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This Is What Happened When I Tweeted About My "Illiterate" Grandparents

Not being able to read or write hasn't stopped people.

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Amid all the outrage about immigration minister Peter Dutton's claims that many refugees who come to Australia "won't be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English," I wrote a few sentences about my own family.

Some random personal thoughts about Peter Dutton's comments attacking humanitarian refugees...

My Nonna and Nonno fled Italy during World War II and came to Australia without being able to speak English. They also never went to high school, so their Italian wasn't even that good. They were the kind of refugees Peter Dutton spoke about.

Mark Di Stefano/BuzzFeed

But they worked hard and now have three children who graduated university (coincidentally two are high school language teachers) and six grandchildren. Here they are at my Nonno's last birthday in 2011.

Mark Di Stefano/BuzzFeed

People started sending me eerily familiar stories.

@MarkDiStef my gido + tayta came from Lebanon. Worked round clock at steel factory lived in shared house in redfern. 23 grandkids 8 g-grand

About "illiterate" arrivals who went on to have successful lives in Australia. It was empowering to read.

@MarkDiStef thanks for sharing your sentiments on this. Here's mine. 👍

@MarkDiStef Grandparents from China. Ran businesses, raised families, self-funded retirees, both sets spoke only a few hundred English words

@MarkDiStef my grandma arrived as a refugee from Estonia. Started her own dress shop in Bondi. Her and my dad below.

@MarkDiStef dad came when he was 7. Dropped out yr11. Worked up & now 30yr expert in truck/trailer brakes, manager at international company

@MarkDiStef My parents fled Bosnia & Herzegovina & I came with them in '94: dad is a successful business analyst, mum is a 14 yr HR veteran

Ditto for us @PeterDutton_MP ,Cypriot refugees-1975. Hard working parents, all three uni grad kids.

My grandparents arrived by boat from Malta after WW2. Learned English. Started a metalwork business. Created jobs.

@MarkDiStef My step father was an Italian immigrant after 50 years I could still hardly understand his English yet he had full employment

@MarkDiStef both my parents were migrants, English wasn't my dads native language. Couldn't be prouder of the start they gave me in life...

@MarkDiStef my dad immigrated from Italy when he was young not speaking a word of English. Now has postgrad quals and soon I will too.

It appears that not being able to read or write hasn't stopped these arrivals to Australia 👏getting👏stuff👏done.

@MarkDiStef my vanaema read English books while on the boat that got her to Australia. She's now a retired endocrinologist.

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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