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September 24, 2018 | by  | in Editorial | [ssba]

Editor’s Letter

I read a piece by Rose Lu in the Pantographic Punch recently about the lack of Asian representation in New Zealand literature. She was telling her story, but it somehow felt like my story. I, too, read books to figure out how to interact with the Pākehā world I had found myself in. My school days were full mispronounced words that I’d read but never had the chance to say aloud. I enacted rituals I’d never seen in action — waking my sister up for that “midnight feast” we’d only read about, shortbread biscuits dusty on our sleep-dried mouths.
I showed Preya, one of our feature writers, the piece. She’s originally from India, but she said that the story of this Chinese New Zealander struck home for her as well. I said, maybe it’s not about the country of origin. Maybe it’s about the experience of growing up, transplanted from one culture to another at a young age. I don’t know what the right word is for people like us — it’s not talked about much. Not quite “diaspora”, because our Asian identities don’t fit anymore. We spoke for a while about the curiosities that came with living in two cultures — the classic “where are you really from”, not knowing when fights with parents were culture clashes or just parents being dicks, the shittiness of white people food (except roasts) compared to the rich cooking traditions we had come from. She said that it was her first time having this sort of conversation.

Usually, when I meet another Asian, I am careful not to bring up race. If they have a New Zealand accent, I treat them like their skin is invisible — talk school, books, groceries — whatever. “Where are you from?” has become so embedded with memories of fighting for identity, that the mere question seems like an attack. So I avoid it. But in doing so, we lose the chance to talk about our heritage, our whakapapa. We lose the chance to acknowledge our identities, and come together in support.

Our homeland is New Zealand — how can it be anywhere else? Yet, somehow, it’s not ours. When I was 21, I went on exchange to California. I told them I was from New Zealand. And I was believed. It’s hard to express how emotional that made me feel. I was even ecstatic about being mistaken for an Aussie, because at last they were reading me for my mannerisms and my accent, not my skin. But, there is something profoundly melancholy in the fact that the first time I was accepted as a New Zealander was when I had left the country. There’s a lot more Asians in California, and they’ve been around for longer. The “Asian American” identity is settled. “Asian New Zealander” feels like an unusual pairing, even though that’s what we are, as close as I can articulate it. I had to say the phrase several times to get my tongue comfortable with the feeling.

But we need to have a name and we need to call each other by that name. There’s a lot of us out there. The older ones who have been here since the Gold Rush. The newer ones like me and Rose and Preya who have grown up here and will have children here, and they will need a name to call themselves too. We need to exist — in books, movies, in the public sphere. We need to be on the census forms, because I’m sick of calling myself “Asian Other”. I’m sick of being other.

Welcome to Issue 21, “Looking Back”. We’ve got people writing about histories, stories, pasts. It’s also election week, which I’m stoked about. The presidential race is looking tight, and other roles, such as Wellbeing and Sustainability and Equity, have had interesting showings.


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