Updated: Mar 25
Growing up as a newly arrived migrant in a foreign land was understandably marred by hardship both internally and externally. Within her own family Vanessa Au found herself bearing the burden of grief and anxiety suffered by her parent's struggles in a new society. Nothing was ever going to be like how it was back in Vietnam.
For her family, it was like someone had pushed the reset button on life itself. The upside was she got another shot at it. Assimilating, adjusting, emulating. Yes, these are constants throughout many immigrant stories. Vanessa used to be about finding a voice for herself. Now she is more about finding a voice for others.
This is Vanessa’s story as shared with Affluent Society:
Lesson in Life
My limitations could have easily been set by my environment, my parents, my social standing or how I was perceived by others. I went to a local secondary school in Melbourne's leafy east (or paddocks as it were back then), all bright-eyed, naïve, and barely able to speak the English language. I grew up watching my parents working day and night to make ends meet to feed a family of 5 kids. I remember many days sitting around waiting for my parents to come home from work and watching them looking exhausted and more tired as the years went on. It made me feel a sense of sadness at times as I was too little to be able to help them out in any way. In their trying circumstances, they did not really have much of a say, nor much of a voice.
Raised by strict parents, they always reminded me about how lucky we were in Australia and to always seize each day as if it was your last. Everything in our family was recycled or passed down from my siblings to me, especially the toys and clothes. Whilst we did not have a lot like many other families we got by and my parents taught me some great lessons in life. The most important lesson they taught me was my self-worth and also my ability to achieve anything I want in life. With strength and determination I will get there. And this message still reverberates within me, despite them not being around anymore.
Fall in love with singing
At a young age I fell in love with listening to music and singing. It was also a quick way of becoming acquainted with the English language. I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, whose songs and lyrics helped to pick me up. ‘Hero’ by Mariah Carey is among one of my all time favourite songs. It was with that song which won me a few karaoke competitions and my hobby for singing turned into a passion and eventually made me some side money to get me through university. During Uni, I was lucky enough to meet an amazing musician who realised my talent and gave me an opportunity to perform at weddings, restaurants, and club gigs around Melbourne.
The feeling of being the sole focus in a room full of people, having their undivided attention, was simply amazing. It enabled me a power I never thought I had, a sense of being empowered. This somehow triggered a sense of purpose within me to empower other people to develop their own sense of self-worth, fulfilment, and purpose. I ran a series of beauty pageants within Melbourne's Asian community for a while for young women to develop their own identities as future role models. I also ran a series of singing competitions as well with the aim for participants to develop confidence and self-esteem.
Today, singing is still my passion whenever I have some free time to myself. It is a great outlet for reducing stress, enhancing memory, improving health and sometimes can help you cope with physical and emotional pain. I really enjoy it as I find it to be an extremely effective medium for also raising awareness and sparking necessary dialogue. People listen to your voice and the message behind it.
My voice today
More than a decade and several jobs later, I now work in a national capacity as a Grocery Business manager working for a well-respected FMCG company. I now carry a voice that is respected, earned from experience, sound judgment, strategic thinking and people focus. Singing has helped me to find my confidence and come out of my shell in a professional and personal capacity. In my career I believe that if you are not developing your own people to be much better than yourself within the workforce, you'd really ought to be questioning your own purpose in it. Today I see myself as continuing as a role model for others, in particular my two young daughters, inspiring me to be better and do more, be able to help others along their own journeys and to be able to leave a legacy behind that's fulfilling and meaningful to everyone around me.