Saturday, August 18, 2007

'Bananas' add their own flavour to cultural mix

5:00AM Saturday August 18, 2007
It speaks volumes for the strength of New Zealand Chinese that those who organised the third in a series of "Banana" conferences at Auckland University this weekend have happily embraced that description of their cultural mix. Leaders of their homeland who cannot be exposed to the slightest protest on state visits can leave an impression the Chinese personality is impossibly thin-skinned.
It would be easy to assume that it is the "white" inside the Banana that has enabled the immigrant community not to take itself too seriously, but that is unlikely. It's pride in their distinction that gives any minority its confidence. Many are several generations removed from their ancestral roots today but they want to be called New Zealand Chinese not, as others say in a spirit of inclusion, Chinese New Zealanders.
The 150,000 Chinese in New Zealand at last year's census have come in several waves and from different parts of East Asia, as gold miners in the 1860s, Colombo Plan students a century later, as professional and business migrants encouraged by the needs of an open economy since the 1980s, and as students looking for education in English and a Western lifestyle.

Their conference today addresses the strains and successes of their experience. The tone seems to be positive, constructive, but aware no doubt that China's rising economic power and contrived currency peg are creating tensions.
But it would be a foolish country that failed to appreciate an immigrant people with ethnic or ancestral links to that vast region and its still greater potential prosperity.
They cannot find business easy in an economy of our scale, but we are richer in every sense for their presence and celebrate the strength of their identity here.

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