In Conversation: Hong Ma and Lai Chu Chan

Over half of all Australians were born overseas, or have one parent who was. That’s why it’s so important we celebrate our cultural diversity. We’ve spoken with Cairns & District Chinese Association President Lai Chu Chan and Police Liaison Officer Hong Ma about belonging, identity and their advice for new migrants. 


[Lai Chu Chan]: First of all you’ve got to be proud of yourself. You’ve got to be, acknowledge your own culture and then you can learn to respect other people and their beliefs and the culture. When I first came to Cairns, I wasn’t aware that the Chinese people had played such a huge role in the development of Cairns. Many of them had come in the 1800s to look for gold and also later to develop the area into agricultural business.

[Hong Ma]: I’m Hong.

[Lai Chu Chan]: And I’m Chan.

[Hong Ma]: We are both members of Chinese community in Cairns.

[Lai Chu Chan]: I came to Australia 32 years ago and I’m currently the President of Cairns and District Chinese Association Incorporated.

[Hong Ma]: As a Chinese speaking Police Liaison Officer, I’m the bridge between the Cairns Chinese community and Queensland Police Service, and what I do is let the community feel they are supported by the police.

[Lai Chu Chan]: And I think that it’s important because people like us, the everyday people, just find it really easy to relate to someone like him. One of the main things that we do in order to share our culture is the annual Chinese New Year event, and that enables us to connect with the broader community.

[Hong Ma]: The Chinese New Year is the most important event during the year. My kids, they love the celebrations.

[Lai Chu Chan]: So he doesn’t just come as a Liaison Officer, he performs in the festival as well.

[Hong Ma]: I have the little Chinese choir. I conduct them and I also perform keyboards.

[Lai Chu Chan]: And it’s also good for our people to see him perform because, you know, he is very approachable and not just a Chinese community, but a broader community to see the engagement that we get from a Liaison Officer with our community.

[Hong Ma]: But I also have my own radio show. The name is ‘Hong’s Playlist’ introducing the Chinese pop song to the local Chinese community. After I joined the police, I changed the show to FNQ Safety Support, to share the safety information in Cantonese and Mandarin. Sharing the culture with the wider communities, that is the best way to break down the barriers between each other, reduce the discrimination and reduce the misunderstanding. I always have the conversation with my two daughters. They were born in Australia, and I said you need to be proud of your identity. You are Chinese Australian. It doesn’t means you have to give up one of the cultures.

[Lai Chu Chan]: Or forget where you come from.

[Hong Ma]: So my daughter, they enjoy the Chinese dumplings and they also enjoy the fish and chips.

“Tolerance of differences and diversity is crucial” 

– Lai Chu Chan 
[Lai Chu Chan]: Australia for me was the place where I could be myself because Australia’s so multicultural. So to be able to identify yourself as Chinese, enables you to understand other people’s beliefs and difference in culture and to accept that tolerance of differences and diversity is crucial. But the Australian value that I identify most with is the equal opportunity and having a fair go for everyone.

[Hong Ma]: The thing I love the most being Australian is freedom. Freedom is the thing I always want to pursue. Freedom of speech and freedom of association.

[Lai Chu Chan]: I feel that new migrants who are struggling with their identity shouldn’t be afraid to actually move out of the comfort zone, embrace your identity and go out and meet other people who are also different.

[Hong Ma]: My advice will be, start a conversation. Learn from each other and break down the cultural barriers. 

[Lai Chu Chan]: And food. I think food’s important, when we attend an event and we share everybody’s food, you don’t need language, food connects everybody. 

[Hong Ma]: That’s what I like, the diversity of this Australian culture, and we actually can create a new flavour. 

We are not defined by race, religion or culture but by the shared values of freedom, respect, fairness and equality opportunity. Find out more about the seven Australian values and what they mean.

Learn more about the Australian values.

This post is also available in: 简体中文 (Chinese Simplified) 繁體中文 (Chinese Traditional) Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese) العربية (Arabic)

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