New mothers in a new land: Indian migrant mothers talk

Originally published in: DeSouza, R. (2010). New mothers in a new land: Indian migrant mothers talk. In S. Bandyopadhyay (Ed.), India in New Zealand: Local identities, global relations (pp. 207-217). Dunedin: Otago University Press.

Ethnic identity and acculturation become important issues in the transition to parenthood. The birth of a child presents parents with the opportunity to consider what values are important to them and whether they will look to the future or the past (or both) to determine what will sustain them in their role as parents and nurture their newborn to adulthood. This sifting process involves parents interpreting and accepting or rejecting the values, beliefs, and practices from both their heritage culture and their current community.

Migrant Indian mothers play a pivotal role in such negotiations. This chapter presents research findings from a study on the maternity experiences of Indian migrant women living in Auckland, New Zealand in late 20062. It begins with a brief discussion of the literature around the process of acculturation and its influence on Indian health and maternal health in particular. It then looks at the inherited beliefs and practices that shape the maternity experiences of Indian mothers, especially the centrality of motherhood to identity, and the idealisation and rewards of self-denial and good behaviour. Finally, the chapter discusses the study’s findings. These exemplify how motherhood is idealised and viewed as a socially powerful role among immigrant Indian mothers, and that these mothers have also taken on the messages of New Zealand models of motherhood (and parenting in general) where self-monitoring is required in order to be ‘a good mother’.

Power relations

Hot off the press! I’ve just had this chapter on power relations published in S. Shaw, A. Haxell & T. Weblemoe (Eds.), Communication and lifespan development. Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Many practitioners see themselves as apolitical and powerless, particularly with regard to their relationships with the structures of medicine and management. However, in reality practitioners are powerful both as individuals and as members of the groups with which they identify. The structures and cultures within which most health and disability practitioners exist and work are based on beliefs and practices that constrain autonomy. These constraints are at work through a number of mechanisms, such as the market, the infusion of targets and performance measures and quality programmes (Newman & Vidler, 2006). In addition, the changing role of consumers or service users from passive recipients of care in the past to people who may be informed, empowered, articulate and ‘demanding’ poses a threat to the ‘knowledge–power knot’ on which professional power rests.

When practitioners view themselves as people who are doing good, they tend to lack awareness of their complicity and embeddedness in relations of power that structure inequality. Yet, power is embedded in everyday practices and interactions (Bradbury Jones, Sambrook & Irvine, 2008). Practitioners within the wider health and disability sectors contribute to social regulation through their roles as employees of the state. They enact government policies for the benefit of the health of the citizens of the state; so they are both governed and governing. Members of recognised professional groups are provided with a moral authority by their capacity to define problems and pose solutions, and their role in defining and evaluating good or normal behaviour and health practices through surveillance of the population and the criteria for interventions on behalf of the state (Gilbert, 2001, p. 201).

These ambivalent relationships with power that are evident among health professionals require exploration. This can be done by considering the various ways in which power is conceptualised and the micro and macro definitions of empowerment. Some shifts in power have occurred in the last few decades, largely influenced by various social movements. Maternity and mental health are two particular examples of professional practice and service delivery in which power can be recognised and ideas of empowerment can be translated meaningful engagement between service delivery and those who engage with the service.

All of me meets here, an alchemy of parts – Negotiating my identities in New Zealand

Originally published in:  DeSouza, R. (2011). ‘All of me meets here, an alchemy of parts’ – Negotiating my identities in New Zealand. In P. Voci & J. Leckie (Eds.), Localizing Asia in Aotearoa (pp. 231-245). Wellington: Dunmore Publishing.

He could not see that i could be both … The body in front of him was already inscribed within the gendered social relations of the colonial sandwich. i could not just ‘be’. I had to name an identity, no matter that this naming rendered invisible all the other identities of gender, caste, religion, linguistic group, generation (Brah, 1996, p. 3).


The title of this chapter comes from a poem by Chris Abani (2000) whom I met many years ago at the Poetics of exile conference. This line from the poem captures the intention of this chapter, to bring parts of myself together. I am often asked the question ‘where are you from?’ Depending on the person asking, it can imply that I have come from somewhere else, not here; that I am visibly and noticeably different; and sometimes reflects a desire on the part of the person asking to either connect, name or categorize. For the sake of economy, choosing one identity and keeping things simple inevitably backfires. answering Tanzania, the country of my birth, and that of my parents, or Goa, India, the place of my ancestors, results in more questions. The question has different nuances in the place of my ancestors and in the place where I choose to live: Aotearoa/New Zealand. Being asked where one is from more easily translates to ‘whom do you belong to?’ and the reference points are intimate, connecting me to a village and to a family. In Māori contexts, similar notions of belonging to place and people are invoked, where intimacy and connection rather than categorization are emphasized. such a question highlights issues of identity, difference and belonging. The process of active negotiation of identities in relation to oneself is the focus of my chapter. I centre on a little-known minority group within a larger indian umbrella identity – the Goan diaspora living in New Zealand. My aim is to provide a complex answer to the question of where I am from and, in doing so, provide a platform for further scholarship about the Goan diaspora in New Zealand.


People of colour decolonisation hui

The Decolonise Your Minds! Hui on February 5th in Tamaki Makaurau, Aotearoa provided a great opportunity to present my PhD work to awesome folks with similar theoretical and political commitments. Outside a professional or academic context and supported by fabulous vegan food and great korero and creativity, the radical space provided a great opportunity to not have to explain everything!

In my presentation, I talked about the ways in which the people who are supposed to care in institutions can engage in subtle coercions and “do” violence. This violence works through the reproduction of taken for granted norms and values, such that pressure is exerted on those whose personhood sits outside the accepted norms and values and reshapes their personhood. Reflecting an assimilatory process similar to the colonial process of moral improvement. Hardly a surprise considering that institutions like health and education are colonial, having been transplanted from the metropole to the colony and super-imposed over indigenous ways of learning and maintaining health.

Using the example of maternity I talked about the ways in which heath professionals draw on culturally and socially available repertoires of care that can be less than helpful when imposed on women of colour. This is because so often these repertoires are drawn on the basis of an implicit ideal user who tends to be cis-woman, heterosexual, white, middle class and one who takes up the ‘imperative of health’. That is the ideal neoliberal consumer who makes herself an expert through her consumption of self-help books and its acceptable accoutrements, who takes responsibility by attending ante-natal classes and who labours naturally with her loving and supportive partner present. She obeys the edicts of the health professional and makes reasonable requests that align with the dominant discourse of maternity as an empowering experience (if you are “informed” and “take responsibility”).

You can listen to the audio which is hosted by the Pride New Zealand website. I take the audience through the idea of discourses and how they shape subjectivity and practice.

Please note I have a tendency to swear when I am speaking passionately about something!