Worlds Apart: Growing up Bi-Culturally in New Zealand

Worlds Apart: Growing up Bi-Culturally in New Zealand

I was born in 1996 in Auckland to a Filipino mother and a Pakeha father. At the time, 68.69% of the population identified as Pakeha and 4.08% of the population were Asian. I grew up as a bi-cultural child, a person 50% of ‘colour’, in a European-dominated society, and this would affect me in ways that I am only starting to be aware of now.

I am going to say something that will probably surprise a lot of my friends and peers, but I grew up not really relating to kiwi culture. I didn’t grow up wearing jandals going to the beach all the time and having BBQs (that’s what I assume all kiwi kids do), I went to a Filipino church where the priest didn’t speak English, ate rice with a delicious assortment of marinated meats for most of my meals, went to house parties with maybe 4 or 5 European people and the rest were Filipino where we would eat pancit or adobo, mothers would sing hundreds of songs on the karaoke and when you went to leave the party it would be like trying to find Wally when looking for your shoes among dozens of other party goers at the door. 

When I was really young I didn’t gravitate towards white people – most of my friends were of Asian heritage. I had some close white friends but I remember my first proper experience at a classic kiwi house so clearly. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I felt like an alien in a new world experiencing something for the first time. Dinner at their house was boiled green beans, an unsalted chicken breast with bacon wrapped around it, and boiled pumpkin. I thought I was being punished and called my parents shortly after to come pick me up. When I realised that that was actually the norm, I had to politely excuse myself from staying at dinner time thereafter to the point where my parents knew about it and would help me to make excuses.

I travelled to the Philippines often to see the rest of my family when I was young. I had 1 lola, 8 titas and titos, and about 100 million ates and kuyas. But I was an outsider to them as well, I couldn’t speak the language that they spoke, I resembled them in some ways and my skin darkened under the sun like theirs but it felt like there was a glass door to get into their world and I wasn’t allowed to touch the handle just like there was a glass door to get into the world where I called home in NZ that I couldn't get into. I was stuck in this void of not feeling like I belonged to either world and most importantly, I felt alone. 

These were some of the lighter stories but there were plenty of dark times that occured to my sister and I that would not have happened had we been another ethnicity. We were essentially like baby deers to a group of people in New Zealand that are not really spoken about. I soon figured out that predators can come in all shapes, sizes, ages and can appear anywhere – at the public pools while your parents are less than 30 metres away, while you’re walking your dog less than 100m away from your house, while you’re on holiday in another country and walking around market stalls. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, 77% of human trafficking incidents were people of colour and a half-caste child is like a diamond to the disturbed people of society. As I grew older I attracted a new demographic, the one that didn’t want to ‘see’ me but only saw me for what I appeared to be. “What’s your background?” “You look so exotic?” “You’re not from here are you?” I began to resent my skin and body for the unwanted attention that I received from it. 

Anyone who knows or is friends with a Filipino also knows that although we are well-known for being hospitable and friendly, we are also emotionally explosive people. We come from a tribal warrior heritage and if you play with fire you are going to get burnt. This combined with moving to a foreign country that still in today’s age has racist undertones, with limited knowledge of the language, culture and general life experience for my mother at barely 30 raising two naughty little shitskids, was like a nuclear bomb that could blow up at any time. By day I was like any normal NZ school girl going to school and talking to friends about parties and boys, by night I would go back to my home in Epsom, a re-created stage of a tribal warfare scene with broken plates, windows, blood and tears. A scene that would make a white PC person probably faint but was unsurprising for homes with people of colour. Domestic violence for minority ethnic groups is commonly looked over and under-researched because the majority of families will not come forward due to mistrust or unfamiliarity with authority figures.

As I got older, I tried to shed my Filipino roots and throw myself into the world of kiwi culture and lifestyle. I watched my own mother do the same and I felt that she was embarrassed to be associated with the island living lifestyle of a Filipino. She bought dozens of skin whitening products, straightened her hair over and over again, and distanced herself from her family and friends – which I didn’t understand until later was internalised racism at its finest. I too was determined to solidify my place as a kiwi in NZ. I did what a troubled young adolescent in a notoriously substance abusing country would naturally do and turned to partying, alcohol and drugs. 

Today I am trying to shift away from my past and find a middle ground of my identity where I can fully embrace both my mixed Asian and European heritage, plucking the positive aspects from both cultures that I have always appreciated and turning it into my own. With globalisation, we are seeing integrated cultures and people are being exposed more and more to what life on the other side of the hill looks like. But there needs to be more. In less than 15 years, more than half the population of New Zealand will identify as being non-pakeha. 

We need to understand one another, and empathise with other people’s experiences. Immigrants/foreigners/people of colour should not be made to feel anxious or stressed about their identities because it will affect them and their children. I was so excited to see that a movie was coming out with an all Asian cast and was even more overjoyed to hear that it was going to be about someone who felt torn between the western and eastern world. If you are white I highly encourage you to go see this movie for your own benefit and also for mine – yes pulling your eyes and saying something along the lines ‘ching chong chung’ offends the fuck out of me, even though you don’t consider me to be ‘Asian’. I am, and proud of it, so of course I am going to stand up for my brothers and sisters, just like when I need to call out myself for getting Jack/Mike/Ben/Ryan/basic white boi breathers confused with one another (if you all stop growing your hair out & facial hair, wearing the latest $300 tops that make you look poor, and travelling in packs at some Dunedin street named band it would be much easier for us Asians to tell you apart).

This article first appeared in Issue 24, 2018.
Posted 6:49pm Thursday 20th September 2018 by Jasmine Weaver.