Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Palagi take on the Pasifika report

by Justin Latif*
More Than Churches, Rugby and Festivals was launched at the Otahuhu Salvation Army Corps.
The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit’s recently released More than Churches, Rugby & Festivals, A Report on the State of Pacific People in New Zealand. The launch was covered by a variety of media and seemed to have generated quite a stir amongst the Pacific community. But it would be remiss to jump to the assumption that given the focus of this publication is on the Pasifika population that it has no relevance to the rest of us. While I may not tick a Pasifika box on census night there are many ramifications for me in this report as a non-Pasifika New Zealander or Palagi.
Firstly, this report highlights the historical background of Pasifika in New Zealand, putting their immigration to these fair shores within the wider socio-political context. Their story is in many ways a story of all New Zealanders – which is that we have travelled here at some point in our family's history with the ambitious hope of finding a better, more prosperous life. And the struggles they have faced upon arrival are quite similar to many people of other ethnicities.
But as I read through the report, one thing that struck me about the influx of Pasifika is the highly visible way they have contributed to our society. Whether it’s been wearing our beloved All Black jersey or the baggy Black Cap , or putting our nation on the musical and acting map with their fantastic talents in these areas. It would seem no other recent migrant people have added so significantly as Pasifika to the things Kiwis hold so dear.

Attendees at the report launch, from left; Chris Frazer, Major Campbell Roberts and Diana Vao.
But on the other hand, as this report gracefully highlights, Pasifika people are being left behind in many other areas.  It seems we are happy to take the reflected glory of having someone like Michael Jones or Jonah Lomu scythe their way through an opposition rugby team, but we’re just as quick to blame an entire ethnicity for the failings of a few criminals when they feature on the nightly news. Why do we complain about the Australian laws which exclude New Zealanders from accessing public health and welfare services, when we do exactly the same thing for Samoan quota migrants. Why do schools in Mangere, Otara and Otahuhu have such a paucity of resources and facilities. Why do we turn a blind eye to worker exploitation on South Auckland’s commercial vegetable patches or the Bay of Plenty’s kiwi fruit orchards. And why has an election promise to clamp down on the corrupt loan sharks preying on Pasifika, continued to be delayed.

National list MP Alfred Ngaro addresses the audience at the report launch

These are questions I find myself asking and perhaps there are valid reasons for some of these scenarios. But overall it seems that we give a ‘fair-go’ to some and not all. While this report does well to highlight the issue of widening inequality, it is our responsibility to do what we can to reverse this.
*I work for the Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit but was not involved in the report's authorship.

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