Dear Mr. Ramato,
September 11, 2001…
The Twin Towers came crashing down, our whole world stopped and witnessed the heartbreaking end of thousands of innocent lives. Unfortunately, this was not the end for some, the collapse of the World Trade Centre signified the beginning of the destruction of the Muslim identity…
I was 7 years old when 9 11 happened, the discrimination and racism that followed changed my life forever.
One morning I was at the school playground at recess, eating my food and keeping to myself. A young Australian classmate approached me and began to pick on me, laughing at me and called me the dreaded “T” word that nearly every Muslim hates to hear… “TERRORIST!”
I am a Muslim, a Middle Eastern male you see. At that age one is not consciously aware of the depth of people’s attitudes, however even being that young I could remember the stares, the murmurs underneath people’s breaths, and the obscure and hurtful jokes. These moments live in your memory forever, and I will personally never forget them.
On one side I will never forget the pain that it caused being 7 years old, yes stick and stones do break bones, and WORDS DID HURT ME that day. On the other side, I am incredibly grateful for this experience because it planted a seed within me that opened my eyes and my young mind to Indigenous Australia in a way that I never knew before.
How does racist rhetoric post September 11, and the history of Indigenous Australia relate? Well, in its actuality they really don’t, however in essence, the struggles of minority ethnic groups grappling to deal with stigmatisations, discrimination and negativity, is an experience all minority groups can relate to and find a commonality – and in this instance it was a healing experience for me.
Suddenly the teacher on-duty at recess, Mr. Ramato – A man with an Indigenous heritage and background (Australia’s first peoples), came up to me and comforted me, and asked me what the matter was? I informed him that this boy had called me a Terrorist and that I did nothing. That I was sick of hearing these words associated with my people. Mr. Ramato did something that I did not ask, nor did I expect…He suddenly summoned that boy in an assertive tone and said “Oi! What did you call this young man, repeat it to me so that I can hear it?” The boy confidently and proudly said it again – “I called him a Terrorist”.
Mr. Ramato laughed at his words and replied, “Do you know who discovered this country, do you know who owns this country”? The boy ignorantly replied, “Captain Cook and John Howard”.
Mr. Ramato laughed even harder than before and crouched down to the height of this boy, locking eyes with him intently in a way that I never saw a teacher do before. I could feel that he was about to say something important.
Mr. Ramato said “you’ve got to be kidding me! that is the biggest load of crap that I have ever heard. The first peoples here on this land were my people, the Aboriginals, and this land is a sacred land belonging to our ancestors! Why don’t you go and tell your parents that Mr. Ramato told you to ask them if what I said is true, and then after that ask them about who the real Terrorists are”.
Something sparked inside me that day. I heard words that I never knew, and although my understanding of who discovered Australia and who was the leader of Australia was the same as this young boy, I could tell that Mr. Rmato was telling a truth that I was unaware of, a history that I had not known about.
Suddenly this boy’s face turned red, and Mr. Ramato made him apologise to me. Mr. Rmato comforted me, he told me to never let those words or any labels define me, and that he too could feel my pain and resonate with my story. He told me that for years here in Australia the place that I call home, that he calls home, that WE all call home, had a history that we need to understand better, that there was a commonality between us all to owe it to each other, not only as minorities that shared collective pain from discrimination, racism, and negative stereotypes or portrayals, but that WE as Australians needed to all work together towards understanding each other and healing collectively.
Later that year Mr. Ramato took up a full-time teaching position at another school, and since that year I have never heard of him and never seen him again. If I had the chance to connect with you again Mr. Ramato and to let you know about the Man I have become today, I would embrace you and let you know about how influential you were in my life.
It has been almost 20 years Mr. Ramato, and although you and I may not even be able to recognise each other, I want to let you know about some of the changes I had made in my life since then…
I learned about the history of Indigenous Australia and the pain and terror your ancestors felt that day and for hundreds of years. I am proud of being Aussie born, yet my understanding of January 26 and the darkness it brings upon the majority of Indigenous Australians, has led me to choose not to celebrate a day that caused so much grief.
I have heroes and icons that I look up to and that have guided me throughout my path, Anthony Mundine, Cathy Freeman, Adam Goodes, Eddie Mabo, Simon Menzies, and of course you Mr. Ramato. These proud Indigenous figures inspired me throughout my own struggles and obstacles as a Muslim, Middle Eastern male. I will stand proudly for Australia’s anthem, yet I cannot bring myself to sing the lyrics as I know there are messages within it that cause pain and hurt to Indigenous communities. I ended up graduating from University Mr. Ramato, and because of that seed you planted in me at a young age, I took up multiple university subjects focusing on Indigenous Australians, a group that I am very passionate and interested about seeing their struggle recognised and rights fulfilled.
Mr. Ramato, sometimes we as humans never know how much of an impact we can have on someone in such a short amount of time, but I thank you Brother for showing Solidarity with the 7 year old me on that day, it helped me to rise past all the pain. I rose and become a better and more educated person, and I will never stay silent in the face of adversity, carrying that message through that together we must all rise for a better Australia.