Mutual sustenance: Goan women and the Catholic church in New Zealand

First published in Goanet Reader Sun, 30 Apr 2006 and also published in the Indian Catholic May 21,2006

On December 3 2005, Catholic Goans in Auckland, New Zealand celebrated the Feast of St Francis Xavier with a mass in Konkani, the first time such an event had been held in New Zealand. For those who don’t know, Francis Xavier was actually born in the Spanish kingdom of Navarre. He arrived in Goa in May 1542 and went on from there to Cape Comorin in the south of India, spending three years working among the pearl-fishers, or Paravas, of the Fishery Coast. His journey took him to the East Indies, to Malacca and the Moluccas, and, finally, in 1549 to Japan. He died on December 3rd, 1552, as he attempted to enter China and was buried. Within a few weeks his body was recovered and found to be perfectly preserved. It was brought to Goa and received there with devotion and enthusiasm leading to his beatification by Pope Paul V in 1619 and later his canonization by Pope Gregory XV, on March 12th, 1622. He is now the patron Saint of Goa. This event led me to wonder about the significance of religion and faith among Goans and how this sustained them during their migration and settlement in other countries.

In terms of  the New Zealand population, there is growing cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. Three trends are apparent: first, that religious participation by White or Pakeha New Zealanders is declining while changes in immigration policy have resulted in the introduction and growth of both diasporic religious traditions (such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and so on) and an invigoration of Christian denominations. The 2001 Census noted that more than half the New Zealand population identified with a Christian religion (Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian dominating) and the largest non-Christian religions were Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Spiritualism and New Age religions.

In my research among Goan women in New Zealand, what became apparent to me is that while Goan women have become detached from their homeland (all participants were born outside of Goa) they continue to have a link with the homeland while surviving in, and engaging, a foreign culture. Also religion and cultural identity are tightly inter-connected. There is academic debate about whether religion is a core attribute of culture or whether it functions within it, is more prominent than culture or in the background. I found many women in describing their identity, forgot that there are Hindu and Muslim Goans.

My description would be Goan Roman Catholic. Primarily being Goan is being Catholic because all the Catholics normally came from Goa, which was one of the Catholic states of India (Lorna).

As I grew up you grow out of church and praying and you go the other way kind of thing, but that was very strong, I think the Catholic faith, which stayed throughout. I mean even now you just link up being Goan and Catholic together (Rowena).

Crossing borders as migrants do involves not only physical borders but also emotional and behavioural boundaries. Becoming a member of a new society stretches the boundaries of what is possible because one’s life and roles change, and with them, identities change as well. This involves trauma and then incorporating new identities and roles becomes necessary for survival.

For many Goans in Auckland, the Catholic religion and church provided a mechanism for coming to grips with a new environment and assisted the transition to living in New Zealand. They could mix with other ethnic communities while at the same time maintain their culture and faith, that is it provided a bridge connects Goans to other Catholics while who shared similar religious beliefs and values even if they were culturally different.

Thus Churches provide a vehicle for helping Goans participate in New Zealand life rather than isolating them. In the case of the Catholic Church Goan migrants were already familiar with the rituals and structure and the church provided a supportive and welcoming space for them as immigrants. As someone who grew up in New Zealand, our youth group provided a wonderful source of friendship and fellowship for me and my two sisters.

Churches provide not only institutional spiritual comfort but also practical support. For example when we first came to New Zealand, our family was able to buy what is now called ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ through the recycling process of the mini-market where you could buy other parishioners unwanted clothes.

Churches have also responded to new migrants by attending to and incorporating religious practices that are culturally significant for immigrants; for Goans this includes celebration of the Feast of St Francis Xavier, the patron Saint of Goa. Thus immigrants have infused change and a rich range of experiences in the churches they have joined within their receiving communities. I also remember with delight the Samoan choir who would sing in Samoan and English elevating our services to celestial heights once a month.

Integration into New Zealand is made so much easier by belonging to a ‘mainstream’ faith, providing entry into New Zealand society and enhancing integration and acceptance for participants into the dominant society in a way that people from minority faiths don’t have access to. Because Catholicism can be accessed within mainstream society, it can mean that not as much energy is required to maintain the faith. I remember at a Muslim women’s Hui I attended last year the major efforts Muslims went through to obtain halal food, such as going to farms and butchering their own animals.

Furthermore, faith, prayer and networks from the church also provide the support to aspire and do well in New Zealand. Flora felt strongly that her transition and survival in New Zealand was due to her faith and the help of the church.

You know the help came from God, you know through the Church (Flora).

There is a risk of complacency in extending ourselves beyond our own faith and ethnic communities once we grow in size as a community. As ethnic communities increase in size they move from being multi-ethnic religious communities and later establish themselves into ethnically-specific religious institutions. Rowena developed a new network of support through her church, which went beyond Goans and was a lifeline:

I started going to a mothers group there and I met a lot of other Malaysian and Indonesian and Filipino women and we would go and have coffee together and that kind of thing and my social life. I got quite involved with the Parish and doing work for the Church because I mean I really didn’t know many other people. I did meet a lot of elderly parishioners they were wonderful they would come and give me flowers, chocolates and really spoil me because they knew I was on my own and they were wonderful (Rowena).

For many early Goan migrants the lack of a community meant that her faith took on great importance and in particular prayer:

Like prayer did help me it honestly did, because you are alone, you are alone a lot of the time. Even though there are lots of people, you can still be alone you know (Sheila).

Therefore it can be seen that religious institutions provide spiritual resources that offer sustenance through the tasks of adjusting to living in a new country. The recognition of faith is well recognised in the United Kingdom where it is recognised that “faith groups are part of the ‘glue’ that binds strong communities and we value the experience, skills and diversity they bring to wider society.”

In considering the New Zealand Immigration Settlement Strategy for migrants, refugees and their families it can be seen that Churches often provide many of the settlement resources and are linked with the strategy’s six goals for migrants and refugees. They are for migrants and refugees to:

  • Obtain employment appropriate to their qualifications and skills;
  • Are confident using English in a New Zealand setting, or can access appropriate language support to bridge the gap;
  • Are able to access appropriate information and responsive services that are available to the wider community (for example housing, education, and services for children);
  • Form supportive social networks and establish a sustainable community identity; Feel safe expressing their ethnic identity and are accepted by, and are part of, the wider host community.

This brief piece paper provides some new information about the place of religion among Goans in the diaspora by focussing on Goans who have settled in Auckland, New Zealand.

The Catholic Church has been a mechanism of integration, offering a two way exchange of support and energy through social support, spiritual and secular activities. The Church provides a mechanism for facilitating cultural continuity while simultaneously easing immigrants’ transitions into New Zealand. The Church has supported Goan migrants and in turn the presence of Goans has I am sure enriched the church itself (certainly in numbers, if not energy and dynamism. This paper demonstrates the enduring nature of religion as a social institution which plays a part in sustaining Goans through the settlement process, providing both spiritual resources (such as prayer, connections with other migrants and receiving community members) and practical help for managing both the psychological effects of migration and enduring the hardship of migration and settlement in a new country.

Researching the Health Needs of Elderly Indian Migrants to New Zealand

DeSouza, R. (2006). Researching the health needs of elderly Indian migrants in New Zealand. Indian Journal of Gerontology, 20 (1&2), 159-170.

The older adult population in New Zealand is increasing and becoming more ethnically diverse. With this change comes a requirement for health and social service professionals to become more knowledgeable about the cultural needs of their clients and to provide care that is cognisant of language, culture and religion. Indians have a long history of settlement in New Zealand; however this has not been reflected in policy or service provision. The reasons for this include a focus on the bicultural relationship with indigenous Mâori and a relatively small Indian population. The Immigration Act 1987 has led to an increase in the cultural diversity of migrants and the number of Indians. Policy has not kept pace with demographic changes and there is a need to develop the health sector to work with Indians and other migrants. This article begins by tracing the changing demographics of age and ethnicity in New Zealand and the relationship with migration policy. Indian history, settlement and health in New Zealand are explored then a brief overview of existing research is presented along with the identification of gaps and recommendations for an expansion of current health research and practice agendas such as cultural safety and ethnicity data collection.

Keywords: Indians, health, settlement, Asian, older adults, New Zealand

My World, Diversity and New Zealand

Plenary presentation at the New Zealand Diversity Forum, August 22, 2006. Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this plenary session of the Diversity Forum. I’ve been asked to talk about my world, diversity and New Zealand from an ‘ethnic’1 point of view. The theme of my talk is to ‘Get lost’. There is something about going out of town to conferences and meetings that is very liberating. I feel like I am much more open to new experiences and meeting people because I am not stuck in my routines, tasks and schedules. Getting lost means stepping out of your comfort zone, and being open to expanding your internal and external boundaries.

Getting lost isn’t really that difficult, some of us do it without trying! I always get lost in Wellington! My family has had a habit of getting lost. From my great grandfathers’ who both went to Burma (who said that astronaut families are a new trendy kind of thing!). Then my grandparents got lost in Tanzania and so did my parents. I was born in a place called Tabora, which was founded by Arab slave traders in 1852, captured by the Germans in 1891 and a prosperous, thriving town. It was the administrative centre of German East Africa. From 1852 to 1891, Tabora was the slave capital of East Africa, ivory and humans were traded for guns, beads and cloth. Tabora is also famous as a base for many great explorers, it was the place where Stanley uttered those unforgettable words “Dr Livingstone, I presume.”

In 1975, my parents decided to get lost again, this time in New Zealand and I have made it a habit to get lost regularly ever since! Migration forces you to ‘get lost’. Disorientation and the loss of reference points mean that some people never survive while others thrive. Migration leads us to develop new reference points, networks, rituals and experiences. Depending on the kind of pre- migration experiences we’ve had we might be traumatised, grieving and exhausted. When we arrive, the reception of the receiving country can influence how happy we are about the experience and, equally, if our expectations are met. If not, we can lose heart and face. Yet, if we allow ourselves to get lost in the experience of resettling and be open to new ways of doing things we can benefit enormously.

There is an expectation that migrants need to find their feet. They are the ones who are lost and need to discover our reference points so they can become just like the receiving community. But, I would like to argue that all of us need to ‘get lost’ and on a regular basis! What I mean by this is that we all need to be willing to take a trip to a place we’ve never been. A new New Zealand where there are wonderful adventures to be had. We don’t have to go around the world to get lost, as TV host Phil Keoghan says “just put yourself in a situation that is removed from your everyday life and become immersed in it. Go with the flow – it expands your horizons, opens you up to new influences, and tests your resourcefulness and adaptability’. Unless you prefer to hark back to the dark days of assimilation. I think this is the gift of migration. For migrants but also for the receiving community, who are given an opportunity to re-evaluate what they consider valuable and important without leaving home.

The opportunity to expand our internal and external boundaries is going to increase with the continuing demographic changes that are occurring in New Zealand. These changes are not only an increase in ethnic diversity, but also linguistic and religious diversity. They pose opportunities and challenges for not only receiving communities, but also for long term settled communities, like Chinese and Indian communities who have been here since the late 1800s. There are opportunities and challenges ahead for Māori and Pacific peoples who fear that their needs and aspirations might be lost among the competing claims that newcomers bring.

We’ve had very few conversations about how we are all going to live together; the only ones I’ve heard are about the Treaty partners, and those leave the rest of us out. There are additional issues for us to get lost in, such as moving from models of deficits to models of strength and resourcefulness. Examining multiple and intersecting identities, moving beyond what is a fashionable cause and hierarchies of deserving. I am thinking of a research project I’ve just completed which showed that white migrants struggle with being lost too. Their needs go unconsidered as it is assumed that they will ‘fit in’ and are a close match to people already here. How do we go about actively embracing the people around us, building bridges not walls or silos? Passive acceptance means we don’t have to get lost; we don’t even have to try. But we can then idealise or demonise the people around us because we’ve partaken in the highly consumable aspects of their culture, the food and the festivals. Trouble is we can enjoy the food without caring about the cooks.

I’d like to suggest some ways forward, moving beyond discussions of bicultural and multicultural to consider how we can all live together and what vision can guide us. I want to draw on some ideas from Ghassan Hage about multi-cultural co-existence versus multicultural interaction. I then want to say something about how we become inter-cultural by, accepting the ‘other’ in ourselves. I think it is easier to identify the problems than come up with solutions so I’d also like to give an example of a successful initiative.

Hage says that coexistence involves existing alongside one another. We acknowledge each other’s existence but this existence operates on the premise that we can respect one another as long as we do not rub up against each other. In effect we live in silos right next to each other but watch out if there is any seepage into the public arena. Interaction requires more effort because engagement and irritation are a necessary part of the process, it means getting to know each other as a living multiculturalism where we don’t glorify or demonise ‘others’. To move from coexistence to interaction requires all of the people who live in New Zealand to literally get lost, to step out of our comfort zones and to start getting to know each other. Messy, untidy, unpleasant bits included. This is harder than it sounds, very easy for the liberal middle classes who have the benefit of distance, harder when you are fighting for the same piece of socio-economic pie. Vin D’Cruz tells us for this to happen we must make some internal shifts and embrace the ‘other’ in ourselves. Lorde agrees, urging “each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there.” Only through a process of empathy and transformation can we live with difference. Going deep into ourselves to embrace our own loathing of difference requires us to get lost.

Me with Chief Human Rights Commissioner Roslyn Noonan

Richard Brecknock talks about moving from the multicultural, where we acknowledge and celebrate our differing cultures, to the intercultural where we focus on what we can do together as diverse cultures in shared space to create wellbeing and prosperity. An assumption of an intercultural vision is the recognition that diverse societies are more innovative, productive and competitive. Immigrants and ethnic communities have a greater facility to move within and between communities and high intercultural networking capacity. However, this capacity isn’t always well optimised especially when there is no vision and where socio-economic inequalities exist and ethnic community groups are siloed, the challenge then is to enhance the abundance of talent and entrepreneurship in ethnic communities.

The Aotearoa Ethnic Network is a partner in the Human Rights Commission’s New Zealand Diversity Action Programme, and aims to contribute to the dialogue on how we can all live together. An inter-cultural, inter-sectoral network with over 300 members from all over New Zealand, it provides a space for discussion and debate for those interested in ethnic issues. The AEN Journal, launched in July this year, promotes critical debate on issues facing migrants and refugees, ethnic, diasporic and religious communities. Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres writes about the genesis of the Diversity Action Programme in the July issue and the need to have “networks and spaces where people were able to meet across ethnicities or cultures, and that while many people ‘wanted to do something’ there were no readily available mechanisms through which to do so in concert with others”. AEN goes some way to achieving this.

To conclude, thanks for a wonderful two days at this Forum. I know that we have identified problems and we have a way to go, but look how far we have come and how far we can go!

Further reading

  • Aotearoa Ethnic Network. See: http://www.aen.org.nz.
  • Brecknock, R. (2005). Intercultural city. See:http://www.brecknockconsulting.com.au/02_projects/ic.htm
  • D’Cruz, J.V. & Steele, W. (2001) Australia’s Ambivalence Towards Asia: Politics, Neo/Post-colonialism, and Fact/Fiction. Monash: Monash Asia Institute, Monash University Press.
  • De Bres, J. (2006). Guest Editorial. Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal. 1 (1).
  • Hage, G. (2005). We need interaction not just co-existence. Australian Financial Review.
  • Keoghan, P., & Berger, W. (2004). N.O.W. : No opportunity wasted : 8 ways to create a list for the life you want. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale.
  • Lorde, Audre. (1984). Sister Outsider. Trumansberg, New York: Crossing Press.