Growing up in Aotearoa – Waitangi Day: an immigrant’s perspective

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Written By Vivian Chandra

Tēnā koutou katoa
Ko te pane o Mataoho te Maunga
Ko Manukanuka o Hoturoa te Moana
He tauiwi ahau mai i Malaysia
Ko Vivian Chandra tōku ingoa
No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa.

I arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand) in 1989. I was eight years old and came straight off the plane from Malaysia. Aotearoa could not be more different.

Growing up in Owairaka (Mt Albert) in Aotearoa’s biggest city, Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) was a world of difference to Selangor, Malaysia. For one, the term ‘biggest city’ amused my family to no end. It seemed quaint that all the shops closed on a Sunday and that a television kiwi wished you goodnight every night.

The strangest thing for me, though, was how mono-cultural it all seemed. In Malaysia, there is a hodge-podge of cultures, and people switch between Bahasa Malay, English, Mandarin, Cantonese and a multitude of other languages interchangeably and sometimes in the same sentence. In Owairaka, surrounded by mostly European people, with a smattering of Māori and Pasifika, I hardly heard anything but English. In fact, there were so few Asians; a school bully believed I was Bruce Lee’s niece, which worked out quite nicely for me.

Don’t get me wrong. Aotearoa is a fantastic place. I love this country. I call this my home. It is why I started this blog with my pepeha. For those that may not be sure, a pepeha is a form of introduction. It establishes your identity and heritage and is something you can use to introduce yourself. In my pepeha, I have included the mountain (maunga) and ocean/sea (moana) that I live near, as well as a nod to the fact that I hail from a different country. It has taken me a long time to be comfortable with having a pepeha. I felt like an interloper, laying claim to a maunga and moana that I was not born near.

In a similar way, Waitangi Day holds mixed feelings for me. A while ago, I completed a course with He Puna Mātauranga o Te Tiriti (Treaty Resource Centre), and the content truly surprised me. As an adult who has lived the majority of my life here in Aotearoa, I felt that I had a rough understanding of what Te Tiriti was, but to be given another perspective and to be educated on the history that has often been hidden, ran chills down my spine.

As a country, we have made great strides to write the wrongs of colonisation. We have a long way to go, but the fact that our current Prime Minister is choosing to spend five days at Waitangi listening rather than talking is such an excellent step in the right direction.

I would like to end this article with a whakataukī. A whakataukī is a Māori proverb which has higher underlying messages in what seems to be a simple phrase.

Mā pango mā whero ka oti te mahi – With black, with red, the work is completed.

 This proverb reminds us of the red and black patterns in traditional Māori design, but it also tells us of partnership and working together. Whenever there have been conflict around Waitangi and how we celebrate, it has often been because one group has felt that they knew what was good for the whole. If we work together as one people, tangata whenua and tangata tiriti, then perhaps the Aotearoa our children inherit will be much much better.