be put away.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPeril Magazine: Asian-Australian Arts and Culture
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2020


  • Asian Australian
  • identity
  • Life Writing
  • belonging


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