Creative competition combats stereotypes and celebrates diversity

A creative competition on culture has seen students share their stories about racism, stereotypes and diversity.

Sisters Luiza, Marina and Juliana write about the 'Me, My Culture and NSW' competition they recently ran for their online magazine.

Image: This entry 'A Pretty Hidden Face' was second place in the photography category.

Woke has had the privilege of partnering with Multicultural NSW to create the ‘Me, My Culture and NSW’ competition. Our aim was to give an opportunity for young people to celebrate diversity, share their culture and join us in combating cultural stereotypes and racism.

We can definitely say we have achieved this as our competition was a huge success. We had hundreds of participants, whose entries were extremely insightful and of high quality.

When we started this competition, we had no idea we would get so many amazing and personal entries. The competition entries spoke of the concerns students from across NSW are facing today. Concerns that need to be listened to and be acted on. Too often our schools tell us the problem of racism is solved, the problem of stereotyping is gone, the fact that so many students are torn in half, stuck between two cultures and having dual identities isn’t even brought up.

From what we’ve seen this isn’t the case at all. Many students spoke out against racism in the classroom and at school and the personal impact it has, “You cared when someone pulled up the sides of their eyes, hollering “Ching chong!” (Josephine Sarayar).

Many described the racism they have faced, “They stole my pride, In my language, In my skin, In my face, In my eyes.” (Helena Chen). By speaking out, these students have done something most of us are too afraid to do; share their own stories, and fight battles that need to be fought.

Other students described the importance that in “an increasingly racially diverse Australia, it is imperative that Australian literature broadens its narrow portrayal of national identity in order to represent the experiences of all Australians” (Aalia Syed). Students challenged the perceptions of the ‘criteria’ Western audiences demanded and identified that “as we begin to recognise the importance of an authentic cultural voice, it becomes our responsibility to not repeat the mistakes of the past” (Yuden Sae-Ueng).

Australia has myriad cultures, it is a blending pot of languages and this needs to play front and centre when we discuss what the Australian identity is, “We can create our own diverse, rich and complex characters that wholly represent what it means to be Australian, dealing with the guilt, the racism, the unearned privilege in our contemporary world” (Aalia Syed).

Many students significantly identified the need for us to have pride in our diversity and challenge stereotypes. Students like Munira Ahmed in her creative and unique piece of writing described the “Coexistence of two selves” in young people living in between two cultures.

Robert Lin in his short film challenges traditional stereotypes in a creative and unique way; “the second casting manager then offers him a role as a 711 cashier, but only because of his race, symbolising the cultural stereotypes and stigma around Indians”.

Isha Patel through her photography entry challenges the racial stereotyping of beauty, "Are beauty standards really based on expectations or an undertone of racist stereotyping?”

We would like to say a huge congratulations to all the participants, winners and every single person that was involved! We’d also like to thank all the organisations who have partnered with us on this project, the judges who gave their time and knowledge and all the teachers who supported their students.

Finally, we’d like to recognise two schools that went above and beyond to get their students involved, Fairfield High School - Intensive English Centre and Bowraville Central School. Teachers from both schools showed tremendous dedication and compassion.

We would like to congratulate Fairfield High School - Intensive English Centre for being the school with the most submissions. Many of the poems we received from them were from recently arrived migrant and refugee students from all around the world, and we would like to share their emotions and experiences. They are beautiful to read and can be found on our website.

We’d also like to congratulate Bowraville Central School for working closely with their community and getting more than 30 of their students involved in a film that shares the Gumbaynggirr Dreaming stories.

We have been deeply influenced and inspired by all the entries.

See the full list of winners and the entries on the Woke website.

Immigrant Girl

She left her country and started a new life

Sadness was in her eyes like broken person inside

Her life was not easy but she is still fighting for her dreams

She lives her life now and is learning new things

Her heart is still with her father

But she is fighting for her mother

By Ramina Dawood.

About the authors

Luiza, Marina and Juliana Knijnik are triplet sisters from Caringbah High School. The trio run the online magazine, ‘Woke’, and organised the ‘Me, My Culture and NSW’ competition.
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