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DAWN of a new era

by Dai Le

03 March 2014

Dai Le 100 Women of Influence 2014

I’m Australian-Vietnamese. I came to Australia as an 11-year-old refugee from Vietnam with my mother and two younger sisters. We had spent a few years in refugee camps – first in the Philippines, and then Hong Kong.

Mum was a single mother, my father having disappeared during the Vietnam War. We arrived in Australia to live in a little suburb called “Fairy Meadows” in Wollongong. We were the first handful of Vietnamese refugees who were given permanent resettlement status in a society that had just come out of a White Australia policy, which I discovered much later in life.

What I remember about setting foot in this very white society was that there weren’t too many of ‘us’ but lots of ‘them’. But I wasn’t deterred by the thought of being different. For some reason, I couldn’t wait to shed my Vietnamese refugee identity, and life, to embrace the new one that I’ve suddenly gained. I couldn’t wait to peel away the layers that would see me as a refugee from Vietnam – I wanted to embrace being a new Australian. So I launched myself into learning English as fast as I could and made new friends. Lucky for me (or was it really lucky come to think of it now), there were hardly any other “Asian’ looking kids in the school ground so I made friends with kids who were definitely ‘not’ Asians!

Mum, looking back now, would have probably been petrified. A new society, a new language, with no extended family to rely on to help with her three daughters, Mum must have gone through some post traumatic shock. She had to get her feet on the ground. She needed to quickly grasp the new language, culture and way of life. She was certainly outside of her comfort zone. But maybe after refugee camps and a couple of boat escapes, the new zone wasn’t as life threatening. Nevertheless, I have often wondered how she coped back then.

We haven’t spoken about it until this day – of what it was like for her to have made that journey from Vietnam via refugee camps to Australia. I think it’s the “Vietnamese’ thing. Or is it an “Asian’ thing that parents do not confide in their children nor share with them about their inner thoughts, feelings, thinking and fears. And vice versa.

Nearly three decades on, I founded the Diverse Australasian Women's Network (DAWN), a platform to bring Australian Asian women together to share the journeys they are making, or not making, in their professional and personal lives.

Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, yet the Australian media, political and business spheres either misrepresent Asian Australian women, or do not represent us at all. As a result, we are left voiceless and marginalised from the wider society. Not only this, but because  Australian Asian women often fall into the background, it's hard for young upcoming female professionals to find prominent role models who understand them both professionally and culturally.

With a group of professional and business Australian Asian women, and University students, DAWN was formed with the intention to give Australian Asian women a platform to have a voice, as well as empowering them and encouraging them to embrace their unique cultural heritage as an asset, rather than a hindrance. We want to celebrate our skills, talents, culture and background. At the same time we want to become a network of support where Australian Asian women can find others in the same situation as them, and support and mentor each other.

As DAWN grows and develops we want to address key issues within the community to create change, and become an organisation government bodies and/or corporations turn to when they look for advice and information on the Australian Asian community.

Over the past few months since our inception in November 2013, we've received multitudes of feedback, with many people asking if they can join our organisation despite being male and/or coming from a non-Asian background. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people asking why we invite them to so-and-so events when they are not Asian nor female.

To both these groups I can only respond that while DAWN is a niche organisation, it is not exclusive only to Australian Asian women. We are open to everyone regardless of race, gender or religion. In fact, we have a few male members at the moment!

DAWN would like to be a space and a platform where professional and business Australian Asian women can be heard, and can be acknowledged for the contribution they make to our culturally diverse society. While we can't guarantee all our events will be particularly relevant to someone who is not Asian or a woman, we can guarantee that any kind of support we receive can help build our resources so we can start working on major projects for 2014 and beyond.

If you can empathise with our cause and help us break through both the “glass ceiling” and “bamboo ceiling” then that is more than enough reason to join DAWN, or attend one of our events.

Dai Le is a 2014 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence.

For more information on DAWN, check out: or check out our Facebook page



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