Growing Up As An Asian In New Zealand

d7f5502ffc4d6191c4501febc0c72b77.jpgEveryone has a different experience growing up, and we have a mixture of cultures in New Zealand. This is sort of a continuation of thoughts and experiences from my previous post here. A little background about me is that I was born and raised in New Zealand, and spent most of my life living by the beach, on the farm and now in the city. I consider Auckland a country town, which means that it is still considered a small city (or I like to call it big little city) with a diverse amount of people. This is more of a ramble of spontaneous thoughts, but please do share your experiences with me if you are an Asian who grew up in New Zealand.

I was at work a few weeks ago, and I have a lovely Asian coworker who works different shifts. A customer came in and said “You made my coffee yesterday”, and I was a bit confused, and said that I hadn’t worked that day. Then I realised it was my other coworker, who happens to be Asian even though we don’t look alike. This used to happen regularly in my high school Maths class, when the teacher would call me by the Japanese boy’s name who was in the same class. In this case, he had short hair and (again) we looked nothing alike. However, in perspective, there are some Asians who can sometimes get some Caucasians mixed up if there are similar features eg. blonde hair, blue eyes.

When I was interviewed by a Fine Arts student for her project, I was asked if I felt more Taiwanese or Kiwi. It was a difficult question. We had an interesting discussion about living in New Zealand as an Asian, and the experiences that can come with it. I had a conversation with a friend a while ago, who is from Japan. She told me how in her culture, sometimes they look too much up to Westerners. In Taiwan (and perhaps many Asian countries) a lot of advertising features Westerners. However, growing up in New Zealand I never saw many Asians or different races in advertising or media. Most news hosts are Caucasian and there could definitely still be more of a variety of Actors and Models of different races.

I grew up going to school where everyone wanted to get a tan, but I never wanted to. I always put on sunscreen, and I wore long sleeves a lot. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be pale, but more the awareness of skincare and how much the sun can age and damage your skin. Most Asian’s are very aware of skin protection from a young age. Touching on when I talked to the Fine Arts student, I have to agree because most of the people we see in our Media and Advertising are still Caucasian. There are times during my experiences in New Zealand (and Australia), where I have felt some (not all) White people think they are better than me. This is from personal experience, but I think many Asians have had that feeling before.

In my high school experience, there was a lot of casual racism and a vast array of stereotypes about Asians. Most of the time, it simply comes from a place of ignorance and not understanding different cultures and races. I have to admit, this is why as I grow older, sometimes it is easier to make friends with some Asian’s who have also grew up in a Western country. There is a way of relating and a silent understanding. Although, some of my closest friends are Caucasian. Growing up in New Zealand, there isn’t as many people who love cute things, at least not so common for those who are in their 20’s. It’s so normal in Asia, and even now I still love Hello Kitty and cute things.

I was at an event last year with my friend, and we were the youngest there, as everyone was in their 30’s to 50’s. There were two Caucasian men in their 50’s that kept talking to us during the night. One of the first questions they asked was our ethnicity. At the end of the night they asked if we wanted to go to their winery sometime. My friend was 18 at the time. We said no, and my friend said she didn’t like wine. This is a clear example of older White elderly men hitting on young Asian girls, that happens for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, an Asian woman and White man relationship is common, and most of the time people are genuinely together because they love one another for their personality and who they are as a person.

When I was sitting in English class last year, there was a person who asked me if I spoke Korean. I replied no, and he said he was studying Korean. I felt slightly uncomfortable, and he later on he told me with no hesitation that his previous girlfriends were Korean. As for the topic of Yellow Fever and White Fever, this is where there are also lots of stereotypes. Most of the time, as previously mentioned, people date others because they feel an attraction towards the person as an individual. But, there are examples like the guy in English class, where they clearly have a preference.  I don’t know what else to say about the topic, but feel free to share your thoughts if you’d like.

It’s far more relaxed in New Zealand, and I’m grateful for it when I think about my experience of education. In Asia, studying and working can become stressful and the lifestyle is not like the one in New Zealand where there is a nice balance. An important advice is to retain your mother tongue, never lose it, because English can be taught at school and picked up, so there really isn’t any need to teach it at home. From personal experience, I only speak Mandarin at home, and when I started going to kindergarten I picked up English very quickly. Language is an important part of your culture, and if you are an Asian Kiwi, embracing your mother tongue and the English language can really strengthen that bond.

One thing I wish to tell people is to never assume. Don’t assume if someone is quiet, it means they aren’t good at English. Don’t assume someone must of moved overseas, in case they were born here (I’ve been asked if I’m an immigrant before). Don’t talk slowly to others, unless they really cannot understand you. Be respectful of different cultures, even if you cannot understand why people do things a different way. This is why travelling is important, because seeing different parts of the world and absorbing different cultures allows you to open your eyes. We are all people who live in this beautiful country. A New Zealander is someone who lives here and feels at home. That’s the most simple way I can put it.

Photography by Sun Jun

10 thoughts on “Growing Up As An Asian In New Zealand

  1. I read this post with a lot of interest as an Asian Australian, and your experiences are quite similar to mine. It is so true that some people make automatic judgements about us depending on how we look, and sometimes some of Asian descent do look up to Westerners. Every now and then some Westerners assume I speak Chinese (no I don’t but I speak Cantonese) and assume because I am relatively quite, I don’t have an opinion and don’t seem to give me space to speak up.

    I think I am probably one of those Asians who don’t mind a tan. It’s hard for me to get a tan anyway since I burn so easily, and so generally avoid the sun most of the time.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Mabel. This is common with a few Asian friends of mine who have also said that people have spoken Mandarin to them, but they don’t speak it. I can relate as my personality is more quiet in general, but because I am Asian, I feel like that can bring about the stereotype. However, I feel like there’s often a misconception that being loud equates to confidence.

  3. As an Asian (Indian) who was born and raised in England, a lot of this resonates. Though I haven’t experienced explicit racism, there have been undertones of “I’m better than you”.

  4. Thank you for your comment. I understand, many people are friendly and treat other’s how they like to be treated, but there will always be those few people that will have racism towards different races or feel more superior.

  5. Love this post!
    Though I’m not raised in Western country, I’m studying in Europe. Most of the people are really nice, and I have to admit that this “Asian face ” had give me quite a few advantage of making friends; however, I can feel that some people, especially on campus, just look down on me, I remembered that one time when I sneezed in the cafeteria, a tall boy just mimicked me immediately… Tons of people sneeze there and you just mimic me (I don’t even know him and he was some feet away from me.) and giggling with your friends?! What’s so bloody funny about my sneeze?!

  6. Hi Nereid, thank you so much for your comment. That wouldn’t of been a very nice experience to have, I think sometimes it’s because, especially in places where there aren’t as many Asians, some people aren’t as understanding and accepting.

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