Then and Now with Michelle Law

This year we have been featuring women who reflect on the past and the future for themselves and others as migrant women living in Australia. This WRAP we have the privilege to publish part of Michelle Law’s moving key note speech at this year’s Gala event.

Migrant women matter, they’ve always mattered, and in the current political climate which demonises refugees, permits inhumane offshore detention, promotes fear mongering about migration, and supports the rally cry that it’s “OK to be white”—migrant women matter more now than ever.

As a second-generation immigrant, I’ve witnessed first hand the struggles faced by my mum, aunts and grandmother as they strove to make sense of a foreign culture and its health system. In fact, it wasn’t until I started writing this speech that I began to fully appreciate the challenges faced by the migrant women in my family, and how this affected and continues to affect the physical and mental health of the generations that followed them.

When you’re a woman of colour living in a white supremacist and patriarchal society, forms of institutionalised oppression compound on each other: racism, sexism, ageism, classism.

It’s why I’m grateful and relieved that organisations like the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health exist. Their work is more necessary than ever before because it’s grounded in care and humanity, something that feels distinctly lacking amid all this political warfare and in fighting among the right and left.

One of my mum’s favourite mottos is, “Your health always comes first, because without your health you have nothing.” Which is ironic, because like many migrant women she always cares for others before she cares for herself. When you have a billion other tasks at hand, like working, child rearing, cooking, cleaning, transporting, instructing, learning a new language, learning to navigate the roads and public transport system, trying new foods, applying for visas, applying for jobs, or simply trying to stay afloat amid a system of poverty—health isn’t a priority.

What often gets overlooked amid all the victimisation of migrant and refugee women in the broader media, is the strength and tenacity of these women. These women were courageous enough to leave everything they know behind in order to rebuild their lives in a country where they will always be second-class citizens. They were willing to make that sacrifice for themselves and their loved ones, even if it broke their hearts. That is a momentous thing that shouldn’t inspire pity. It should inspire admiration and compassion.

If you wish you could spend more time with Michelle Law, watch Homecoming Queens on SBS.