Pencilled in

UQ science graduate Yen-Rong Wong took a leap of faith to start her own Asian-Australian arts magazine – much to the chagrin of her mother

The scarcity of jobs, the parental disappointment, science, literature, Masters, PhDs, being Asian-Australian, money and the great Australian dream.
Yen-Rong Wong invites us peek through a window into her life.

I have had the story drummed into me since I was little. Go to school, then to university. Graduate. Get a job. Find someone to settle down with, get married, buy a house, start a family. Work some more.

My parents came to Australia to provide a better life for their children, and this was the life they had in mind.

In their eyes, I don’t think it’s all gone to plan. Part of it may be our fault, but most of it isn’t – they had no way of knowing that their children would be priced out of the Australian property market, that jobs would become increasingly scarce, and that it would be difficult for us to even get jobs, courtesy of a culture of casual racism and an unconscious mistrust of people with Asian faces or names. Despite the odds being stacked against us, and even though my sister and I both live out of home, we are still very conscious that our parents still think the so-called Australian dream is within reach for us.

There is no doubt in my mind that my parents are disappointed that I didn’t continue on my 10-year-in-the-making career path as a scientist.

There’s a prestige in science, even if you make shit-all and have to stay cooped up in a lab all day.

The same courtesy is not extended to the arts – and it doesn’t matter that I still finished my science degree. I’ve chosen literature as my field of choice.Obviously they would have liked me to jump straight into a Masters or a PhD, but I knew that would be the wrong path to take. I needed to step away from the crowded, hallowed halls of university to give myself time to develop as a writer, as an artist.

But money provides security, no matter who you are, what you do, or where you live, so whenever I see my parents, the conversation inevitably veers towards my career (or lack thereof, depending on who you are).

When I was still a student, it was “when are you going to get a job?” – ignoring the litany of jobs I’d held since I was 16. I would remind them that I have a job – several, in fact. The reply: “No, when are you going to get a real job?” – as if jobs in retail, hospitality and administration aren’t real jobs. It’s a grotesque version of the “where are you really from?” question I am used to getting from casual racists.

Yen-Rong on graduation day

Yen-Rong on graduation day

“Do you mean a job related to my degree?” I counter, somewhat passive-aggressively. My Mum either doesn’t care or doesn’t notice, nodding in response. I conjure up something vague and we move on – until we get to the next question: “what are you going to do next year after you graduate?"

It’s always Mum who wants to know the answers to these questions. Again, I keep it vague on purpose, telling her that I’m just going to work for a bit, and save up some money. I’m not lying – I’m just not telling her the complete truth.

At some point, later on in the year, my sister tells her I’m starting a magazine. My sister also says she doesn’t really know what the magazine is about, so naturally Mum presses me for more information. What is it about, why are you doing it, how are you going to do it? I steel myself for the question that underpins all the others, the only one she really wants to ask.

“How are you going to make money?” she asks, her eyes narrowing. I know what she means – it’s not worth doing if you’re just not going to make any money from it. You’re just wasting your time. I manage to placate her by telling her I'll be selling the magazines online, but I don’t know that she’s convinced.

In any case, I forged ahead – and now I have a physical magazine I can hold in my hands and sell to people for actual money.

We received more than 30 submissions for our first issue, almost all of them unsolicited.It was exciting and humbling to see young Asian-Australian artists come out of the woodwork, and to work with them to shape their pieces. I hope the magazine will show them, as well as other young Asian-Australian artists, that their work is valued, and that there is most definitely space for it in Australian society.

It makes me happy that an increasing number of young Asian people (Asian-Australians in particular) are willing to break out of the cultural mould to pursue careers in the arts. Single Asian Female, written by Michelle Law and starring three Asian female protagonists, has recently premiered to rave reviews, demonstrating that the face of theatre in Australia does not have to remain lily white in order to be successful.

Of course, there is still a way to go for Asian representation in the arts and in the media, but we are slowly making our mark. Even though we may not be levelling up in the way our parents had envisioned, finishing off those pieces that we’ve just left pencilled in and getting them out in the world will no doubt inspire young Asian-Australian artists out there to do the same.

Pencilled in