The VMC is the voice between Victorian multicultural communities and the Victorian government. Regional Advisory Committees (RACs) are our means of hearing what’s happening on the ground. Without them, we cannot advocate for our communities’ needs. Each of our Commissioners chair a Regional Advisory Committee, so let’s hear what they have to say this Cultural Diversity Week as we #ConnectThroughCulture.
Today we speak with Silvia Renda, the chair of our Grampians Region RAC, who shares her experience as a Portuguese migrant and thoughts on what community means to her.
1. Tell us your name and a bit about yourself
My name is Silvia Renda, I am Portuguese Australian. I was born in Portugal and I came to Australia when I was 16. I didn’t speak any English when I got here and had to learn a new language. I came during my last years of high school and worked hard to get into university. I am married to a person of Italian descent, so my child is Portuguese, Italian and Australian. My role at the VMC is as a Commissioner, and I'm the Chief Advisor and Head of Government Relations for Australian Financial Complaints Authority. I’ve always been very involved in not-for-profit organisations and cultural groups. I am the President of the Portuguese Australian Women’s Association and on international advisory councils that advise the Portuguese government on community issues.
2. What does ‘Connecting Through Culture’ mean to you?
When I first got to Australia it was a very lonely experience. We came to a country where we didn't know anyone and we didn't have any family or friends. We were able to connect and join community groups (for example I joined a dancing group) and the feeling that we got connecting to others meant that we didn't feel as lonely. We felt like we belonged and it gave us a sense of identity - which was hard when we didn't speak English. For migrants in particular, cultural groups and connections are often a lifeline where we get help and support.
Thinking back on the pandemic, we cut through some of the lines between our cultural groups, and people came together to help others in need. The benefits of cultural groups, associations, women’s groups et cetera were ramped up 10-fold through the pandemic. This is the strength of connectivity through culture.
3. How do you connect with people inside your community?
I’m always out and about at events. I come from a background where we're very social and have a very strong community connection to people. I talk with people on the phone and in the community, and try to make them feel comfortable and heard by listening deeply to their concerns. I feel strongly that not everyone is the same, so it's important to listen intently to individual stories.
During COVID-19 we did a lot of online events to stay connected, and there is one in particular that I am very proud of, called Trip to the Motherland. The project showcased women through short films about where they came from in Portugal and what they missed, to bring a piece of home through video.
4. How do you connect with people outside your community?
My community has grown and I don't think about my community as just my Portuguese or Portuguese speaking community. I think about my neighbours – my Iraqi neighbours brought me gifts for Christmas, my other neighbours are Malaysian and brought red pockets for Lunar New Year. My child's school community is also my community, and the people I connect with through the VMC are part of my community too. Since starting as a VMC Commissioner I have been overwhelmed by the sense of warmth, welcome and belonging from community members, including RAC members.
5. Cultural Diversity Week celebrates multiculturalism, but also centres around International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. What are your reflections about this day?
These dates are not just about celebration. They are about reflection and how much we've got to go and what needs to change to ensure that inclusion and belonging and that no one gets left behind or discriminated against based on their attributes such as race or religion. It’s also a day for reflection and to think through what needs to change.
Intersectionality is also extremely important – to recognise that the experiences of community are not the same. Some may feel more accepted or included but many do not. We must always be tackling racism for emerging or targeted communities, due to faith and colour of their skin. This is a day to celebrate but we must not forget that we also want to see real action.
6. What do you like most about the Regional Advisory Council that your chair?
I have the pleasure and honour of being RAC Chair for Grampians region. I was really excited about joining as chair for a regional RAC because I feel like they are often forgotten. Their needs and challenges are diverse. I am excited about bringing regional RACs to the front and have their work acknowledged. I'm amazed and in awe of the work that the RAC members do in the Grampians region. I have been really pleasantly surprised and impressed by the RAC members’ passion, commitment and engagement. They're so well connected to their communities and willing to share their insights and work together. I have felt welcome with open arms by their regional spirit, which I know extends to others as well.
7. What is one way that Victorians can connect through culture this Cultural Diversity Week?
Through dialogue. Talk to your communities, your neighbours, your school community, work colleagues and everyone around you about what cultural diversity means. Engaging in the VMC’s current activities such as the Multicultural Film Festival, Victorian Refugee Awards and Photography Competition will help celebrate and acknowledge people, particularly after the two years that we've done. Let’s all have honest conversations about what we can individually and collectively do, so that members of our community don't get left behind.
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Reviewed 23 March 2022