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June 6, 2017 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

The Immigration Conversation Deals in People’s Lives

Politics, at it’s core, should be about people. There’s always a risk of over-politicising an issue, a chance that you may take all heart and perspective out of it. When this happens, problem solving becomes sideshow to ideology and fanaticism. Personally, I think it’s important to put perspective into politics. With this in mind, you might ask, “Marlon, what do you, a New Zealand born white boy from the Auckland middle class, have to say about immigration?” Well, recent trends have worried me a bit. Mum’s an immigrant. She moved here from Vienna in the ’80s. I’m very proud of my Austrian heritage, often annoyingly so. I was going to write about the economics of immigration and the dollars lost/gained/invested/whatever’d when we fiddle with how many immigrants we let in. The other day, though, I called up Mum and yarned to her about moving from glorious central Europe to NZ, and a few simple words stuck in my mind: “Just because I look the same, doesn’t mean I think the same.”

Mum’s experience as an Austrian immigrant no doubt differs to the experiences of immigrants from other cultures, but I think the underlying point she makes is relevant across the board. We are often so eager to force conformity upon immigrants but we often don’t understand how difficult it is to do so. Mum chose to make it easy for my brother and I and, put simply, tried to fit in. What would it be like watching your children grow up not wanting to learn the language of the country you came from? Witnessing the growth of your children alongside the growth of a language barrier between your parents and their grandkids? The thought of losing the values and customs of your culture is a terrifying thing, a subconscious uprooting of your very belief system in exchange for another. There’s a sick, albeit humorous, irony that this very fear that exists for immigrants is also a driving factor of xenophobia.

In any case, I was fortunate to enjoy (in trickle-down form) some of values that Mum grew up with, and I’m glad I did. The importance of family, heritage, the arts, responsible drinking (this has taken some time to trickle down), are all values I can source back to my home. They’re ones I believe I will share with society in the future through my children.

I spoke to a friend recently who held concerns about Muslim immigration. I had a mild instinctive desire to ram my views down his throat. Instead, I found legitimacy in the underlying principle of the belief he held; the importance in having a common set of values in a society and wanting to protect and develop them, and understanding that not all values and ideals will compliment each other. In some ways this is how strong values were passed generation by generation down to me.

Balancing this belief and the importance of a “cultural mixing pot” is where the standard for immigration debate must lie. To do any more or less we lose perspective. When we talk about these issues we must do so with patience and empathy, and must remind ourselves that we are dealing with human beings. None of what I have said today can be found on an economic graph. Economics no doubt has a part to play in policy decisions we make around immigration, but the immigration conversation ultimately deals in people’s lives, and the decisions we make may set societal precedent for years to come.


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