Being diasporic means that the relationship you have with your past, your ancestors, turangawaiwai, is different. When you’re indigenous, you can walk to the places of significance in your life, you have access to elders who might give you guidance around who you are and where you’re from. Being Pacific, means that there’s less of that available here. Sure, there are centers where our people gather- churches, community groups, sports groups even. But it’s not the same as being in the Pacific.
And as a child of the diaspora I feel that lack.
Okay – Caveat time, this blog is obviously going to be more pertinent to a Pacific audience and for that I make no apologies. What I will say, is that I will not be explaining a whole bunch of things to those who are not diasporic. Not out of spite, mainly out of wordcount considerations. We simply don’t have the time. If you have questions though, I invite you to comment below and we can have a talanoa.
So, what does that mean to be a child of the Diaspora? Specifically, how does that impact my identity, my “Pacific-ness” my worth as a person looking to navigate the worlds of;
My parents migrated from the Pacific in the 70’s so I am a first-generation NZ born Pacific person. For me learning Samoan wasn’t a priority. My parents believed to navigate in this place, you must learn the rules. Because we were already so far behind everyone else, that meant throwing ourselves into the English language and the New Zealand way of life.
Fast forward to today, and you have a generation of Pacific people who look vastly different to their ancestors. If I was to meet my mother before she had moved to NZ, would she be impressed with the person I had become? For many children of the diaspora, we are the fruits of the decisions of our parents & grandparents. Our parents’ wildest dreams. Our elders moved to NZ for better opportunities in health, education and wealth generation. If you met your Pacific forefathers, would they be happy with what their children have become?
Culture evolves. As the next Pacific generation takes up positions of leadership, they must carry their culture forward and apply it to a modern world, that doesn’t understand it. I believe there is huge value in Pacific paradigms. The world can be a much better place when we open our minds. Gain wisdom from all of the rich diversity that exists within it. However, as diasporic generations find themselves in this new landscape, they will – we will – go through a bit of pain.
It hurts to be disconnected. To have poor representation. To have shallow examples that only look at parts of my life and my identity. I am Samoan, English, NZ born, gay, a local to South Auckland, and deeply religious. Much of who I am doesn’t sit very well with the other parts! So where are my leaders? Where are my examples? The answer is this: I have to be my own example. While that’s awesome and I’m up for the challenge, it’s also a little daunting at times. And hella lonely.
For young Pacific people who are of mixed heritage or who may not speak the language, they face questions about who they are- even within their own homes. Their cousins in the islands call them ‘palagi’ and ‘plastic’, their school mates and mainstream media portray them as statistics to be remedied. It’s a complex thing to come to grips with and a constant challenge.
But this isn’t a pity party. I’ve been brown my whole life, I know the drill, I’m not new to this. My concern is that there are many young people who, might not be as resilient.
I was lucky to be raised in this incredible religious bubble that surrounded me with warmth and support – while still judging and condemning me. Interesting dichotomy. But it provided me a safe space to exist. That space lies in my friends from church and school, families that have grown with mine and people who know me and will always have my back.
This is a privilege not always afforded to many young Pacific people and I worry.
This blog has gotten a whole lot more preachy than I intended but sometimes the story takes you on the journey, not the other way around.
TO THE ‘OLD GUARD’
To Pacific parents, elders, pastors, officials, teachers: give your young people the space and support to explore who they are without judgement or too many expectations. You have a responsibility to train us in the ways that we should be, to pass on the culture of our forebears. I challenge you to acknowledge that the world is vastly different and complex from the one you grew up in, and from the one where our culture sprang. Treat those who come after you with a little kindness. The world is hard enough.
Do not weaponise someone’s lack of cultural performance. If someone cannot speak the language, does that make them less Pacific? I know that shame is a common tool in many Pacific cultures but I urge you to be gentle with your children. The world is hard enough.
TO THE VOYEURS
Welcome. If you are not living part of this conversation I hope that it has provided you with a window into a different world. It’s a complex conversation and you’re welcome to sit, listen and learn. Anything that can help build better understanding across the diversity of New Zealand is beneficial. But also know that your lived experience is different. When speaking, only ever speak from the life that you’ve lived. You can empathise, but you are not an expert. And that’s totally okay.
TO CHILDREN OF THE DIASPORA
Be curious. Enquire who you are and where you come from. Being Pacific is a blessing from the heavens, ours is a history rich with kings and queens, travel the spanned over a 5th of the globe, gods, wars, heart-breaking love stories and bitter feuds. Find out who you are as it can become an immeasurable source of strength and power.
Also, take your parents on the journey with you. It can be hard to navigate a non-Pacific world with Pacific eyes, so lean on the cultural and spiritual elders around you.
Being Pacific is amazing; the melanin in my skin makes me seem 10 years young; the depths of my history provides an endless source of mystify and creativity. Explore who you are, and let that growing understanding be guide posts as you navigate an ever changing world.