To surveil and marginalise or to keep our hearts open? The aftermath of public violence.

Last week I visited the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania, which was the country of the Pydairrerme band of the Oyster Bay tribe, before being invaded and settled by Europeans. As a a recent arrival in Australia (from New Zealand in 2013), I see it as my responsibility to develop a local nuanced understanding of settler-colonialism, the dispossession of indigenous Aboriginal people and the colonial carceral system. Port Arthur, a convict settlement for the former colony of Van Diemen’s Land on the Tasman Peninsula was on my itinerary. Maria M. Tumarkin points out that places like Port Arthur with their material remnants allow us to engage with events (like the trauma of convictism) and to experience the hardship and suffering endured by convicts without actually putting ourselves on the line. People that visit sites of trauma or traumascapes as Tumarkin calls them (also known as dark tourism (Philip Stone), thanatourism (A.V. Seaton), trauma tourism (Laurie Beth Clark) are not either “voyeuristic tourists” or “earnest pilgrims” but can also have mixed motives, some unknown to them. I wanted to better understand the colonial and convict history of my adopted homeland, especially because my partner is Australian born and has an ancestral convict history.

Port Arthur

Port Arthur has a history of prison tourism and its sandstone, pink brick and weatherboard buildings along a beautiful cove, belie it’s disciplinary role for convicts from 1830-1877. Prior to 1840, convicts were used as colonial labour for settlers, after 1840 convicts undertook a trial period of  labour in a government gang, and if this was satisfactory could then be hired out to the private sector. This partnership with the private sector transferred costs of rations, clothing and accommodation from the colonial government to private masters who did not pay wages (sound familiar?). Thus, Van Diemen’s Land was a panopticon without walls rather than a prison. More about panopticons later! For people that “abused” this “open” punishment or for whom a suitable assignment could not be found, a place of secondary punishment was needed. Hence the development of the penal station of Port Arthur to house those who could not be assigned and where labour could be extracted and the recalcitrant punished as Professor Hamish Maxwell-Stewart notes. After the closure of the penal station, decline and damage to the carceral buildings of Port Arthur ensued. Renewed interest in the late 1920s, saw restoration work begin so that the tourism potential of the site could be maximised. In the 1980s Port Arthur became Australia’s most famous open-air museum, and the 1996 killing of innocent people by an armed gunman did not diminish its role as a tourist site. A memorial garden now houses the Broad Arrow cafe where twenty of the thirty five victims were shot which represents a cathartic location -triggering powerful emotions.

Port Arthur2

The carceral buildings at Port Arthur including the Penitentiary and the Separate Prison in use nineteenth-century ideas about how adult deviants could be treated in order to transform them into skilled and docile members of society. Foucault used the metaphor of the panopticon designed by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham to talk about the change in society from a “culture of spectacle” (public displays of torture etc) to a “carceral culture.” where punishment and discipline became internalized. The panopticon was a prison designed so that a central observation tower could potentially view every cell and every prisoner. However, the prisoners could not view observers or guards, so prisoners could not tell if or when they were being observed. Consequently, they came to believe that they might be always being observed, and disciplined themselves into model prisoners. Port Arthur’s prison was shaped like a cross with exercise yards at each corner and prisoner wings connected to the surveillance core of the Prison from where each wing could be clearly seen, although individual cells could not (thus differing from the theory of the panopticon). Panopticism or the ever-present threat of potential or continual surveillance is a mechanism for translating technologies of disciplinary control into an individual’s everyday practices.

Reinforcing Islam and Muslims as ‘others’ 

This brings me to the key concern of this blog post, the events of December 15th when a single armed man took people hostage inside the Lindt Chocolate cafe in Sydney. His actions ultimately led to the death of two innocent people and overshadowed scrutiny of the mid-year budget update (which includes cuts to Foreign Aid and the Australian Human Rights Commission). The gunman had significant social and inter-personal problems but the media were quick to label the siege a terrorist attack (it was a Muslim person brandishing a flag after all) which also helped to justify future and recent past legislation limiting the movement of some groups of people. Only last week New Zealand politicians hastily passed anti-terror laws through Parliament. In the United Kingdom, PM David Cameron pointed out:

It demonstrates the challenge that we face of Islamist extremist violence all over the world. This is on the other side of the world (in Sydney) but it’s the sort of thing that could just as well happen here in the UK or in Europe.

Many media sources and other commentators were quick to jump to conclusions with The Daily Telegraph front page screaming “Death cult CBD attack” and anti Muslim scare mongering from shock jocks like Rad Hadley.

Tele-front-page

Interestingly the reportage focused on the religion of the gunman and brought out racist and inflammatory commentary from people on Twitter and Facebook. What was especially interesting was the way in which misinformation spread far and wide as Alex McKinnon carefully pointed out:

But the families of the people involved, and the broader public, have a right to information that is accurate and correct. Spreading rumours on something as potentially serious as this is not innocuous: it is actively harmful. Your best course of action is to refrain from commenting or spreading unchecked information, online or otherwise, until the facts are known, the situation is better understood and our collective emotions aren’t running so high.

 

 

In a critique of media coverage Bernard Keane of Crikey interrogated the language and phrases that proliferated in coverage:

The assumptions loaded into such “lost its innocence” statements merit entire theses; indeed, many have doubtless already been written. That Australia, established as a prison colony and forged in dispossession, genocide and gleeful participation in the long wars of imperialism throughout the 20th century, could be “innocent”; that it is such a fragile culture that a single moment of violence, however atypical, could comprehensively alter its very nature.

New Matilda predicted that there would be spike in violence against Muslims and mosques:

Just as Christian churches all over the nation were attacked in the immediate aftermath of the 1996 Port Arthur siege, Mosques around Australia will be vandalized. Because, naturally, if the siege is in fact being perpetrated by Muslim extremists, then all Muslims (and all symbols of Islam) are fair game.

Bernard Keane also predicted that media identities and journalists would:

 disgrace themselves and their profession by reporting wild speculation as fact.  When you’re reporting a big story on a 24 hours news cycle, and you have no idea what’s going on, you need to fill the gaps. Anything that moves is news, and if it doesn’t move, give it a push.

With the media finding:

some lone nut Muslim extremist somewhere to say something short of condemning the violence, and then portray that as the view of the broader Muslim population. Eventually, Australian media will start demanding that all Muslim leaders everywhere condemn the violence… even though Muslim leaders everywhere will have already condemned the violence.

This was an accurate prediction as in no time at all, the Australian Muslim community denounced the act:

Australiam

However, Randa Abdel-Fattah problematised this gesture in the context of broader insatiable community demands:

Muslim organisations – weary, under-resourced, under pressure – were ready to condemn, to distance, to reassure because after 13 years of condemning, distancing, and reassuring, the Australian public seems to still be in doubt about Islam’s position on terrorism.

Australian responses give me hope…

John Donegan ABC Sydney

As people gather to pay their respects in a very public way. I’d like to think that there’s an opportunity for healing rather than fomenting further hate and powerlessness. I agree with Tasmanian and Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan’s observations of people:

I think evil, murder, hate… these things are as deeply buried within us as love, kindness, goodness and perhaps they are far more closely entwined than we would care to admit… And the face of evil is never the other, it’s always our face.

So with that in mind, I’d like to talk about the outpouring of grace, dignity, compassion and thoughtful analysis that I’ve also seen in abundance.

  • Clover Moore Lord Mayor of Sydney:

Clover Moore

 

  • Victoria Rollison challenged media representations of the gunman and the framing of the siege as a Muslim issue:

“I was a teenager when the Port Arthur massacre happened, and I don’t recall there being a backlash at the time against white people with blonde hair. I’m a white person with blonde hair, and no one has ever heaped me into the ‘possibly a mass murderer’ bucket along with Martin Bryant. Or more recently, Norwegian Anders Breivik, who apparently killed 69 young political activists because he didn’t like their party’s immigration stance which he saw as too open to Islamic immigrants. In fact, in neither case do I recall the word ‘terrorist’ even being used to describe the mass murders of innocent people.”

 

 

 

  • Clementine Ford similarly pointed out that Christianity has not come under the same scrutiny in other violent incidents, both in Australia and Norway, while also addressing the issue of violence against women:

Almost without fail, non-Muslim white men who behave as he did are given the benefit of individual autonomy. When Rodney Clavell staged a 13 hour siege at an Adelaide brothel in June of this year, his reported Christianity barely made any of the news reports. Where it did, it was in articles which spent a good proportion of time talking about how much of a good bloke he was. Norway’s Andres Breivik – a right wing Christian who murdered 77 people in 2011 – was frequently described as ‘a lone wolf’. His actions were certainly not treated as a defining characteristic of members of the Christian faith, nor did Christians have to fear backlash once his affiliation was revealed.

 

 

This expectation we place on Muslims, to be absolutely clear, is Islamophobic and bigoted. The denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for Islam and for Muslims. The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. The implication is also that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion. This sort of thinking — blaming an entire group for the actions of a few individuals, assuming the worst about a person just because of their identity — is the very definition of bigotry.

 

  • The hashtag #illridewithyou (but also note Beyondblue’s national anti-discrimination campaign in 2014 which highlights the impact of discrimination on the social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal people which has not had the same flurry of support). Also some interesting critique from Eugenia Flynn  who asks What happens when the ride Is over?
  • Interfaith action from mosques, synagogues and churches inviting the public to gather for unity, and against violence, fear and hatred.
  • Social media sharing guidelines from Alex McKinnon: 

When in doubt, wait. When you are not in full possession of the facts, remain silent so that more informed voices can be heard

Breaking news comsumers handbook

  • Good to see some thought about the people who survived the siege and their recovery.
  • Lastly, it’s great to see some critique of mass media practice from John Birmingham in the Canberra Times and Bernard Keane in Crikey.

Ending with a reflection

Thinking with sadness of all the people traumatized by yesterday’s events, the innocent people that lost their lives and all their loved ones in Sydney. Thinking also of people who live with and are caught up in acts of power, control and violence which are not of their own making globally. Thinking of the ways in which ‘our’ institutions serve ‘us’ and how responsibly they exercise their power and influence (police, media, politicians), whether their role creates calm, understanding, light or heat, marginalising and stereotyping. Whether the creation of an ‘other’ is necessary and what future it holds open for ‘others’ who experience heightened vigilance, policing and surveillance. Thinking of those who work for peace, who work to address injustice. Thinking of the need to not conclude too quickly, to not judge too harshly before understanding. Mostly today sending love, prayers and hope into the world in this season of peace and goodwill.

Heartlight

Ethnic migrant media: Weaving ourselves a home

Exploring the role, benefits, challenges & potential of ethnic media in NZ .

Paper presented at the Ethnic Migrant Media Forum, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. Also available as pdf from conference proceedings DeSouza keynote.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa, it’s an honour to be invited to speak at this forum where we are gathered to talk about ethnic media and the possibilities it offers for our communities. I wish to acknowledge this magnificent whare whakairo (carved meeting house) ‘Ngākau Māhaki’, built and designed by Dr Lyonel Grant which I think is the most beautiful building in the entire world. Kia ora to matua Hare Paniora for the whaikōrero, whaea Lynda Toki for the karanga and this pōwhiri. I acknowledge Ngāti Whātua as mana whenua of Unitec and Te Noho Kotahitanga marae. I acknowledge the organisers of this forum, Unitec’s Department of Communication Studies and Niche Media & Ethnic Media Information NZ, in particular Associate Professor Evangelia Papoutsaki, Dr Elena Kolesova, Lisa Engledew and Dr Jocelyn Williams and all the participants gathered here today.

As a migrant to Aotearoa and now Australia, there are a few places that I call home. Tamaki makau rau and Unitec specifically would be one of those places. This whenua has been central to my own growth and development. I love these grounds, I walked them when I was a student nurse at Oakley hospital in 1986 and then worked in Building 1 or as it was known then Ward 12 at Carrington Psychiatric Hospital in 1987. I also worked here at Unitec as a nursing lecturer from 1998-2004. I have this beautiful Whaariki (woven mat) made from Harakeke (NZ Flax) grown, dyed and woven at Unitec that has accompanied me for over three house moves since I left Unitec and more recently across the Tasman.

Whaariki from Unitec, gifted to Ruth DeSouza
Whaariki from Unitec, gifted to Ruth DeSouza

It is this being at home that interests me as a migrant. Home is the safe space where I can be myself and where there are other people like me. It’s a place where I can be nurtured and supported, where I can thrive in my similarities and in my differences. Where I can see my norms and values reflected around me. I believe that the media can have a special place in helping us to see ourselves as woven through like this exquisite mat as belonging to something larger than ourselves. I believe that it can contribute to helping us feel at home, through it we can feel embraced and included, we can be part of a conversation that can see us in all our glory. However, too often it is also a site where if we are already marginalised, we can be further marginalised.

Advert in the Australian 2013
Advert in the Australian 2013

Today, I am going to briefly talk about the limitations of mainstream media, review some key functions of ethnic media and conclude with some challenges and opportunities for ethnic media. As you’ll see from my bio, I co-founded the Aotearoa Ethnic Network, an email list and journal in 2006 to provide a communication channel for the growing number of people in the “ethnic” category. I’ve been passionately interested in the role of media practices in intercultural relations in health, and also on the relations between settlers, migrants and indigenous peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand. I have been actively involved in ethnic community issues, governance, research and education in New Zealand and Australia.

This hui is timely, given discussions about: biculturalism and multiculturalism; the Maori media renaissance, the growth of Pacific and Asian owned or run media including radio, newspapers, online media; television, web based news services; the underrepresentation of Maori, Pacific and Ethnic in media and journalism; the growth of blogs through early 2000s and the growth in social media (FB, Twitter) in the last decade. It’s also part of a longer conversation, I’m thinking about the forum we had in 2005 organised by the Auckland City Council and Human Rights Commission after the Danish cartoon fiasco, where I talked about the role of media in terms of “fixing” difference or supporting complexity; the role of media in making society more cohesive or divisive or exclusive and the relevance of New Zealand media relevant in the context of growing diasporic media. In that forum I suggested that there was a need for: ethnic media but also adequate representation in mainstream media; the showing of complex multicultural relationships not just ethnic enclaves and ways for people of ethnic backgrounds to be included in national and international conversations. Me and others have also taken mainstream media to task over representations of Asians (Asian Angst story by Debra Coddington);Paul Brennan’s Islamophobic comments on National Radio and Paul Henry’s comments about then Governor General Anand Satyanand. An editorial in the AEN Journal also examines the role of mainstream media in inter-cultural exchange and promoting inter-cultural awareness and understanding. I also challenged media representations of Maori and Pacific people as evidenced in cartoons by Al Nisbet, which were printed in New Zealand media. More recently, I’ve written with colleagues Nairn, Moewaka Barnes, Rankine,  Borell, and McCreanor about the role and implications of media news practices for those committed to social justice and health equity.

Let me start by introducing a fairly binary definition of ethnic media that I am going to use as referring to media created for/by immigrants, ethnic and language minority groups and indigenous groups (Matsaganis et al., 2011). In contrast, media that produces content about and for the mainstream is known as the mainstream media. However, as most of you will know there’s a lot of blurriness and consumers consume both. I also want to preface this talk  by introducing two key words which I am going to use as a lens for this keynote. I believe that these lenses are more important than ever in an era where critique is becoming censured for those in academia and in the context of corporate governance of media. Foucault’s notion of critique which is

“..a critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest” (Foucault, 1988, p.154).

and Stuart Hall’s definition of ideology:

Ideology: “The mental frameworks – the language, concepts, categories, imagery of thought and system of representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works” (Hall, 1996 p. 26).

 

It’s in the spirit of critique that I want to talk about the mainstream media’s role in co-option and converting audiences into seeing “like the media”. As Augie Fleras observes, media messages reflect and advance dominant discourses which are expertly concealed and normalised so as to appear without bias or perspective. The integrative role of  mainstream media reflects and amplifies the concerns of particular groupings of power so that attention is drawn to norms and values that are considered appropriate within society. In this way attitudes are created and reinforced, opinions and understandings are managed and cultures are constructed and reinvented. The headline below shows the ways in which language is used to create an “other”, the picture out of focus, the beard a stand in for evil and fear, a threat to national security.

Sponsor a jihad
Sponsor a jihad

Thus mainstream media’s main function becomes commercial, selling by pooling groups together for the purposes of advertising and marketing and in so doing must appeal to a large audience. It can’t be too controversial (unless it’s also supporting larger official agendas such as guarding against the insider Islamic threat or deterring the hordes of maritime arrivals through forcibly turning back the boats) and it cannot segment its audiences with any kind of nuance. I think this meme floating around Facebook captures this idea of communicating some kind of national identity and values well.

team australia

Consequently social media, the internet and ethnic media are seen as able to service more specific audiences. In the case of social media, there’s some great opportunities for connecting beyond the nation state:

As the internet surpasses the nation-state limitations and usually the legislative limitations that bind other media, it opens up new possibilities for sustaining diasporic community relations and even for reinventing diasporic relations and communication that were either weak or non- existent in the past (Georgiou 2002: 25).

 

Moving on to ethnic media, I see several functions or imperatives loosely using the typology by Viswanath & Arora (2000): Ethnic media as form of cultural transmission, community booster, sentinel, assimilator, information provider and one lesser mentioned in the literature, as having a professional development function.

The most obvious role of ethnic media is to provide information for the community, events both local and from the homeland are paid attention to. In the break I was talking to a journalist from Radio Torana who is flying to Brisbane for the G20 summit and to cover Modi’s visit to Australia. Through him I found out about the Modi express. For the first time ever, a train service is running under the name of an Indian Prime Minister from Melbourne to Sydney carrying some 200 passengers who are planning to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public address in Sydney during his visit to Australia, the first by an Indian premier in 28 years (Rajiv Gandhi was the last, he met with Bob Hawke in 1986). The organisers have arranged for music and dance troupes to entertain the passengers along with free Gujarati specialties like ‘Modi Dhokla’ and ‘Modi Fafda’ (Fafda is crunchy snack made from chick pea flour and served with hot fried chillis or chutney and Dhokla is snack item made from a fermented batter of chickpeas accompanied with green chutney and tamarind chutney).

Photo from India2Australia.com
Photo from India2Australia.com

In its role as cultural transmitter, it has a distributive function to publish or broadcast information that is important to the ethnic community, so information about events and celebrations comes to the fore. This in turn sustains and fosters a sense of belonging to an imagined community, that feels coherent, united and connected to a homeland. However, rarely in that role does it also act as a critic of community institutions or powerful groups within that community.

A second role of ethnic media is as a community booster. In this role the media presents the community as doing well, being successful and achieving. The communities served by the media expect that a positive image is reflected both to its own members and outside the community. Typically close links are fostered between local reporters and editors and the community elite. Stories consist of human interest features, profiles of successful members, particularly those that are volunteers or contribute. There many be a reluctance to feature more radical or critical voices or critical stories as these many adversely affect the community image and the commercial imperative.

A third role is the ethnic media as a sentinel or watch dog. There’s very little about this in the literature but in fulfilling this role, the ethnic media produce stories on issues that could affect the rights of communities, crime against immigrants and so on.

A more common function is that of assimilation, where ethnic media play a part in assisting their community members to be more successful; through learning the ropes of the system. Ethnic media coverage then focuses on the role of the community in local politics and fostering positive relations and feelings between that of the ethnic group’s homeland and adopted country.

Another crucial function which is rarely articulated in this literature, but has been pivotal to my development is that of the ethnic media as space for professional development. Through engagement in ethnic media, members of ethnic communities develop transferrable skills and the capacity to write, broadcast and present. This one is very personally relevant. Through writing for the Migrant News and Global Indian, I refined my writing skills. Through talking on ethnic radio stations like Samut Sari and Planet FM I developed and refined my own capacity to articulate thoughts and ideas. Being featured in stories on Asia Downunder I realised my own ability to speak on television. These opportunities led to developing the confidence to develop my own online journal, the Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal and write peer reviewed publications and feature on commercial radio and television.  This would never have happened without the support of those ethnic media pioneers. I acknowledge them all.

However, ethnic media is on rapidly shifting terrain. Increasingly consumers are negotiating the availability of media from their place of origin via the internet. Ethnic media are having to consider their roles and business models in the context of neoliberalism and the withdrawal of the state from cultural funding.

The end of the charter. Picture via Against the Current
The end of the charter. Picture via Against the Current

Recently Television New Zealand the public service broadcaster announced that it intended to outsource production of Māori programmes (Marae, Waka Huia) and Pacific (Fresh and Tagata Pasifika) programmes. A depressing move given the unrelenting negative representations of people in these communities who are socially and culturally marginalised in New Zealand mainstream media (see my blog post on how blame for the disparities in health is attributed to individuals and communities rather than neoliberal and austerity policies). This very manoeuvre was used to outsource Asia Downunder a programme which ran from 1994-2011 for Asians in New Zealand and featured the activities of Asians in New Zealand and New Zealand Asians abroad gutted Asian institutional knowledge and capacity within TVNZ when it was replaced with Neighbourhood. Asia Downunder was a casualty of the loss of the Television New Zealand Charter which was introduced in 2003 by the Labour government and removed in 2011 by the National government on the basis that meeting its public service obligations were a barrier to its commercial obligations. The Charter encouraged TVNZ to show programmes that reflect New Zealand’s identity and provided funding. You can read more about its history and gestation and what has been lost in The End of an Error? The Death of the TVNZ Charter and its implications for broadcasting policy in New Zealand by Peter A. Thompson, Senior Lecturer, Media Studies Programme, Victoria University of Wellington.

In this context, I end with several questions. Given that ethnic media institutions help their audiences to reimage or sustain themselves and their place in the cultural and socio-political milieu of their new home (Gentles-Peart):

  • What is the relationship between ethnic media and the ‘mainstream ideological apparatus of power? (Shi, 2009: 599)
  • What is the relevance of ethnic media in terms of the next generation?
  • What is the relationship between ethnic media and indigenous media?
  • How do ethnic media import or reinforce or critique the power structures of immigrants’ homelands including gender, class and sexuality?
  • Are there opportunities for ethnic media to lobby and advocate for their communities?
  • What opportunities and possibilities are available for inter-ethnic media work?

I look forward to summing up the korero at the end of our forum, to report back to the roopu about the strands we’ve woven together and to enjoying the robust and dynamic discussions that I know are going to happen today. No reira me mihi nui kia koutou katoa ano, tena koutou tena koutou, tena ra koutou katoa.

Update: 12th March 2017: the curated conference proceedings of the Ethnic Migrant Media Forum are now available. Edited by Evangelia Papoutsaki & Elena Kolesova with Laura Stephenson.

 

 

 

 

 

Nursing in media-saturated societies: implications for cultural safety in nursing practice

Nairn, DeSouza, Moewaka Barnes, Rankine,  Borell, and McCreanor (2014). Nursing in media-saturated societies: implications for cultural safety in nursing practice in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Research in Nursing September  19: 477-487,doi:10.1177/1744987114546724

Great to be published in the Journal of Research in Nursing September 2014 issue on ‘Race’, Ethnicity and Nursing, Edited by: Lorraine Culley. I had the pleasure of being included in a previous issue in 2007, so it’s great to be in this one.

Abstract

This educational piece seeks to apprise nurses and other health professionals of mass media news practices that distort social and health policy development. It focuses on two media discourses evident in White settler societies, primarily Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, drawing out implications of these media practices for those committed to social justice and health equity. The first discourse masks the dominant culture, ensuring it is not readily recognised as a culture, naturalising the dominant values, practices and institutions, and rendering their cultural foundations invisible. The second discourse represents indigenous peoples and minority ethnic groups as ‘raced’ – portrayed in ways that marginalise their culture and disparage them as peoples. Grounded in media research from different societies, the paper focuses on the implications for New Zealand nurses and their ability to practise in a culturally safe manner as an exemplary case. It is imperative that these findings are elaborated for New Zealand and that nurses and other health professionals extend the work in relation to practice in their own society.

One of my favourite pieces of the article proposes some ways in which nurses can engage in critical assessment of mass media, by asking questions like:

  • From whose point of view is this story told?
  • Who is present?
  • How are they named and/or described?
  • Who, of those present, is allowed to give their interpretation of the matter?
  • Who is absent?
  • Whose interests are served by telling the story this way?

One of the things that I love about this journal is that they ask for commentaries from a reviewer. My former colleague Denise Wilson (Professor, Māori Health Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research/School of Public Health & Psychosocial Studies, National Institute of Public Health and Mental Health Research, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand), has reviewed our paper and says:

I would urge nurses to read this paper and reflect on how the media influences their own practice and engagement with minority and marginalised groups. Media portrayals of minority groups often reflect negatively geared dominant cultural sentiments, becoming ‘accepted’ fact within our communities. Nurses need to be aware that their efforts to be culturally safe in their practice can be undermined by the normalisation and acceptance of what is portrayed in the media. Therefore, nurses are encouraged by the authors to come together and question the ‘taken-for-granted’ dominant cultural media portrayals to create a stronger platform for culturally safe practice.

Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand

Cite as: DeSouza, Ruth. (2014). One woman’s empowerment is another’s oppression: Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Transcultural Nursing. doi: 10.1177/1043659614523472.  Download pdf (262KB) DeSouza J Transcult Nurs-2014.

Published online before print on February 28, 2014.

Abstract

Purpose: To critically analyze the power relations underpinning New Zealand maternity, through analysis of discourses used by Korean migrant mothers. Design: Data from a focus group with Korean new mothers was subjected to a secondary analysis using a discourse analysis drawing on postcolonial feminist and Foucauldian theoretical ideas. Results: Korean mothers in the study framed the maternal body as an at-risk body, which meant that they struggled to fit into the local discursive landscape of maternity as empowering. They described feeling silenced, unrecognized, and uncared for. Discussion and Conclusions: The Korean mothers’ culturally different beliefs and practices were not incorporated into their care. They were interpellated into understanding themselves as problematic and othered, evidenced in their take up of marginalized discourses. Implications for practice: Providing culturally safe services in maternity requires considering their affects on culturally different women and expanding the discourses that are available.

Keywords: focus group interview, cultural safety, Korean women, maternal, postcolonial, Foucault.

Introduction

A feature of contemporary maternity is the notion that birth can be empowering for women if they take charge of the experience by being informed consumers. However, maternity is not necessarily empowering for all mothers. In this article, I suggest that the discourses of the Pākehā maternity system discipline and normalize culturally different women by rendering their mothering practices as deviant and patho- logical. Using the example of Korean migrant mothers, I begin the article by contextualizing maternity care in New Zealand and outlining Korean migration to New Zealand. The research project is then detailed, followed by the findings, which show the ways in which Korean mothers are interpellated as others in maternity services in New Zealand. I conclude the article with a brief discussion on the implications for nursing and midwifery with a particular focus on cultural safety.

You can read the rest at: Journal of Transcultural Nursing or download DeSouza TCN proof.

Refugee women in New Zealand: Findings and recommendations

Today on International Women’s Day, it seems apt to share this article that I wrote on behalf of our research team for the Women’s Health Action Update, volume 16, Number 43, December 2012. Women’s Health Action is a charitable trust, that works to “provide women with high quality information and education services to enable them to maintain their health and make informed choices about their health care”. Their focus is on health promotion and disease prevention and they are particularly supportive of breastfeeding and screening. Their vision is ‘Well women empowered in a healthy world’.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s refugees are women and their dependent children. Often women of refugee backgrounds [1]are constructed within deficit frames as having high needs. This representation is problematic as it deflects attention from considering broader historical, social, systemic and political factors and the adequacy of resettlement support.

Little is known about the experiences of women who enter New Zealand through the Women at Risk category identified by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This category constitutes up to 75 places (10%) of New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 750. Refugee Services worked with AUT University and the three Strengthening Refugee Voices Groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to undertake a project to examine the resettlement experiences of women who enter New Zealand through this category or become sole heads of households as a consequence of their resettlement experiences. This project was funded by the Lotteries Community Sector Research Fund.

The project was important not only for its findings but also for the research process, which focused on strengths, social justice, community development and transformative research. This transformative agenda aimed to enhance the wellbeing of refugee background women by focussing on the roots of inequality in the structures and processes of society rather than in personal or community pathology (Ledwith, 2011). Within this frame we were committed to constructing refugee women as an asset rather than deploying a deficit model of refugee women as a burden for the receiving society (Butler, 2005).

Focus groups were held in 2009 and 2010 with women who entered New Zealand as refugees under the formal category ‘Women at Risk’ or became women who were sole heads of households once they arrived in New Zealand. Women that took part had lived in New Zealand from between five months to sixteen years.  Lengthy consultations were held with the three Strengthening Refugee Voices groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch prior to undertaking data collection, in order to scope and refine the research focus and process. These groups were subsequently contracted to provide services and support.

Key findings

Although support needs are similar to all refugees arriving in New Zealand, there were unique and exacerbated gender issues. Refugee background women experienced a double burden of stress with half the support, especially as they parented on their own. This is despite the tremendous unpaid and voluntary support provided by faith and ethnic community members. Women frequently postponed their own aspirations in order to assure the future of their children. When they were ready to take up further education (including English language classes) or employment, limited assistance was then available (given the focus on early resettlement) leading to women feel disadvantaged.

We have made several recommendations based around several specific themes. More broadly we recommended that:

  • More intensive and longer term instititutional support be made available from agencies such as Refugee Services.
  • Subsidised practical help be made available.
  • Assistance to broaden sources of support and networks is goven.
  • Subsidised English language lessons and childcare are available.
  • That a one stop shop/holistic support from culturally and linguistically skilled refugee community insiders be provided.

Parenting

Raising children in New Zealand brought new stresses. These included concern about the loss of culture, values and language and losing their children to less palatable values including the consumption of alcohol and drugs, gender mixing and loss of respect for elders. Women addressed these issues in a range of ways that included trying different less hierarchical styles of parenting, attempting to spend more time with their children, engaging them in broader supports eg mosque. However, a few women had the experience of losing their children through the intervention of CYFS and felt disempowered in their interactions with CYFS and with schools.

  • Programme for parenting for Refugee women, particularly around issues such as discipline, inter-generational gender issues
  • Programmes for young people.
  • Cultural competence training for CYFS.

Family reunification

Living in New Zealand is difficult for women who are conscious of their own comfort while other family members struggle. However, the cost of bringing family members over is prohibitive and the costs involved in providing support in the form of phone calls and remittances add a burden to already stretched lives of the women. The importance of extended family is highlighted for women on their own and the kinds of help that could be provided by family members. Additional stresses are the requirement that refugee women are able to support their families once they arrive in New Zealand. The process is also made difficult by the lack of transparency in the immigration process.

  • Prioritise the reunification with family for women who are here on their own.
  • Provide financial support to women.
  • Increase transparency of the processes and decisions that are made.

Health system

Women encountered a different health system that at times was difficult to navigate. Many women felt that their health concerns were not taken seriously and that the health system created new problems. In terms of some health beliefs and stigma there was value in having more culturally appropriate services available. The surfeit of refugee background health professionals was a potential resource that was not being used.

  • Train and employ a more ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse health workforce at all levels
  • Develop culturally responsive services.
  • Examine the affordability of services.
  • Develop cultural competence of staff working in health services.

Education

The cost and availability of day care for Refugee women on their own is prohibitive in some cases consuming the lion’s share of their income/benefit. Taking up loans in order to finance their own educations is also a problem. This prevents women from achieving their own goals such as learning English, driving or further education, which would assist them in the long term with employment and independence. Women generally considered their own advancement as secondary to their children. If women were resourced financially to gain an education this would assist them to also be a resource for their children. Having long-term support to enter the workforce would also be of benefit.

  • Subsidised day care for women on their own.
  • Mentoring.
  • Scholarships for further education.

Employment

Women were concerned that their children were not getting employed despite tertiary qualifications. Barriers to employment included: ‘lack’ of New Zealand experience, language barriers, their perceived difference (clothing, culture, skin colour) and paucity of appropriate childcare, poor public transport. The impacts of unemployment included losing their dignity, health impacts of taking inappropriate jobs, boredom

  • Subsidised driving lessons, support with transport
  • More work with employers to destigmatise refugee workers
  • Work mentoring/brokering services
  • Support for family members who come into New Zealand through the reunification category to obtain further education

Racism

Refugee women and their families experienced a range of racism related harms that were instititutional and interpersonal taking physical and verbal forms. Their clothes and accent marked them out, and verbal altercations saw stereotypes being invoked particularly around Islamophobia and discourses of war on terror. Women deployed a range of strategies to cope with racism including minimising the racism and helping their children to cope with it.

  • Social marketing campaigns
  • Community education
  • Addressing structural racism
  • National conversation on racism
  • National campaign against racism

The research team hope that this research provides a snapshot of the role and value of various sectors in enabling or constraining the resettlement of refugee background women. This could contribute to better informing theory, practice and policy in order that the self-determination and resilience of refugee background women and their communities is supported.

 


[1] Note that terms like ‘refugee background women’ and ‘communities’ refer to highly diverse groups of people (Butler, 2005). In capturing the experiences of refugee women as sole heads of households, we were mindful of the potential that using a category could imply a “single, essential, transhistorical refugee condition” (Malkki, 1995, p.511).

 

Unsettled in Australia: Reflections on my first Australia/Straya/Invasion day

koala bear

My first stuffed toy as a child in Nairobi was a koala bear and I’ve been besotted with them ever since. So you can imagine that I was captivated by this meme where the koala realises that she’s not a bear but a marsupial. To draw a very long bow, I think her puzzlement captures the experience of so many visibly different migrants in settler societies who believe they are part of a nation and then find that they aren’t, whether it’s because their qualifications aren’t recognised which leads them to be unemployed or under-employed or they begin to realise that their skin colour doesn’t lend them to being neatly absorbed into the imagined community on national days of celebration. So here I am in Australia, not as a nine year old (when my family were looking to migrate from Nairobi) but as an adult in mid-career, here to live and work. Joining a multitude of other New Zealanders (the most common country of birth of Australian residents outside of Australia is the United Kingdom followed by New Zealand, you’ll find other interesting nuggets on cultural diversity on Esther Hougenhout‘s blogpiece) who’ve also crossed the ditch. I’ve visited Australia for conferences and to visit my partner’s family, but it’s been over twenty years since I lived somewhere other than Aotearoa. In my work and community life I’ve carefully considered how migrants engage with settler institutions and their relationships with indigenous communities, but I am having a powerful opportunity to examine my own complicity in forms of oppression (in the context of another settler society) as Harsha Walia so powerfully puts it in a video on anti-oppression, decolonization, and being a responsible ally.

992894-australia-word-cloud
From news.com.au
australia-map-aboriginal-nations
Courtesy of Brisbane Murri Action Group

We’ve arrived in time for Australia day which commemorates the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1788, when British sovereignty was also proclaimed over the eastern seaboard of Australia. It’s a day of festivals, concerts, citizenship ceremonies and acknowledgements of the contributions Australians have made with the recipients of honours and Australian of the year announced. Entrepreneur and electrical retailer Dick Smith even got into the jingoistic spirit with his casually racist advertisement for Aussie foodstuffs, beautifully critiqued by Sunili. I’m not sure if the stones that hit both our heads as we were walking along the Nepean highway to look at housing options were an important Australia day cultural tradition for young blokes in fast cars (I’d like to know how their aim was so brilliantly accurate). Nevertheless fervent nationalism is everywhere, cars and houses are adorned with Australian flags and there is an exacerbation in bogan behaviour as comedians Aamer Rahman from Fear of a Brown Planet and Robert Foster/Kenneth Oathcarn observe.

S Peter Davis who made a YouTube video Straya Day, notes that

as January 26 rolls around, you begin to see cars on the road with little Australian flags poking out the windows like a diplomatic cavalcade. In what is usually a pretty tolerant and multicultural nation, this is one day of the year when folks start casting suspicious and slightly disapproving glances toward brown people. Anti-immigrant slogans like “We grew here, you flew here,” and the somewhat more direct “Fuck off we’re full” begin to make the rounds. Understand, it’s the minority of people, and Australia does not hold the patent on racism. But when you combine this with a cocktail of youth, alcohol and barbecue…parts of the country just explode in a shower of beer, singlets and thongs.

Or not as the pictures below reveal.

Beer baby
Via Chalk Hotel’s Facebook page

This day of barbecues and beer is also called Invasion or Survival day. It represents “an undercurrent of division and inequality that belies the happy, egalitarian culture that the day is meant to convey, “a day of mourning for the land that was taken and the ensuing two centuries of social alienation and discrimination” as Robin Tennant-Wood puts it. There are also Survival Day celebrations like the 2013 Share The Spirit Festival featuring Indigenous music, dance and culture. Numerous Invasion day marches have also taken place across Australia.

Grandtheft Australia
Via Idle No More Facebook page

Hip hop artists Reverse Polarities recent release “Invasion Day” acknowledges the historical and continuing injustices faced by Indigenous Australians and pushes for Australians to understand their history rather than being immobilised by guilt (white Australians) or innocence (visibly different new Australians):

Many Australians feel guilt for the actions their white predesessors and claim non- involvement due to being new Australians. We must be active in our understanding of history. The past is not ours to change, but the future can be shaped.

INM Invasion day
Via Idle No More Australia’s Facebook page

Peter Gebhardt a poet, retired County Court judge and former principal asks for accountability and reckoning with the history of genocide “What might an Aboriginal person say of Australia Day? Why should the Aborigines celebrate that day?” He adds:

It was the day that marked the theft of a land (terra nullius), the day that marked the theft and abduction of a people, of a culture, the day that initiated the pathways to the Stolen Children and, to our ultimate shame, the deaths in custody. It is a day that stands as a reminder of massacres. The wind-stench of bodies burned in bonfires hangs heavy upon the nation’s conscience and in the clouds…You can shuttle history, but you cannot shuttle facts. It would be a great Australia Day if it faced honesty, historical facts, abandonment, hypocrisy, shelved superiority and embarked upon an exercise of spiritual empathy rather than religious hubris.

A point supported by Tristan Ewins, who calls for celebration and critique of this national day:

There is a problem, here, in that there is still no formal resolution: comprehensively righting the injustices suffered by indigenous people. Without the closure provided by a just, representative and inclusive Treaty between the modern Australian nation and our indigenous peoples, it is hard to imagine a fully inclusive celebration of the Australian nation. Perhaps in the future – should such a resolution be achieved – then maybe this could become the focus of a new ‘national day’ for all Australians.

The desire for redress and accountability has a long way to go to being realised, but small steps toward reconciliation are evident. This year for the first time both the Aboriginal and Australian flags were simultaneously hoisted on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Aboriginal flag on bridge
Picture: Sam Ruttyn Source: News Limited via new.com.au

Apparently, more than 17,000 people from 145 countries took the citizenship pledge to become Australians on January 26th. Without any sense of irony whatsoever, Tony Abbott Leader of the Opposition told an Australia Day breakfast and citizenship ceremony in Adelaide that change should be welcomed “when it’s in accordance with the customs and traditions of our people” and he added that new citizens were “changing the country for the better”.

Being a new arrival in Australia myself has been interesting, there are many similarities with New Zealand. The neoliberal multicultural success stories of refugees and migrants loom large both in media and in private conversations. Take Akram Azimi, Young Australian of the Year 2013 who arrived  in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan and went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. Or diasporic Maori, Frank (name changed) who repeatedly called himself and other Maori “niggers”in front of his car salesman colleagues. He told me that his wife wanted to return home six months into their stint here and he insisted they “tough it out”, he quipped “things are fine if you just work hard”. He’s taught his children important aspects of Te Ao Maori and has disdain for the various groups that have formed stating that “if you want to learn about your culture you should go home to do it”. Rauf Soulio (chair of the Australian Multicultural Council and a judge of the District Court of South Australia) peppers an opinion piece with words and phrases like “enterprise”, “courage and commitment” and talks about people who “strove to build new and prosperous lives”.  Extolling a neoliberal narrative combined with a commitment to reconciliation:

It is one of the hallmarks of our multiculturalism that we work hard to ensure that those who come here have every opportunity to become fully participating members of Australian society, rather than remaining guests or temporary visitors. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have Australian lineage or ancestry when you arrive – as long as you contribute.

Aus-strayer
Illustration: Ben Sanders/The Jacky Winter Group in the Sydney Morning Herald

Yup, I’m here to work and become a “fully participating member” of Australian society, and to that end have also been consuming multiculturalism with relish and delight. I am blissfully happy at being able to access ingredients and cuisines that are difficult to find in Aotearoa. But consumption aside, I do want to find a way to engage ethically with this place. Shakira Hussein‘s incisive critique of Scott Morrison’s speech at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London brilliantly skewers Morrison’s selective consumption of multiculturalism:

Morrison doesn’t spell out which aspects of “diversity” would be considered acceptable under a more balanced post-multicultural regime, but I’m guessing he subscribes to the consensus view that multiculturalism has had a beneficial effect on the Australian diet. (Sharia tribunals? No thanks. Homous and baklava? More, please.) Even those most ardent racists participate in the multiculturalism of consumption. But while enjoying our pizza and laksa, we need to “send a message” that such tolerance “is not a licence for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values and laws of Australia and that our respect for diversity does not licence: the primacy of the English language”.

His comments come just in time for Geert Wilder’s visit to Australia next month. See Deborah Kelly’s kit below.

Veiled woman

I was in Sydney almost seven months ago when I caught up with a friend of the family who asked me why I hate white people. I had to explain to him that my work is about critiquing white hegemony and that is a different thing. Critiquing hegemony and racism and advocating for indigenous rights is viewed decidedly un-Australian, as effectively parodied by Don Watson:

We’re pragmatists. It comes with being Australian that we don’t upset ourselves about things of no practical consequence. Of course, for some people the wine’s always corked. You’ll hear them from Ballarat to Bali, running the country down. Fair dinkum, you want to deck the bastards sometimes. But, as I said, we don’t upset ourselves. Poor things, they can’t think of the foundation of the country without thinking of the people it was taken from. They can’t think of dear old decent Arthur Phillip without thinking of the time he sent out men with bags to collect half a dozen Aboriginal heads. Nothing in the manifold benefits of British rule, British institutions, British customs and British capital cheers them up or excites a little gratitude.

Remind them of the nation’s progress, show them how human health and happiness have in general flourished here, and in return you’ll get the vale of tears it has been for the Aborigines, or the grave injustices to women, or the treatment of refugees arriving on boats: as if because some people got the rough end of the pineapple we are all supposed to be abraded by it.

Michel Foucault the French philosopher said that the point of “a critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest”. For me, as an academic with a commitment to social justice, blindly supporting the status quo is not an option. I know that I have a long journey of learning and unlearning ahead of me, without the reassurance of state sanctioned biculturalism or a biculturalism grounded in treasured processes and relationships in Aotearoa that have inflected my adult life. But this grounding from the place I’ve called home for most of my life will be fundamental to examining my complicity in the maintenance of oppression, my understanding of the multicultural project and to forging my own rather than received understandings of indigineity here in Australia. Luckily there are many who’ve already walked this path. Between their wisdom and those of my global intellectual and political community I think I am koalified to undertake this next adventure.

Via Colourfest film festival
Via Colourfest film festival

 

 

 

Xenoglossophobia: Speak English or die

So if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself —Gloria Anzaldua.

Language maintenance and pluralism mean different things to different groups. Multilingualism is an act of survival for linguistic minorities, but read as a deviation, a threat, a sign of defiance and a rejection of fundamental nation-state values by the dominant culture in migrant receiving and white settler contexts. This interpretation of language pluralism is epitomised in the Stormtroopers of Death song Speak English Or Die (1985).

You come into this country
You can’t get real jobs
Boats and boats and boats of you
Go home you fuckin’ slobs
Selling hot dogs on the corner
Selling papers in the street
Pushing, pulling, digging, sweating
Where you come from must be beat[CHORUS]
You always make us wait
You’re the ones we hate
You can’t communicate
Speak English Or DieYou don’t know what I want
You don’t know what I need
Why must I repeat myself
Can’t you fuckin’ read?
Nice fuckin’ accents
Why can’t you speak like me
What’s that dot on you head,
Do you use it to see?

I was reminded of it with the news of a racist incident in Melbourne where a group of French-speaking women travelling on a bus were told by another woman to “speak English or die”. The verbal abuse captured on video shows a second man threatening to cut the woman with a knife. The knives remained in the kitchen in a New Zealand Herald report about the unfair dismissal of a chef who in addition to the sin of not knowing the difference between types of tofu “insisted on listening to Indian music and speaking Hindi” which  “affected” customers. This anxiety about the speaking of languages other than English extends to the policy sphere with many states in the US introducing legislative bills to make English the official state language, for example Minnesota in 2011. Even signs in languages in other languages provoke discomfort. Massey University researchers Robin Peace and Ian Goodwin found some New Zealanders responded with “annoyance” or “repugnance” when confronted with a space that did not make immediate, translatable sense.

What is with this monolingual sense of entitlement over public space and deep rage that is provoked by people speaking (or singing as the Frenchwomen were) in their own language?

I think it has a lot to do with how “we” might imagine “ourselves”. Language is a glue that coheres people, identities and values. Hearing a different language represents a threat to the power relations of the dominant group.

Immigrants are not supposed to be heard…. Immigrant culture and language—assumed to have little prestige or usefulness in comparison with the dominant American culture and the English language—are supposed to fade away quickly as assimilation runs its course—Castro, 1992.

The anxiety (Xenoglossophobia) generated in hearing a language that is out-of-place, reflects an anxiety about broader demographic changes that have resulted in the browning of our societies. Having a monoglot ideology though means that linguistic diversity is denied and prohibited. If English is the only language that can be heard, then this effectively silences other languages, cultures and ideas.

Assimilationist and genocidal approaches to linguistic plurality have been central to settler capitalist histories requiring the coercive adoption of majority languages in the interests of economic development. Monolingualism was fundamental to economic growth and supporting language minority rights was viewed as a threat to the nation-state because of having an unassimilated ‘other’ (Phillipson, Rannut, & Skutnabb-Kangas, 1994, p. 4). Colonisation and migration led many to abandon their own languages in order to access the social and political benefits of incorporation and assimilation or risk being stigmatised. My experience of trying to reclaim my own language is relevant here. The Portuguese colonisation of Goa led to the Konkani language being marginalised through the enforcement of Portuguese. This linguistic displacement made Konkani the lingua de criados (language of the servants) as Hindu and Catholic elites turned to Marathi and Portuguese respectively. Ironically Konkani is now the ‘cement’ that binds all Goans across caste, religion and class and in 1987 Konkani was made an official language of Goa. Ironically, contemporary iterations of [neo]colonial and [neo]liberal agendas require the appropriation of languages in the interests of global capital, as seen by the push for Chinese language learning in Australia, with monolinguists questioning the global relevance of indigenous languages. Setting up a familiar dynamic of competing indigenous and migrant others. Interestingly the National Statement on Language Policy published by The Human Rights Commission reflects these tensions:

Human Rights and Responsibilities

The right to learn and use one’s own language is an internationally recognised human right. Human rights treaties and declarations specifically refer to rights and responsibilities in relation to indigenous languages, minority languages, learning and using one’s mother tongue, the value of learning international languages, and access to interpretation and translation services. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that ‘a person who belongs to an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority in New Zealand shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of that minority, to enjoy the culture, to profess and practise the religion, or to use the language of that minority’.

New Zealand has a particular responsibility under the Treaty of Waitangi and international law to protect and promote te reo Mäori as the indigenous language of New Zealand. It also has a special responsibility to protect and promote other languages that are indigenous to the New Zealand realm: Vagahau Niue, Gagana Tokelau, Cook Island Mäori, and New Zealand Sign Language. It has a regional responsibility as a Pacific nation to promote and protect other Pacific languages, particularly where significant proportions of their communities live in New Zealand.

Economic Development

A significant and growing proportion of New Zealand’s trade is with Asia and learning the languages of our key trading partners is an economic imperative.

Interestingly the New Zealand Settlement Strategy in its seven goals for successful settlement, aims for newcomers to New Zealand to:

  1. feel welcomed and connected
  2. get the right job and contribute to future prosperity
  3. speak and understand New Zealand English
  4. know how to access information and services
  5. feel proud and confident
  6. feel safe
  7. understand and contribute to New Zealand society.

But there is no emphasis on language maintenance.

Aotearoa New Zealand and linguistic pluralism

Aotearoa New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). English is a de facto official language as it is widely used in Aotearoa, English is spoken by 95.9 percent of people, after which the most common language in which people are proficient in is Māori, spoken by 4.1 percent (157,110 people). 24,090 people report being able to use New Zealand Sign Language and 6,057 people can communicate in all three official languages. Between 2001 and 2006, the numbers of people in New Zealand who spoke Hindi almost doubled, from 22,749 to 44,589, the number of people able to speak Northern Chinese (Mandarin) increased from 26,514 to 41,391, the number of people able to speak Korean increased from 15,873 to 26,967, and the number of people able to speak Afrikaans increased from 12,783 to 21,123. The number of multilingual people increased by 19.5 percent between the 2001 and 2006 Censuses to reach 671,658 people, a 43.3 percent increase from 468,711 people in 1996. Where you were born has a big impact on whether you speak two or more languages, overseas-born residents are more likely than New Zealand-born usual residents to be able to speak two or more languages. 35 percent of overseas-born children (aged 0 to 14 years) speak two or more languages, compared with 11.5 percent of New Zealand-born children. As do working-age people aged between 15 to 64 years, of whom almost half 48.5 percent were multilingual, compared with 10.0 percent of New Zealand-born people. In 2006, 2.2 percent of people could not speak English. Of these, the majority were born overseas (80.3 percent).

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission views the promotion of language as a human right. Its 2005 vision for language was that “by the bicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2040 New Zealand is well established as a bilingual nation and communities are supported in the use of other languages”. It contributes to that vision in many ways including publishing a monthly e-newsletter, Te Waka Reo; a National Statement on Language Policy; supporting language weeks and other language promotion activities,and dealing with complaints about discrimination involving language (e.g. using languages other than English in the workplace).

Being fluent in three languages but not in Konkani when I arrived in New Zealand (and now not being able to speak at all in Maragoli and poorly in Swahili) has taught me that languages open up different ways of thinking and of understanding the world, but fluency isn’t passive. It must be nurtured in the context of a community. The last New Zealand Census identified that there were 588 Konkani speakers in Aotearoa, an increase from 210 in 2001. This rise gives me great heart and hope for the possibility that I might be able to reclaim my own language (amchi bas). Learning other languages has taught me to empathise and to advocate. Perhaps more than anything this is what learning another language or reclaiming our own language offers us, a chance to connect with ourselves and others in ways that are truly meaningful, but that too must be fostered.

If you talk to a [wo]man in a language [s]he understands, that goes to [her]/his head. If you talk to [her]/him in [her]/his language, that goes to [her]/his heart—Nelson Mandela