Imi speaks with Rebecca about the intersections of culture, and perceptions of disability.

Imi shares the message of moving away from a “cure based” approach to disability and speaks about their experiences of navigating work and study.

Imi has proudly graduated with two university degrees, and has extensive experience in media, the arts and a keen interest in marketing. 

Follow Imi on LinkedIn.


Note: this transcript is automatically transcribed and may contain errors.

Rebecca Maakasa: Hello. You’re listening to Stories of Community Resilience by 3ZZZ. I’m Rebecca, I’m the Podcast Coordinator at 3ZZZ, tasked with leading this wonderful project where we share culturally and linguistically diverse perspectives and stories. Today, we are recording out of SYN media, the youth broadcaster based in Melbourne. Before we begin today’s interview, I’d like to acknowledge that we’re recording on Unceded Stolen Land and it always was, always will be Aboriginal land. Today I’m joined in studio with the delightful Imi, who I met through my time at SYN Media when I was a youth broadcaster myself, and we’ve crossed paths again through this project. Imi is a multi-hyphenate creative. So many things to list about them, for example, they are the Raise the Platform Executive Producer. Raise the Platform is a program here at SYN all about stories and perspectives and lived experience of people with disability. Imi has recently completed their honours degree in Theatre with German, and they describe themselves as an advocate. They also have a keen interest in many things, including theatre direction. And instead of me telling you all about Imi, I’m going to introduce Imi to tell us a bit more about themselves. Welcome, Imi.

Imi : Hi I’m Imi, I’m from a Maltese background, and I have a background, an employment background in media, theatre, journalism and marketing. I hold a Bachelor of Arts honours in theatre from Monash University and also Bachelor of Arts from Monash University, majoring in theatre and history and minoring in German. I am also autistic. So I have a lot of lived experience in those areas. I take pride in, you know, being of Maltese culture. And I’ll take pride in being autistic. I don’t think disability is something to be ashamed of. I think it is something that exists in our society. Much like anything else exists in our society. And I think that I find a lot of intersections within my cultural background and my disability.

Imi : Growing up, people, they saw me as physically very different. I came from a background where on television, everybody was pale, had blonde hair and were thin, or I was dark black hair and, had a different body shape. There was a lot of discrimination with regards to that. Yet simultaneously tans, different body shapes and plastic surgery was becoming more prevalent in society. And, and everyone wanted my skin tone, everyone wanted my body shape, but they wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that I had it naturally. And they still continue to discriminate against me, continue to make jokes about me, and end up to the point people thought it was actually a fake on me as well. And I think that it sort of holds back to the fact that back in the past, you know, the term ‘wog’ was tossed around people of my background. And I think that there’s a lot of pride now in that term, as we begin, we’ve begun to reclaim the identity of who we were. And so I take a lot of pride in the things we were mocked for in the past, and not seeing it as something for us to be ashamed of.

Rebecca Maakasa : One thing we wanted to talk about today is some of those perceptions of disability and how those who are disabled or identify as having a disability, how they’re treated in multicultural communities. And I was wondering if you could talk to some of those experiences, either your own lived experiences or in general.

Imi : In my culture, Maltese culture, disability has a lot of different ways of being perceived. Um, things like respect are very important in our culture. Honor as well. Hierarchical perceptions are also very common in, so what that means is that in my culture, you know, if you watched it on The Godfather, this is very prevalent in that film, and it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of how those sort of things occur. In a way, disability doesn’t really fit into that, those perceptions. A lot of the time, disability is – particularly things like autism are things that are often perceived to be bad behavior. They are solved not with, you know, solving the problems, but unfortunately with, yelling, smacks and things like that. People often are taught that, you know, that making accommodations is just spoiling the kid rotten. And unfortunately, that is how it was perceived. But over time, I kind of feel that within my family, people started to see it as something there was, something else going on behind it. And I think over time. It grew into being something that was more accepted. I think in a lot of cultures, particularly Maltese culture, when it happens, when you haven’t experienced it, you tend to not really understand it. But when you do have it in your culture, when you have it in your family, you then tend to warm to it and accept it. I think that it’s very similar to what I’ve experienced in the workplace, where a lot of workplaces just see the A word, they see autism, and they don’t even consider you as a candidate.

Imi : They would happily just throw your resume in the bin and not even think about who you are as a person. And I think when an employer hires me for the first time, they don’t even they don’t even know that I’m autistic. I’ve managed to cover it up. You know, when they eventually find out, they just see it as a surprise and then they just go, oh, we didn’t realize you came across as so normal or the dreaded you’re faking it, which is just ridiculous. And I just can’t really understand how, you know, workplaces can even get away with this anymore in 2024, but for some reason, they seem to be able to. And not enough is really done to prevent discrimination. There are examples of workplaces firing people when they find out that they’re disabled. And it just isn’t. It just isn’t really acceptable anymore. And I think that we look at it from a resilient perspective. A lot of people think, you know, perseverance against something like this and also perseverance against, you know, acceptance within your own family and within your own community. But I feel that, you know, it’s time for people to really step up there and just say, we’ve had enough. It’s not acceptable. You know, I have two university degrees and have done a wide range of different things in my life. I’m totally capable of it. I don’t need to continue to prove to people that I am. You know, I feel that resilience and perseverance is not enough for this issue.

Rebecca Maakasa : …And speaking to that theme and that interpretation of resilience, I know you describe yourself as an advocate and someone who really likes to solve problems and find solutions with these challenges and things that definitely should not be occurring in 2024. I totally disagree. I totally agree, rather. What are some of the ways you’ve found to be interacting with community and to work towards overcoming these problems in society?

Imi : I think that it was just,for me in my community, just sort of. And, you know, they’re admitting to myself being autistic. Um, and seeing what reactions I got. I think that my community is so small, there aren’t that many people that I think in Malta as a as a whole country, less than a million people live there. And, you know, it’s a huge community of us in Australia who came in the 50s and it’s a very close knit community. Um, a lot of people know each other in the community or they have links. Maltese culture is very communal. It’s very much if when I went to Malta, you know, it was like Malta proper. The the island of Malta proper is very commercialized, but  Gozo is still completely original, like, you know, when we walked around like there was this tourist attraction called this Xerri;s Grotto and Xerri was actually a family name we have in our family. And the person who owned this tourist attraction literally was a relative of us. And we walked in for free. And there’s the oldest, one of the oldest temples in the world. So I think one of the oldest freestanding structures in the world called it-Tempji tal-Ġgantija and the people who used to run it were friends, and it was just like a gated thing that was a big, elaborate tourist attraction there. But whilst my grandma was a child, she used to just walk around this rather important historical site. When we came to Malta, we stayed in the house in Malta different people from around the community started, you know, bringing us food and started, you know, and they’re all connected to us in some way. And I’m not talking like just random people. I’m talking people who had, you know, prestigious positions in the Gozo community, politicians and, you know, politicians, you know, businessmen, business women, business people all sorts of different sorts of members of the community would just come and give us food. It was a very communal way of life. And I kind of feel that disability. Can be perceived in many different ways. There’s a church in Malta called Ta’ Pinu, which is where which is, which is a very strange place to be, um, in the walls of one of the church, parts of the church, there’s literally. Photos of people, prayer messages in Maltese and medical items. So like, you know, prosthetic legs. accessibility items and adaptive technology items that have been hung on the wall as offerings for the people to get better. So it is a very cure perspective. Um, to get better through miracles. And this is a very important site. Also the culture will even talk about this in this context is very, very controversial in my community to talk about it in a way that is or because you are. This is a very important part of our community and our culture, this church, and even talk about it in this context, you know, bring up maybe an acceptance rather than a cure. Perspective is a very, very difficult thing.

Rebecca Maakasa : That’s so interesting to me, that analogy. Another analogy with that example of the cure based perspective evident in church.

Imi :  This church is I have to show you photos of it. Yes. When you get inside, it’s basically this church that is called Ta’ Pinu and it’s a consecrated. Ta’ Pinu is a consecrated by Pope John Paul II as, as a sacred site of miracles. So what happens is um, families will bring typically all their ill or disabled family members, typically children, and they will have photos of the child and a prayer in Maltese. And they’ll bring often items related disability such as their clothes. But often you will see things like prosthetic limbs, neck braces hung up in the walls of this church. It is quite is quite a sight to actually behold. This is actually something very incredible. You should definitely go visit this place in real life, and it’s considered to be a very important part of our spirituality and our culture. So the Ta’ Pinu as a place is a very hard thing to talk about for members of our community and to so therefore. Talking about it in the context of disability. It’s not something to be ashamed of, and maybe to think that maybe cure is not a part of disability, or should not be perceived as the goal of medicine when it for disabled people is very difficult. When you particularly bring up this church, because people will continue to go there almost all daily to pray and to receive a miracle of cure. So when you start to say that, you know disability is not something to be cured and to maybe start to think this is a such important part of our culture and such an important part of our identity, this church.

Imi : And to start to say things like cure is not the goal of disability. And, to not focus on cure and to not focus on changing or forcibly changing a disabled person against their will is an incredibly important thing. I’m not saying this church should not be able to exist. It’s still a very important part of our culture. But to think you know about is cure, the goal? and should you know, curing a disability be the best outcome? Or should disabled people be allowed to – because it’s a part of our identity to be disabled. Taking away autism is taking away a huge part of me. And like, what will I be without it? You know? How can I even get rid of it? It’s part of who I am. It’s part of how I live. You can’t just take it away from me and. Because my cultures are heavily focused. My culture is so heavily focused on miracles, on cure, on miracle, miracle healing and miraculous healing. Criticizing or taking that out of our culture is incredibly difficult thing. And to sort of say disability is not technically part of it. Maybe we should say that, you know, acceptance is the miracle. Acceptance is the cure. And sort of see, if we can start to explore, how we talk about miracles in our culture and to not necessarily say the end goal has to be taking away the person’s disability and taking it away in a way, in a means that completely destroys their identity.

Rebecca Maakasa : Thank you so much for explaining and expanding on that aspect of the culture and for illustrating what the church looks like as well. I appreciate the visual. Imi, I want to talk about your advocacy work and you being an advocate, because I also see that as a huge part of who you are. What would you like to say about advocacy and how people can support your advocacy and maybe changing these perceptions of people with disability in multicultural communities?

Imi : I think it starts with changing how you perceive disability in society separate from, multicultural communities, acceptance within a global sense. I think firstly it comes with, you know, it has it’s been less than 50 years since disabled people were regularly put in asylums, less than 20 years since it was the norm to simply place us in a group home and forget about us. And pretty much every single culture has this in it at some point, whether it’s been influenced by Western perspectives or whether it’s been influenced by the culture itself, is the debatable. But pretty much every culture says something along the lines of disability is something to be shunned, shameful. And if and if they cannot be cured, to be sent away. And unfortunately, in Maltese culture, this is still very prevalent. But Malta as a country has progressed very well. Divorce was only legalised in 2011. We come from a very strict Catholic background, a very traditionalist Catholic background, and the way we perceive Catholicism is not simply just as the place you go on a Sunday. It’s it’s very much ingrained in our culture. Icons, statues everywhere. It’s pretty much has everything to do with Maltese identity and culture.

Rebecca Maakasa : Imi, before we wrap up our interview today, is there anything else you’d like to share with the audience or any message you’d like to focus on?

Imi : I think an important part of disability is career. Career as a concept is your life identity and your work. As a child, I didn’t really see myself as having much of a career. I literally perceived just living with my parents until the end or finding some sort of community based work. And now I feel that I’m confident tipping forward towards a prosperous career. In terms of what I want to do, it’s changed from theatre directing to journalism to and now media. Social media marketing or marketing as a whole. It’s something I’ve always considered doing, but it’s something that I’d never really fell into an educational context. I never really did marketing as a job. I never really did marketing at uni. I did briefly journalism, but that was as close as I got. I definitely think that I now feel confident in walking into a marketing career.  I find it to be there’d be a lot of challenges with with disability and workplace. I just think that a disabled person does not really is a workplace is not a place where you’d really see a disabled person.

Imi :  It’s not a place that we’re usually found. And I think that. And when it comes to disability, space is a very important concept. You know, we’re talking about disabled people in spaces where they’re not usually found or they’re not expected. And the workplace is one of those places. And workplaces are very hostile places for, for disability. Um, they can be very inaccessible. A lot of them are upstairs, a lot of them are very loud. They just sort of feel like places where you don’t feel comfortable or safe. Whether or not, businesses do this automatically as a place to, um, weed out people that they don’t want in them, or whether it just ended up that way is mysterious. But I feel that now I can see myself in the workplace, and I feel that it took me a lot to get there, a lot of mental challenges, a lot of finding myself, a lot of finding representation to really fit into a workplace.

Rebecca Maakasa : What were some of the things that helped you feel that fitting in and more accepted, and that you could apply for these roles that you wanted?

Imi :  Firstly getting interviews. Job interviews, sort of being seen as a competitive candidate definitely was the first thing that I saw. Secondly, um, it was volunteering at places like sin because I did, you know, employment based tasks. I did work, volunteering, versus work is something that can be blurred. I’m essentially doing work like journalism work, media work, but not being paid for it. I definitely felt that when I did things like that, volunteering and education, I did feel that I was capable of doing tasks I didn’t think I was capable of prior. And another thing is freelancing doing things like making documentaries on my own making films independently on my own. Definitely. I just felt that there were so many things that I could do, but so many things that,  society didn’t want me to do. And it didn’t take a long time until I realized that the reason why I wasn’t working is not because I couldn’t. It was because other people thought I couldn’t.

Rebecca Maakasa :  Imi, thank you so much today for speaking with me and Stories of Community Resilience and, just thank you for all the work you do in this area as well. I see it as really important and I learn a lot from you and your advocacy work too. Just thank you for everything that you do. I’d just like to say to the audience, if you’re interested in sharing your Story of Community Resilience, do get in contact at [email protected] and to listen wherever you stream your podcasts. To our many episodes we have on offer, we have more than 50 episodes produced so far… 

[End Transcript]

3ZZZ Stories of Community Resilience is proudly supported by the Community Broadcasting Foundation.

To share a story of resilience, contact Rebecca at [email protected] or fill in the Expression of Interest form below. We will be sharing more stories in 2024, and would love to hear from you!