US-born Jessika spoke with Aisha Adkins of the Black Expat about her life in coastal Australia. Part One describes her journey to Oz for love. The second part of our interview examines race relations in the country and explores the unspoken connection Jessika and her biracial children have with local Indigenous populations.
You have two young, biracial children. What is that experience like and how do you and your husband broach the topics of race and African-American culture?
I guess this a big one: having Black children outside of the US. My children know they’re both Black American and white Australian. They know that when the world sees them they will identify them as Black kids. But it’s really hard to connect to Black American culture when you’re so far away from other Black Americans. I talk to my oldest son, who’s six, about some of the things we see in the news. About police brutality in the US. I try to water it down because he’s only six. But how much do you tell them? Do you want to put the burden of being Black American on your child? Because it is a burden to carry. It’s something that I’m throwing out as a question to other Black expats who have children. I wonder what they do in that case, particularly if they have mixed children. It’s a really hard thing to explain to your kid and it’s hard to decide what you’re going to do with that and how you’re going to explain it.
My kids know a lot about Black history; it’s very important to me that they know that regardless. I’ve had this discussion with my husband, as well. What are we going to do? I was raised that when you’re Black you have to work ten times harder and as a Black man you can’t do certain things. How much of that are you going to put on your kid? It is something that I wonder; as he gets older I’m slowly opening that can of worms. But it’s different here.
Racism exists, but it’s not the same. They are going to be Black men and with police brutality, I don’t want my children to grow up naive. What if they want to live in the US? They have citizenship in both countries. I want them to be prepared; I want that opportunity to be available but I don’t want to throw them out to the wolves either, because racism is a real thing in everyday life.
It exists here too, but I feel like in the US the undertones of racism hit you in the face every single day. It’s in every action you make; everything you do, everywhere you go, racism is involved. I don’t feel like that here. There is racism but those undercurrents aren’t as strong as they are in the States. I think racism exists in every crevice of the globe. I don’t know if that’s an effect of colonialism. Most of the countries I’ve visited have had some form of colonialism but I do think that in the States it is in your face more.
What is your connection to the Indigenous population in Australia and how does this population identify?
Indigenous people in Australia are just as complex as Black people in America. Where I live isn’t as diverse. When you think of an Indigenous person — and this probably goes the same way when you think of African-American people — you most likely think of a darker skinned Indigenous person, but Indigenous people come in all colors just like [African-Americans] do. There are very white-looking Indigenous Australians who live everywhere in Australia but they still identify and have the connection with darker-skinned Indigenous Australians and you have to respect that connection and identity as much as you respect it for a darker person. Your identity is who you are and how you connect to it and their experiences could be completely defined by their culture, even though they might appear to be white.
I do have some friends who are Indigenous and identify as Indigenous. Their color goes from as dark as me to as light as a white person. We call each other brother and sister because here when you’re Indigenous, they identify as Black. They call themselves Black just like we do in the States. Although I think their issues and experiences are probably more closely related to Native Americans, if you wanted to make a comparison. But it’s the same struggle I guess, the racism and judgment that they receive is probably the same.
I got a postgraduate degree last year in education. So I recently made a decision to make a career change to start teaching. I finished at the end of  and I was eight months pregnant. At the moment I’ve taken time off to raise my son, but next year I’m looking to hopefully work in a common, whether it be in an Indigenous community or a Torres Strait Islander community.
Torres Strait Islanders are also indigenous people but they live on the islands that are the northern part of Australia between Australia and Papua New Guinea in the Torres Strait. I’d never heard of the chain of islands before moving here, but I’ve learned a lot about the Torres Strait Islands and other Indigenous Australian cultures through my studies and interests.
I live in the state of Queensland and a requirement of being a teacher in the department of education (state public school teacher) is to do at least two years of country or remote service. This is because people in remote areas are typically either Indigenous or Torres Strait Islanders and they don’t have access to healthcare needs, education needs, and other things as much as metropolitan and regional communities.
Some people look at it as a burden to do the mandatory two years but I think it will be something exciting, which is why I focused on Indigenous studies.
What I’ve heard from people who have worked in the communities is that it’s really hard to adjust to their way of life because Aboriginal people have a very, very different approach to life than what we have. Going to school, for example, is not considered as important in those cultures, maybe because what we think is education isn’t seen as valuable. They learn in different ways. So it’s a challenge, and particularly as a teacher. A big reason I want to go there is to see if I can learn from their culture and learn what I can do to make this educational experience valuable and make them want to go to this school. Maybe I won’t be able to find that out, I don’t know. It does seem to be a major challenge.
But I’d like to know, how can we incorporate what they value into this system? I think that’s probably the biggest problem, one of the biggest divides between Indigenous Australians and other Australians. So many things have been forced on [Indigenous] culture without actually incorporating them in the decision-making. And there’s a wonder why they reject it. That’s not what they want, so you need to incorporate them and make it so that it’s theirs. How can we make it theirs? Ideally I think it would be by having Indigenous teachers and nurses, incorporating them into this decision-making about what’s happening to their communities until they get to the point where it can fully be theirs. What can we do as non-indigenous people to help them get there? I’m really interested in seeing what I can do to help. I actually hope to start working at the beginning of the school year in January 2019 at a school in Torres Strait Islands, if everything goes the way I’d like it to go.
If our readers are interested in getting involved with the Indigenous populations in Australia, what would you recommend? How would they learn more about the organizations like the one you are involved with?
Like most countries in the world, teachers are highly needed here. If you are an American visitor and you wanted to come live here, an easy way to get a visa is through getting a high-need occupation. So teachers, doctors, police officers, nurses, those kinds of things are needed in Australia in general, particularly in the remote, country, and rural areas. If you work in any of those fields it would be so easy for you. I came here on a visa because I was married to an Australian, so I have no idea what the visa process is like. But I have many friends who’ve moved here from England and the States on working visas and they started off in high-need occupations. Look online, there’s tons of information. But I would say that the visa process is always difficult [no matter where you’re going], but it would be less difficult than other processes if you had that interest and wanted to go into that field. It’s not something for the light-hearted to do, to work in remote areas. But I think it would be incredibly helpful and it would be an incredible experience and you would learn a lot, based on what I know from others who’ve done it. And hopefully I’ll get that experience soon!
In addition to barbeques, what is one quintessentially Australian experience that every new resident or first-time visitor must have?
The perfect holiday would involve camping, going for a surf, going for a hike, having that barbeque somewhere while you’re camping by a campfire. Just being outdoors and appreciating the land. As I said before, Australians have an appreciation for the land and the ocean and everything they provide. Take it all in. Don’t just do Sydney and the Opera House pose. Go somewhere and really get outdoors. Take that bushwalk.