Chinese discuss place in New Zealand
9.40am Monday August 14, 2006By Lincoln Tan
Better-educated than their parents and raised in a backdrop of more than one culture, the offspring of early New Zealand Chinese settlers and new migrants gathered to talk about their identities at the weekend.
The Going Bananas: Multiple Identities Forum at the Auckland University of Technology drew a mixed 200-strong crowd, which was noticeably younger and more ethnically diverse than the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Banana Conference last year.
"This conference is about getting a sense of who we are, so that we can better understand our place in New Zealand society," said conference spokesman Alistair Kwun.
New Zealand born Chinese Andrew Young, 36, talked about growing up in denial that he was Chinese and how a visit to China changed that.
Born in a family of five children in Lower Hutt, Mr Young was discouraged from mixing with Pakeha when he was young.
"My parents said they would lead us astray and we would learn their lazy ways. We were to be the perfect citizens. School was there to teach us, so we could excel and do much better than them," he said.
But he began questioning that during his teenage years, when he felt being Chinese was "a real drag" - having to "continuously keep your head down, your opinions to yourself, not making any trouble" in what seemed like an endless toil.
He decided it was easier not to be part of the Chinese community when he was in his late teens and defiantly drank beer in front of his parents.
A trip to China in the late 90s and visiting his cousins gave him a glimpse of the hard life his parents left behind " a life which could easily have had been his", and it woke him up to the sacrifices they made in order to give him the life he now enjoys in New Zealand.
"That trip to the villages, and seeing what my parents have created has made me incredibly proud to be Chinese and reinforced to me how important heritage is," Mr Young said.
It also made him appreciate the opportunities that New Zealand offered. He had worked as a journalist including at the Herald before joining the Starship Foundation, of which he is its CEO today.
Others also talked about challenges they faced in living with multiple identities and what it means to them.
Ms Jenny Lee, a Chinese Maori, said she saw her mixed ethnicities as a continuation of "the tradition of my grandmothers" and would not compromise it to become "just a New Zealander".
Ms Gia Nghi Phung, a Chinese Vietnamese, talked about how a bureaucratic blunder by Australian immigration officials when she migrated there as a refugee gave her the name she now has. Her name was actually Lai Kar Yi.
Gay Chinese New Zealander Mr David Do spoke of how he once contemplated suicide but he came to terms, spoke to friends and "came out" about his sexuality and was glad they accepted him for who he was. But he has still not revealed it to his parents for fear of breaking their hearts.
The forum also show-cased Asians in active in New Zealand's creative industries - including film, literature and fashion.
Keynote addresses on issues of identity and the Chinese sense of belonging in New Zealand were delivered by Dr Robyn Dixon of Auckland University and Dr James Liu of VictoriaUniversity.
The forum was organised by the New Zealand Chinese Association, and is sponsored by the Herald.