NEEDING NO APOLOGY
For over 140-odd years after 1840, most people who migrated to New Zealand were from Britain (England, Scotland, Wales) and Ireland. Very small numbers of other nationalities included a few French people at Akaroa in 1840; Germans, who came to Nelson in 1843-1844; Scandinavians, who settled in Manawatū and Hawke’s Bay in the 1870s; Chinese from the Pearl River delta area in Guangdong province in the 1870s, attracted by the gold fields in Otago; the Dalmatians in the 1880s, working the northern gum fields; Indians before the end of the 19th century; some Cook Islanders and Niueans since 1901; and, Tokelauans from 1916).
During much of that time until the 1970s, much of New Zealand kept its immigrants limited largely to people of European stock through assisted migration schemes and entry permits. In fact, a Department of External Affairs memorandum issued in 1953 stated that: “Our immigration is based firmly on the principle that we are and intend to remain a country of European development. It is inevitably discriminatory against Asians – indeed against all persons who are not wholly of European race and colour. Whereas we have done much to encourage immigration from Europe, we do everything to discourage it from Asia.”
Even if that mindset was generally the official line then, the world was changing rapidly after WWII. Independence movements in most all of the British colonies, civil rights crusades in the early 1960s against racial segregation in the United States, the snow balling movement worldwide against South Africa’s anti-Apart heid policies and a Māori cultural revival in New Zealand acceler ated by their own migration from rural areas to the cities all together forced many New Zealanders to confront an immigration policy fashioned over a century from narrow racial preferences. Such policies were to become increasingly hard to enforce and even harder to defend in later years.
By 1970 a writer commenting on his own country’s immigration policies struck a chord when he wrote, “This is a world in which racist attitudes, once regarded as perfectly natural and needing no apology in an age of European domination of the non-Europeans’ world, are now looked at askance, even when they are not condemned outright.”
THE RUDE AWAKENING
New Zealanders had led comfortable, quiet and easy lives until they were rudely awakened from a bad dream. That nightmare was Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community (ECC) in 1973. This major realignment jolted them to seriously reconsider their identity as a Pacific, if not Asian, nation. It forced New Zealand not only to find new markets for they had just lost overnight, but also to re-examine their national identity and place in the world.
We need to appreciate that the problems of New Zealand’s economy at that time had a long pre-history. The philosophies that shaped its previous 133-years entwined with Britain for most of its needs created rigidities, mental attitudes and institutions to match. It was a period of pervasive regulation of inter national trade, capital, labour, product markets and an over-governed society which frequently turned challenges into mediocre results.
Then came the Springbok Tour of New Zealand of 1981. Before that, New Zealand’s history of fierce competition moved alongside with an established tradition of hospitality towards the visiting side. In 1956 and 1965, when the South African rugby team toured New Zealand, they were showered with warmth and generosity wherever they went.
A COMING OF AGE
What made the 1981 sporting event so different and significant? What motivated ordinary Kiwis to employ such extraordinary actions against one another? The Springbok Tour’s impact went far beyond the rugby ground as communities and families divided. Tensions cascaded out onto the streets and into the living rooms of the nation. It became one of the most divisive event in New Zealand history. Something obviously fundamental had changed their way of thinking. Here they were rife with emotions exploding all around them. Almost everyone harboured some deep seated feelings about what the presence of this South African rugby team truly represented and, by embracing them, the message it was telling the world.
The mere presence of the 1981 Springbok team on New Zealand’s sacred soil illuminated some very painful and emotional questions as whether or not its so-called ‘free’ society was really liberated from the same shackles of racial stereotyping and bigotry which a defiant country like South Africa inflicted upon innocent people of different ethnic backgrounds within its own piece of Africa. Until then, this obvious proclivity was also true of New Zealand’s immigration policies. It was still highly selective, exclusivist and had ultimately contributed to an insular social atmosphere much in the same vein as South Africa.
If anything, New Zealand had come of age. By 1987, our country began to move away from what other nations had characteristically labeled it as a country with high statistics of prejudice by changing its immigration policies to admit people on the basis of their quali fications and not their race. Any person who met specified educa tional, business, professional, age or asset requirements was to be admitted, regardless of race or nationality.
From 1991, people from non-traditional source countries found it easier to meet the criteria to migrate to New Zealand. The number of Asian migrants grew (notably from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong Japan, Korea and India) and Southeast Asia (principally from the 11 member nations of ASEAN) and some from Africa. By 2003, New Zealand’s immigration policy was further refined to allow migra tion into the country under different streams (or categories) divided between skills, business, family and humanitarian reasons.
There is now a growing community of Southeast Asian migrants who call New Zealand their home.
NARROWING THE GAP
In the first decade of the 21st century, there were many signs that New Zealanders were already enjoying the variety of experiences that ethnic diversity offers. Statistics New Zealand studies reveal that increasing numbers chose to claim multiple ethnic origins and identities when asked to fill in official forms. Rising levels of cross-cultural intermarriage and partnership, mixing of different ethnicities in workplaces and neighbourhoods, and the blending of diverse family, church and voluntary association activities, all point to the breaking down of ethnic boundaries. The positive contributions of indigenous and immigrant minorities in many areas of New Zealand life are just now beginning to receive some recognition.
Today, the influence of newsrooms on New Zealanders help shape perceptions about their own Southeast Asia migrant communities – ones who are now an integral part of their society. Even as New Zealanders’ knowledge of the geography of Asia is improving, when confronted with a map of the Southeast Asian region highlighting the countries where these various ethnic communities hail from, most are only able to recall and cite a few surface facts. They only have some basic knowledge about its people and their cultures and it is often at times erroneous.
Given this, the Society for Southeast Asian Communities would like to take a more proactive role that helps narrow this gap by co-launching a new event this year together with the ASEAN Heads of Mission in New Zealand called the ASEAN Festival 2012: Experience Southeast Asia!
Watch The Video
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ANOTHER POSITIVE DIMENSION
Interestingly enough, an annual survey called ‘Perceptions of Asia’ conducted for the Asia New Zealand Foundation takes an up-to-date snapshot of public opinion surrounding New Zealand’s relationship with Southeast Asians; the importance of that region in Asia to New Zealand’s future; public perceptions regarding its people; and, how they contribute to New Zealand.
These days, more than 4 out of 5 New Zealanders (83%) agree that Asia is important to New Zealand’s future (46% see it as very important). Consistent with previous years’ results, Asia continues to be rated as more important than Europe (69%), North America (59%), South Pacific (51%), South America (31%) and Africa (16%). Naturally, only Australia is rated as more important to New Zealand’s future than Asia (88%).
The latest research results also reveals that of those who have seen, heard or read ‘mostly positive’ media about New Zealand cited cultural events and festivals as a major source of inform ation. It comes no surprise that the importance of Asian-inspired cultural events and festivals in New Zealand have also increased markedly in the past decade – notably the annual Chinese Lantern and Indian Diwali festivals, which now add another pos itive dimension which attract more people not only from home but also those from around the world eager to come and visit our country.
The Society believes that arts and culture express ed through recurring festivals play a significant role in the economic vitality of many major cities around the world but more valuably they also create mirrors that shine and reflect the spirit of their own people.
As we speak, cities around the world are compet ing to attract new businesses as well as the bright est of young professionals. International studies show that winners of this race will be those coun tries that offer an abundance of diverse arts and cultural experience opportunities. As they flour ish, so will creativity and innovation – the fuel that drives a national economy.
A SHARED ENDEAVOUR
We realize, however, that launching a successful ASEAN Festival event in New Zealand for the first time requires the buy-in and financial support of the local business community. In this particular regard, the Society now seeks enlightened corporate sponsors whose aims are to further develop their social responsibility programmes and inclinations along lines of work which the Society does best.
Our aim is to give suitable sponsors sufficient understanding about the Society and its involvement as principal organizer of the ASEAN Festival event and all its activities so that they can evaluate the cost effectiveness of our programme alongside promotional opportunities.
By focusing on transforming sponsor concerns into action, this tendency will become more apparent when the Society starts working together with you as business owners. It starts with a matching process that sorts out and assesses background work that ensure sponsorship activities deliver a package of benefits and outcomes.
As a shared endeavour, we believe this collaborative approach helps builds common interests and increases future opportunities for both parties to work more closely together to build long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial.
We’d be happy to sit down with you to explore ways to further enhance or expand your corporate social responsibility programmes through a sponsorship in this upcoming major festival event for New Zealand.
For enquiries, please contact:
Murali Kumar: (in Wellington)
Matilde Tayawa Figuracion: (in Wellington)