Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Defiant & Confrontational

Mazda Motors, Otahuhu, Auckland 1981 by Glen Jowitt from the series 'Polynesia Here and there' 1981, found on Booksellers, and featured in the book 'Tangata o le moana: New Zealand and the People of the Pacific'.

I've been reading/flicking through a fantastic new book my boss bought yesterday and immediately loaned me (high five!) that was published at the beginning of the month. It's called 'Tangata o le moana: New Zealand and the People of the Pacific' and is comprised of a series of essays, edited by Sean Mallon, Kolokesa Mahina-Tuai, and Damon Salesa. I've spent most of my time on the chapter 'All Power to the People - Overstayers, Dawn Raids and the Polynesian Panthers' by Melani Anae, and it's been getting me very excited and inspired. My favourite new fact so far is that Will 'Ilolahia (founding member of the panthers, friend of my Dad's, and the man who took Simply Red to Samoa) was arrested in Canberra in 1972 for trying to set up an Aboriginal embassy. I think that is so, so cool; it's what I aspired to grow up to do back at school when I formed the (short-lived) Women's Communist League with two of my friends. Anyway, what I've been reading has been making me think, and I wanted to share some of what I've read, and some of what I've thought.

Agnes Mary Eti Ivala Laufiso (known as Eti Laufiso) was the third national president of PACIFICA (the best acronym ever: Pacific Allied [Women's] Council Inspires Faith in Ideals Concerning All), an organisation formed by migrant women in the early seventies to help new migrants adjust to life in New Zealand. I plan to find out more about her, but I like what I know so far. Here she articulates exactly how I feel about people - women in particular - who profess to be non-political. (However, while she takes it in her stride, I, as with most things, let it make me wild. As long as you are a person, you are political! And if you are a woman, constant object of the male gaze and everything else, you could barely be more political if you shaved your head, named your son Jesus, and chained yourself to a petrol pump!) (By the way, this is from p197 of the book, and the underlining is my own.)

PACIFICA is very political. People say it's not political and they don't want to be political, but 
as soon as you walk the street you're political: you're a political entity.
You're governed by all sorts of things... You're political.

She goes on to make another point with which I agree completely:

I wish the men would get up and do their thing...
Because we need them, we need all of us to actually stand together...

One of the organisers of Slutwalk made a brilliant speech at the end of the march and talked about the importance of the involvement of men to its success. People immediately affected by a law or a situation can make a change but it takes a long time without the support of others outside that group. And if someone is in difficulty, we are all affected, whether we believe ourselves to be or not. (I used the example of the crucial involvement of white people in the black civil rights movement to Vincent on the morning of the march; that might sound like manipulation, but I will do what it takes.)

Reading about the dawn raids made me think about what the plan was for the children of immigrants. Most work permits being issued were for three months, so it seems as if the immigrant workers were supposed to go back to the islands from whence they came and continue with their lives there. Except that, with the (infinitely higher) number of immigrants from other countries (mainly England) staying beyond their visas, there can't really have been an expectation for anyone to return to their homelands (unless the government was as racist and hypocritical as it seemed to be). So I've been trying to figure out what we, the next generation, were supposed to be, and how we were supposed to fit in? A new class of unskilled workers (I could only think of slaves begetting slaves as an example; I hope you know what I mean)? Were we meant to be segregated, and educated accordingly? Reading about why our parents came here, it seems clear that the government never made a plan for us, unless it was for us to become our parents. There isn't room for us; one in five people under twenty-five is unemployed. Changes to enrolment and student loans means that tertiary education is becoming less accessible to lower income families (from which most of us come). Many of our families need their graduate offspring to earn money immediately, so high-paying industries with low/non paid internships are ruled out, and creative fields are not even a consideration. And I don't know how our parents could have made more money than they did; some were working in factories, trying to make lives here for their families, as well as send money home to help everyone else. I think what I'm trying to say is that there should have been a plan, and that there needs to be one for the children of new immigrants. It might be inconvenient, but we grow up! This is our country; some of us haven't known any other. We don't have the same background as children who were brought up in the dominant culture. There is a responsibility to us, when our parents are accepted into this country, or brought here as unskilled labour or whatever else: there has to be a plan. Or else, when we discover we don't fit, things will happen.

I'm going to think about this a bit more, and unlike when I say I'll get back to you and then forget, I'll really get back to you about what I come up with. But I'd really appreciate hearing what you think about this. I think about the son of Malaysian immigrants who live up the road from my parents, and how hard he studies, and all of the pressure that is on him to deserve what has been given up for him, and how little support he has had from anyone except his parents. And I think about my niece's awesome little friend and his family, who also live up the road, and how hard they do it now, and what the opportunities will be for their children. I realise that this government is making it clear that children are not their responsibility - not any children. But children of immigrants are so displaced already... we are apt to fall through the cracks. I guess I have to do something.

Lastly, the title of this post is from a description in the book of the Polynesian Panthers.


  1. I love this post. I would have so much interest reading this book and seeing the pictures. It's strange having no place, but isn't this the best way to be! Still finding our place... I don't know how to think about plans, but you should outline some of yours! "I guess I have to do something" yes, start a movement and I will follow! As will the rest of 35 high haha x

    1. Hehe, I don't know if anyone beyond the kind walls of paua would join! I think you would love this book, although it's not as good as Urban Village. Okay, I will think of some ideas! And you're right; it's strange having no place but it is the best way to be. Thank you sunbeam xoxo