Migrants keep their cultural roots alive

THREE years ago Gladstone was nothing more than a dot on a map to Iriana Singh.

It was a dot so small she would have needed her glasses to see it.

Then came the moment her father announced to the family they would be leaving their native India, bound for the coastal port city.

"I was terrified," she admitted.

"I had heard negative things about Australians being racist. I am glad to say they were all wrong."

December 18 is International Migrants Day, sponsored by the United Nations, to "reaffirm our commitment to shape diverse and open societies that provide opportunities and lives of dignity for all migrants".

Ms Singh said adjusting to life in Gladstone had been enormous - and included everything from the language to climate, fashion and food.

"I feel very lucky to be able to be in the middle of two cultures and to bring the best of both into my life," she said.

"My children, no matter where we are, will always have a little Aussie in them."

Peter Sepe hails from a small island in Papua New Guinea, 87km from the mainland.

He and his family migrated to Australia six years ago for work.

Mr Sepe works at the open cut gold mine in Moura.

Gladstone was their choice to establish their roots, he says, because of the lifestyle opportunities.

"It was hard (coming to Australia) at first. There are many differences," he said.

"In Papua New Guinea we live off the land and our own crops.

"There are no homeless people where I am from. No health issues like diabetes or obesity and everyone looks after each other like extended family.

"We don't have social security in Papua New Guinea, so things like paying bills were difficult when we moved. They still are," he said.

But Mr Sepe is still closely tied to his cultural roots, using his income to slowly build an impressive family home back on his island.

And while he and his family call Australia home for now, it remains integral to him to keep his cultural traditions alive.

That is the definition of multiculturalism for both the Singh and Sepe families.

Through retaining their customs in their newfound countries, they claim they are able to learn from the community while also educating others.

"I think the meaning of International Migrants Day is to celebrate and engage in what makes us different," Ms Singh said.

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