Opinion: Accept that we are all Kiwis

It’s the elephant in the room – racism towards ethnic Chinese. What does it take for us to embrace all New Zealand citizens as Kiwis?

By Victoria Zhu
Racial attacks against Chinese in our country have been rising with alarming frequency.
In light of this, I have been reflecting on the prejudices that come with my ethnicity and culture as a New Zealand-born Chinese. Despite vast differences between the various generations of Kiwi-Chinese, we are lumped into a one-dimensional ‘foreign’ group. Cultural ignorance, racial humour and misplaced resentment towards the Kiwi-Chinese all indicate that the Chinese are ultimately marginalized in New Zealand.

When asked where I am from, and I respond (‘Auckland’), I still encounter skepticism-“Ok, but where are you really from?”

This response shows the subtle racial prejudice that creates a cultural barrier between the Chinese and other Kiwis in our community. The barrier is a result of the ignorance of many Kiwis towards the racist implications of their words and actions.

Granted, ethnic Chinese still only represent 12 per cent of our country’s population, and like many early Chinese immigrants, my family used to be isolated as one of the few Asian households in our neighbourhood. This exhibits a lack of Chinese representation that is not at the fault of our society, yet it inevitably prevents Kiwis from eliminating uninformed prejudices; and renders them unaware of their discriminatory words.

However, due the developing global emphasis for cultural acceptance, ignorance towards underlying racism should no longer be tolerated and Chinese jokes no longer taken so light-heartedly.

Humour is continues to be a large source of casual racism; ‘chink’, ‘ching chong’ and the “Asian” accent are too common in Kiwi vocabulary and are far from New Zealand’s image of being a welcoming community- only serving to fuel Chinese prejudices.

Undoubtedly, the ‘nouveau riche’ Chinese and their economic influence, primarily by inflating New Zealand median house prices, play a role in the prejudices against Kiwi-Chinese. Many working and middle-class Chinese-Kiwis become implicated in this, despite worrying about the property crisis themselves. My parents are frequently asked about their opinion on a multitude of topics surrounding China’s unwanted influence in New Zealand, reinforcing the barrier between ‘us Kiwis’ and ‘those immigrants’. The Chinese community are still being viewed as foreigners or intruders.

By holding onto these prejudices, we cannot call New Zealand a welcoming nation.
We openly tolerate, yet know very little about each other’s culture. Kiwis aim for cultural consciousness whilst a large percentage of our population is still unwilling to acknowledge and change the underlying prejudices we have of the Chinese community.

Since moving to the United Arab Emirates and attending New York University Abu Dhabi- two incredibly multicultural environments, my views on the treatment of Chinese in New Zealand have only further been strengthened. I am surprised to find that I feel more at ease here than in my home country. There is a mutual respect and curiosity for one another’s culture and differences in the UAE that I think New Zealand can adopt.

Despite living in the UAE for the next four years, I will always be a ‘foreign student’. As a Kiwi, I want to be seen as a local – especially in the country where I was born and raised. Yet due to an arbitrary divide of who is truly Kiwi and who isn’t, I, like many other Kiwi-Chinese, do not feel entirely at home in our country. There is no straight-forward solution to the problematic prejudice towards Chinese in our society, but steps towards the right direction would be for Kiwis to learn to accept all New Zealand citizens as Kiwis.

  • Victoria has been a resident in Half Moon Bay for 16 years and delivered newspapers for the Howick and Pakuranga Times for two years. She attended Wakaaranga Primary, Farm Cove Intermediate and Saint Kentigern College, where she graduated in 2016 with an International Baccalaureate Diploma. Victoria is currently studying at New York University Abu Dhabi.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Ethnicity will always divide us however we have the freedom to choose where we settle and call home. My home is New Zealand and for me that means being a kiwi: Living in NZ, attending NZ schools, being part of NZ community and culture, speaking English and Te Reo Maori. Embracing all that it means to me be a “kiwi” so I do not feel like a foreigner in the country I call home.

    We are a product of our own surroundings, the division of cultures is not a NZ issue anymore than it is anywhere else….

    Is there Maori or English communities in China experiencing this problem?
    Do you want to be known as a KIWI in Abu Dhabi?

  2. Dear Victoria,

    You write a good article and I understand at least some of your viewpoint, however please allow me to explain from another angle.

    I don’t believe native Kiwi people are racist or have any cultural issues with our Chinese population, however I do think that many locals feel disrespected when Chinese (or any other nationalities) come to our country but then refuse the assimilate. Simple things like learning English, respecting our culture, learning about the Maori people and at least trying to go about everyday life in the same way we do.

    Many children who were born here have parents that do not speak English, yet we are an English speaking nation. We do pride ourselves on tolerance for other cultures, however that same effort should be reflected for those who seek to come here for a better life than they had somewhere else.

    There’s probably always going to be some sort of cultural joke or slang term used for all sorts of different nationalities, such as when you travel to Hong Kong where the locals call us Ang Mo (red haired white person). What about the Aussies ? They have their differences but we have no issue with our neighbour across the ditch, apart from the fact they can’t play rugby.

    The home buying saga has most likely highlighted overseas people, who some locals believe have taken advantage of our country at the expense of locals who now cannot afford their own home, however if the tables were turned many locals would probably do the same, except we cannot buy a home in China (or many other countries). I have stood at open homes and auctions where there are more overseas buyers than locals, to me it brings a feeling of disappointment and frustration that our own people who have family and grew up here, simply cannot buy a home, unless prepared to move into a region away from family, friends and work.

    When you live in someone else’s native country, whether born there or not, the first priority is to uphold the local way of life, which here in New Zealand is pretty good, I’m sure you’d agree.

    David
    Howick.

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