“Wei-Lei and Me” by Aditi Gouvernel
It is 1982, and Aditi Gouvernel paints a picture of painful exclusion and humiliation in the playground at the hands of the Australian bully, Barry West. Both her and Wei-Li are singled out for ridicule; they are mocked and mauled like toys. Wei Li was “hit, spanked and kicked”. Barry becomes the ultimate foe and a symbol of her exclusion.
Due to different physical features and cultural customs many Asian migrants such as Aditi and Simon Tong feel a sense of rarity. Their ethnic features such as their dark hair and skin colour contrasts to the stereotypical white Australian-freckled-suntanned student. Contrastingly, “Barry” appears as the dominant Australian kid who owns the playground and who, with the “red stained face of Australian summers” appears completely at home.
The author withholds the name of the narrator with an ethnic (Indian) background to capture her sense of anonymity and helplessness. However, the fact that she has been transported from the playground “under the tower of the Qutab Minar” mosque, to Canberra, suggests that she is of Indian origin. Also, Barry spreads the myth that Indian “girls have no tits”. The author’s point is that the discrimination renders her nameless. Wei-Lei is a distinctive Chinese name that also deliberately sets him apart from his Australian playmates.
Wei-Lei and Aditi build a friendship based on mutual exclusion from their Australian peers. Her house is testimony to her difference. As a sign of acceptance, Wei Li does not draw attention to such differences when he visits her house. Eventually, Aditi gains the courage to fight back and strikes Barry with a brick when he is assaulting Wei Li.
Painfully, Barry kicked Aditi’s seat for 30 minutes during their bus trip to Parliament house and then spat in her face and laughed. But he also becomes a marker of courage and she learns to retaliate, even though her use of aggression is atypical and undesirable. Refusing to apologise, she has at least had the satisfaction of a personal triumph.
As time changes so too, does one’s sense of self. Aditi reflects on the fact that you can hardly find a parking spot in Chinatown and, ironically, longs for difference as she realizes she is becoming quite normal and homogenous. “We had become what we thought we never could be: Australian.” Despite the pain, times change; Australia is more multicultural and she no longer feels so different.
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