diversity makes nz great again

A few weeks ago, the world watched as Taika Waititi, a self-described ‘Polynesian Jew’ won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. A few days later, many of us were seen at the famous Night Noodle Markets, eating the very best of Asian cuisine in the country and from abroad.  

In our world today, some of the very best in food, art and culture all stem from minority ethnic or migrant backgrounds. Our little country provides a multicultural and extremely diverse face to the world. What would golf be without our Lydia Ko, boxing without Joseph Parker or rugby without half of the ethnic players that make up the All Blacks. 

The make-up of our population has seen dramatic change over the last decade and the diversity we see in this country is only growing. Ethnic communities have consistently shown how valuable they are to the fabric of our nation and are embracing New Zealand as if it were their own.  

To accept and welcome the culture of another country and its values can be challenging, especially when they are completely different from your own. It is not only foreigners who need to learn to adapt but Kiwis themselves have a responsibility to accept a blend of new cultures and what they stand for.  

The 2018 Census serves to highlight how New Zealand’s cultural make-up is becoming more diverse after a huge growth in population over the past five years. 27.4% of people were counted as not being born in New Zealand, which is up by 2% in 2013. 16.5% of the population identified as Maori, with 15.1% identifying with at least one Asian ethnicity. These statistics show us that diversity is only growing in New Zealand, so acceptance and understanding are highly important.  

I believe that it is education and awareness that help generate a greater understanding of living in a diverse nation. As the daughter of two immigrant parents, I am greatly aware of the stigma surrounding ethnic minorities and the fear they are ‘invaders’ or out to get rid of New Zealand culture.  

Growing up in Auckland, our nation’s biggest city, in the early 2000’s, was not as diverse as it has now come to be. I was painfully aware of how much I stood out amongst my European classmates, and thought it was the norm to always be one of two (maybe three) ethnic kids. My classroom environment was unfortunately equally reflective of the society I lived in where I struggled to find people that looked like me. 

Diversity has sometimes been viewed as a negative thing, especially in a small country like New Zealand. Too often, people are viewed differently and treated as if they don’t actually belong here, seen as the ‘other’ to stay away from. With more migration occurring around the late 2000’s/early 2010’s in NZ, it has taken a bit of getting used to, we are now seeing a melting pot of different faces.  

The sad reality is, we are all quick to flock to the Noodle Markets but then stereotype Asians for having Coronavirus or not being able to speak English. We all love going to the Diwali Festival, but then clump together Indians, Pakistanis and anyone from the Middle East. We moan when we have to hear something repeated in Maori, roll our eyes if someone speaks with broken English or make faces if someone if eating something that looks or smells different.  

It is great to see that New Zealand has become one of the most diverse countries on the planet and many people feel as if they can call NZ home. Yet, on the other side there is still a lot to be done to fully embrace and accept other cultures. More needs to be done than holding one celebratory event in hopes people might like certain aspects of one’s culture for an evening.  

Diversity, put simply, is what makes New Zealand great. However, it is immigration talks, polarisation and the poisonous debate on refugees that threaten to expel our diversity into division. That is not the New Zealand I know.  

When it comes to our culture and our country, we are actually not even divided. We unite together in our admiration and pride when the Haka is performed, we are proud of the accomplishments of Valerie and Steven Adams, the brilliance of Parris Goebel, and so many more. It is so crucial we do not forget this, especially at a time when race relations are tense and we are fed to believe stereotypes around a certain race or ethnicity.  

We must remember that we can, and should, always do more. For those that are of a minority ethnic background, there are still huge barriers for them to overcome despite the growing numbers. Our culture is so valuable to us and it should be shared collectively, not reserved for a few, and it is important we all play a part to make sure that is the case.  

Let’s not let us lose sight of what makes New Zealand so special and one of the best countries in the world to live in. It is our differences that unite us and help fuel our sense of belonging. Our exposure to all the cultures of the world is something that is increasing and this simply helps fuel our own.  

By Bianca Parshotam