Title: What to expect when you’re immigrating
Genre: Illustrated; Comedy
Publisher: Affirm Press
Publication Date: January 2021
Favourite quote: “You’ve got freedom of speech *terms and conditions apply”
The first page of this illustrated guide to the migrant experience is just one simple word: paperwork. It’s accompanied by an image of a tower of papers and a person looking up at them, pen poised in disbelief. I immediately laughed out loud, because, after all, we can all be united in the universal dislike for paperwork (unless you’re a bureaucrat I guess).
What to expect when you’re immigrating is a clever and well-considered approach by Melbourne-based, Sri Lankan-born, multi-disciplinary designer Nash to provide a window into the experience of moving to a new country. Nash’s compilation mixes a range of experiences that may be familiar to anyone who has ever moved abroad with encounters and considerations that are specific to People of Colour immigrating to Australia. These highlights are carefully placed, creating startling contrasts and similarities all at once. One moment you’ll be laughing, the next sitting in quiet reflection.
Nash is careful to balance humour with serious assessments of culture and politics. There are recurring jokes about how the seasons are “strange”, commentary on how people treat their pets differently, and my personal favourite “Pigeons still walk funny here”. All are accompanied by Nash’s signature artistic style which, like his words, are deceptively simple.
Almost every page seems to be loaded with double meanings, the words themselves broad enough to encompass the nuance and variety of experiences. Meanwhile the images add another layer of complexity, honing in on the big issues and drawing the reader in to a broader story of confusion, wonder, nervousness, and overall disconcertment.
Nash comments on a range of social issues from cultural appropriation (“Imitation might not be the sincerest form of flattery”), to racism in law and order (“Dealing with the police is nerve-wracking, no matter the situation”) and advocacy (“People feel the need to speak for you”). He advises immigrants that “People will put you in a box… make sure you don’t jump into yours” but also warns that “equality looks different here”.
Amongst all of these bigger societal issues are the changes and differences in day-to-day life that would stump anyone. “Words and phrases you need to know *but only in this country” are just the tip of the iceberg when you’re learning to carry your life in your suitcase, when your kids don’t appreciate how hard it was for you to move country, and the first generation born to your new home don’t have the same cultural values as you. Trying to fit into a new culture isn’t easy for anyone.
There are too many nuggets of truth that are deserving of unpacking in this book, which makes it the perfect conversation starter when talking about immigration in Australia. Whether we’re looking at who advocates for immigrants and how, or how the average person can change the way they talk or act to be more inclusive, this book is a gateway to a much larger understanding of the immigrant experience. A little compassion and understanding can go a long way, and Nash has clearly approached this book with that in mind, hoping to reach out to the Australian population by putting his thoughts and experiences on the page in the most charming, funny and honest way possible.