Celebrating African women in Aotearoa New Zealand

I was honoured to be invited by the African Community Forum Incorporated to attend and speak at an event on March 10th 2012 to celebrate International Women’s Day. I have written elsewhere about my links with East Africa. Briefly, I was born in Tabora Tanzania and lived in Nairobi, Kenya until the age of ten, when my family migrated to New Zealand. Originating from Goa, India, both sets of grandparents moved to Tanzania in the late 19th Century and both my parents were born there. Until moving to New Zealand I was fluent in both Swahili and Maragoli.  The African part of my identity rarely gets the opportunity to play, so I was thrilled to attend the event.

 

Indians in Africa

Many people might be surprised to know that the Indian connection to Africa goes back three thousand years. Indians were traders and later sojourners. The British indentured labour scheme which replaced slave labour, ushered a new era of cheap and reliable labour for plantations and the building of railways. The construction of the great railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria in Uganda in the late nineteenth century brought fifteen thousand (of the sixteen thousand) workers or ‘coolies’ from India. Tragically one quarter of them died or returned disabled (Sowell, 1996). Indians (especially Goans) were also recruited to run the railways after they were built (as my grandparents were) and Goans came to dominate the colonial civil services.

Africans in New Zealand

The history of African migration to New Zealand is much more recent. Te Ara online encyclopedia notes that the first black African in New Zealand was travelling on James Cook’s second voyage as a servant (no name is provided) and later killed by Maori in 1773. The 1871 New Zealand census recorded 34 people who were born in ‘British African Possessions’ and another 31 from other African countries. The 1911 census recorded 92 African-born people. However, these African born people were likely to have been white given the mobility of white settlers through the then British Empire. The 1916 census recorded 95 “Negroes” referring to African Americans and six African born people, four Abyssinians (Ethiopians) and two Egyptians. The Colombo Plan saw the arrival of Black Africans as students in the 1960s, some of whom remained in New Zealand and had families. During the 1970s two groups of Africans arrived in New Zealand. White Rhodesians who were escaping from the war and two hundred Ugandans (not sure if they were all Asian Ugandans) who were ejected by Idi Amin. The number of African born residents (mainly from Commonwealth countries) increased to 3,939 Africans by 1986, but again were mainly white. It was not until the changes in migration policy of 1987 that there were significant demographic changes as a result of the development of a formal refugee quota  which saw arrivals especially from Ethiopia (1991-3), Somalia (1992-4), Rwanda (1994) and the shift to a migration points policy which saw a greater number of African people coming New Zealand as migrants. The 2006 Census 10,647 or 0.3% of the population identified as African. 4,806  Africans reside in Auckland and 5,841 outside of Auckland. In the 10 years between 1991 and 2001 the number of women from African countries increased considerably with numbers of women from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Somalia more than quadrupling in that time (Statistics New Zealand, 2005).

The growth of the African community is an exciting development and the event organised by ACOFI was a fantastic celebration of Pan-African culture and the vitality and energy of the community. I look forward to taking part in more events and improving my now very rusty Swahili! By the way, the art work is from a drawing competition run on the night. My big thanks to all the organisers especially Carlos Carl, Boubacar Coulibaly and Sharon Sandra Paulus and all the people that worked hard to make the event happen.

Shifting Out the Sweetness: Migrant Motherhood in New Zealand

DeSouza, R. (2007). Sifting out the sweetness: Migrant motherhood in New Zealand. In P. Liamputtong (Ed.), Reproduction, Childbearing and Motherhood: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (pp. 239-251). New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Abstract

Migration leads to transformation, willingly or unwillingly, for both the migrant and the receiving society. The changes that result can be superficial or visible; for example, cuisine or more subtle and private, such as identities. In considering motherhood in a new country, women are challenged with an opportunity to reshape their identity, from viewing their culture as static with fixed boundaries and members to fluid, pliable, negotiated and renegotiated through interactions with others. The pluralising of identities that accompanies migrant motherhood is brought to the fore with migrant women having to sift and reclaim aspects of culture that may have been lost, preserve memories of cultural practices, transmit, maintain or discard traditional perinatal practices and  choose new practices. In addition, there may be old and new authority figures in the shape of midwives or mothers to appease. This chapter provides an overview of how women originating from Goa, India who had babies in New Zealand actively considered their past, present and future in terms of cultural maintenance and reclamation during the perinatal period. The history of Goan colonisation as a catalyst for dispersal had already led to the modification of cultural practices. The development of plural identities and the strategic utilization of cultural resources new and old are examined, as is the potential to apply notions of cultural safety to migrant health. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the implications of plural identities for health services and workforce development in New Zealand.

Introduction

At no other time in their lives do women get bombarded and overwhelmed with more information and advice, which is frequently unsolicited, as when they are pregnant and have babies. As a nurse working on a post-natal ward many years ago, I remember meeting a vibrant and loving couple, who said their strategy for managing the mountain of advice, was to “sift out the sweetness.” This sifting process is doubly significant for migrant women who have a baby in a new country. They must sift between their own cultural practices and those of the receiving communities. For many, it involves reclaiming long forgotten practices especially if they are separated from their traditional knowledge sources. In turn, there is an opportunity for receiving societies and their systems to sift through their practices and consider ones brought by immigrants to see if there are opportunities for improvement and innovation.

This chapter focuses on a study of women from the Goan/Indian community in Auckland, New Zealand and discusses how women manage the dual transition of motherhood and migration while separated from networks and supports. A brief history of New Zealand demographics, migration and policy is given, followed by an overview of Goan migration. A description of the study that took place follows including the theoretical standpoint and social and cultural context. The findings of the study are then discussed, focusing on how women negotiated their cultural identities. The chapter concludes with an overview of implications for social care and health professionals.

The ultimate engagement of life: Being mentally healthy

Published in (2007) Asian Magazine, 4.

I came across a wonderful definition of health by Jesse Williams in 1928 the other day in a book that I was reading. Williams defines health as being “the optimal condition of being that allows for the ultimate engagement of life.” To me this is what being healthy is about, being in the best condition to fully take part in life. I have had a long passion in the issue of migration and settlement and in particular the impact on health and specifically mental health. We know that migration is a risky business that also has the potential to transform, so how can we maintain our mental health and go beyond maintenance to optimal health and engaging fully with life? What are the factors that help or hinder being ultimately engaged with life and what can we do about them? In this article I’d like to share my professional, personal and research findings with you from work I did with Goan women living in Auckland some years ago [1].

Migration offers the potential of a new and better life, otherwise why would anyone migrate for a worse life? Yet sometimes this is what unexpectedly happens. We are so focussed on the wonderful future and the leaving, but not so much on the arrival. Without our usual “soft places to fall” as Dr Phil terms it, our support networks, our fulfilling work, migrants can end up with migrant’s remorse!

It was the first time we had been on our own before, in Bombay you’ve always got family to help you and you’ve got everything ready made, so you never know what hardship is until you come here (Flora).

When there is a big gap between our hopes and expectations and the reality the disillusionment can be too much to bear. When the job that is going to be the foundation of the new life doesn’t materialise and the income doesn’t match the sacrifices, it can seem like things are going down hill fast. There is a cumulative impact of all these disappointments that can result in feeling overwhelmed and worn out. So when do ups and downs become something you should pay attention to? In my experience, it is best to ask for help from those around you when you feel like you are not coping and managing as well as you would like to be or know that you usually can. Help-seeking is something that many of us find difficult to do. Whether it is pride or the shame of admitting we cannot manage on our own. What I know for sure though is that when we have exhausted our own resources we should ask for help because things don’t tend to get better by themselves and sometimes they get worse when we do nothing. So start by talking to people that you trust, family or friends and keep talking and asking until you get what you need. If you have a faith community tap into its resources. Talk to your General Practitioner and ask for referral to a counsellor or mental health service. I remember talking to a man with a gambling problem that had become depressed, he said “what is the point of going to talk about my problems, I need financial help!” The answer is that there are a range of things that have contributed to how you feel and equally there are a range of things that will help, from going for a walk to talking to someone to getting budgetary advice. There is not going to be just one magical solution.

So what if you are reading this and thinking, I am fine, I just get down sometimes. Here are four strategies that Goan women used to help them maintain their mental health.

Developing a new support network New Zealand researchers [2] have found that support is one of four important factors for successful settlement. Support makes coping with daily living, acquiring language and employment (the three other factors) easier to acquire. Support also helps you manage stress by reducing how big you see the stress and helping to reduce the severity of your reaction to it [3]. Participants in my research study found that having contact with family, friends and other migrants was crucial and that by volunteering, joining their faith community and having access to support through e-mail the stresses of migration and settlement were minimised. It is important to make sure that you connect with people outside your faith or ethnic group too.

Having a “can do” attitude The term ‘pioneer spirit’ is often used to refer to migrants. The attitude of coping with things in the present because they will get better in the future if you make it work is part of the migrant dream. T some degree pragmatism and philosophical acceptance are necessary for survival and essential:

You just couldn’t pick a flight and go, you’ve resigned your job, you’ve spent half your savings to come here and you know there’s no turning back so you have to make the most of this. So it’s like there’s no turning back, but you think, ‘God what have I done’ (Flora).

As Arisaka says [4] “This almost non-negotiable drive for upward mobility requires diligent assimilation. Self-pity, victim consciousness, and separationist self-consciousness are deadly to the process towards success. Not only are they excessively self-indulgent, but they are also a waste of time and energy, and therefore not allowed”. I think that this can also be a trap and that again it is important to ask for help when you need it. You don’t get extra points at the end of your life for having done it the hard way!

Learning There are two ways of learning that assist with settlement one is the  ‘culture learning approach’ where you adapt  by overcoming every day cross-cultural problems by learning new culture specific skills that assist you to navigate the new cultural environment [5]and the other is by inoculation or anticipatory preparation [6, 7] which helps the transition experience , where a previous visit or some similar kind of preparation where you gain culturally specific knowledge and skills prior to migration can be a great help.

Lastly, maintaining cultural links was used to make sense of the migration and settlement experience and maintaining wellbeing. The loss and separation that can occur with migration can be lessened to some degree by holding on to familiar and trusted values and keeping ties [8]. Keeping a connection with ‘the familiar’ helps lessen the dislocation and challenges that resulted from being in ‘the unfamiliar”. This can be done by attending community events or even going back to the place of origin, for the benefit of children as well:

It’s important not to get carried away by the western thing, to keep taking them back to their roots if you can afford it because I think that priority has really made the difference for us (Sheila).

There are many ways to manage a new life in a new country. Each one of us has to find a combination of ways that are going to work for us. I hope this has give you some ideas about how you can not only survive the transition to life in a new country but thrive as well so that you can be in optimal condition to enjoy your new life fully.

References

  1. DeSouza, R., Walking upright here: Countering prevailing discourses through reflexivity and methodological pluralism. 2006, Auckland, NZ: Muddy Creek Press.
  2. Ho, E., et al., Settlement assistance needs of recent migrants. 2000, University of Waikato: Waikato.
  3. Kearns, R.A., et al., Social support and psychological distress before and after childbirth. Health and Social Care in the Community, 1997. 5(5): p. 296-308.
  4. Arisaka, Y., Asian women: Invisibility, locations, and claims to philosophy, in Women of color and philosophy: A critical reader, N. Zack, Editor. 2000, Blackwell Publishers: Malden, Mas. p. 219-223.
  5. Ward, C., S. Bochner, and A. Furnham, The psychology of culture shock. Second edition ed. 2001, Hove, East Sussex: Routledge.
  6. Meleis, A.I., et al., Experiencing transitions: an emerging middle-range theory. Advances in Nursing Science, 2000. 23(1): p. 12-28.
  7. Weaver, G., Understanding and coping with cross-cultural adjustment stress, in Culture, communication and conflict: readings in intercultural relations, G. Weaver, Editor. 1994, Gin Press: USA. p. 169-191.
  8. Vasta, E., Gender, class and ethnic relations: the domestic and work experiences of Italian migrant women in Australia, in Intersexions; gender, class, culture, ethnicity, G. Bottomley, M.D. Lepervanche, and J. Martin, Editors. 1991, Allen and Unwin: Sydney.

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.