Growing Up As An Asian Kiwi | Part 1

459996388deb25c4e5abed11d641a907Our stories and experiences connect us with one another, no matter what our backgrounds are or where we were born and raised. We all have stories to tell, share and there is so much that we can learn from one another. I’ve met Asian Kiwis that have families who have been here for generations, those who were born and raised here, those whose families immigrated here and those who came here to study and work. I always believe that no matter how you came to be in New Zealand, what you look like, what language you speak and how long you have been here, if this is where you call home then you are a Kiwi.

New Zealand is a multicultural country, and it is a vibrant place with different ethnicities (especially in cities such as Auckland and Wellington). However, in many aspects, there are still stories to be heard, and experiences to be shared. There is so much we can discover in every person. The media, arts and other industries could have more diversity, and I hope that it can become even more diverse with representations that aren’t built on stereotypes. In this 4 part series, individuals share some snapshots of their personal experiences in growing up as an Asian Kiwi. Jenny’s video here inspired some of the questions I’ve asked my dear friends from New Zealand.

Joyce Lee

I was born and raised in New Zealand, I haven’t lived anywhere else before. My parents are from Hong Kong and I have been back there once when I was 18.

What has someone said to you that has culturally offended you or an experience of racism you’ve had in New Zealand?

I have had a lot from my childhood – I went to Maungawhau Primary which is already considered one of the better schools with less bullying, but there were subtle things such as all the white kids sitting together and leaving my table to be the only asian table. Outside of schooling, I once had a problem starting my car, and asked a white lady next to my car if she knew how to help. I didn’t even think twice about asking, it’s just what you do when you’re needing help, but the lady shocked me and said, “In this country, you need an AA membership. I don’t know how it works in your country but in this country you do.” Then just left without helping. I was really offended by her saying “In this country…” – I was born and brought up here so of course I knew how things worked “in this country”!

What are some Asian stereotypes you have experienced?

All during high school, there was the “Asians are supposed to be smart” generalisation – every time I did well, the white kids would say this. And every time I did badly, the white kids would also say this.

Did you have any Asian role model to look up to when you were younger? Who were they? 

I didn’t have an Asian role model to look up to (unless you count my mum, haha). Because I had NZ television at home and we don’t have a connection with Asian television or stars, I did not have exposure to it.

A situation where you struggled with your cultural identity, or where you had to choose one identity

I don’t think I have had to choose my identity…perhaps the one place where I felt strange was at the Miss Chinese NZ pageant where all the other girls were FOBs and couldn’t speak English and were brought up in China, only coming here for the competition. I couldn’t participate in conversations because I couldn’t understand, and the topics and culture was very different. Even though I knew I was Chinese, it didn’t feel the same.

A situation where people made you feel embarrassed about your culture 

Ok, this isn’t directly related to being Asian, but mum used to make egg sandwiches and I’d always be embarrassed about the smell! I think the biggest one is wearing ‘Asian’ clothes – especially in high school, there were some brands that were ‘cool’ and that everyone bought to wear e.g. Kathmandu huffer jackets, converse sneakers…I remember my mum would always buy me sneakers that looked like converse and huffer jackets that looked like Kathmandu, but they were from Asian shops. I went to a mufti day event wearing an outfit which I was happy with and thought looked cool, but when I got to school, the whole school (basically all the white kids), just looked at me in a degrading way, and all sat together, leaving me and my Asian friend as outcasts. That was one of the worst experiences I’ve had.

Something you wish people knew about your background/culture

I think I just wish people knew that no matter what background/culture you are from, you shouldn’t treat them differently. And also that there is a difference from if you are born in NZ or a FOB, and not to assume someone should “go back to their country” when they are born in the same country as them.

What do you love about being an Asian Kiwi?

I love that I sort of get the best of both worlds – I get to live in the best place ever, with amazing scenery and chill lifestyle, but also that I was brought up with a great asian mum who taught me my morals and gave me direction in life. I do find that because Kiwi parents are less strict, a lot of the kids sometimes turn out spoilt or depressed or not sure how to deal with life on their own.

What’s something that you would love to learn/know more about your Asian culture

I would love to know how to cook! Because I actually love Chinese food like dumplings and stuff!

Check out Joyce’s Instagram here

Ariel D.

I always have to clarify that I was born, but not raised in Taiwan. I came to New Zealand at only 3 months with my parents and three other siblings. We became a satellite family soon after and dad (funnily the American one) went back to Taiwan and worked there to provide for us while mum stayed at home with the kids. 19 years on, he’s retired and back in New Zealand, but all the children have moved out!

I am a second-year student in Auckland uni, studying Psychology and Writing studies. I can be taken for soft-spoken and kind, but that’s because of my Taiwanese background- we just keep the thoughts in our heads ;). Creative things easily inspire me, I wish I could try every medium, but at the moment, the most prominent one during my studies is digital art.

What has someone said to you that has culturally offended you or an experience of racism you’ve had in New Zealand?

I suppose it isn’t very easy to tell that I am Asian because of my half heritage, and so I cannot pinpoint any specific cultural remark towards me since people were always unsure where I even came from.

What are some Asian stereotypes you have experienced?

Because of the way I look, I haven’t experienced many Asian stereotypes personally. Still, you’d get the odd ‘ching chong, konnichiwa’ remark. I guess I just learned to shrug it off.

A situation where you struggled with your cultural identity, or where you had to choose one identity 

Whenever I have to fill in a demographic form where you can only select one ethnicity, I’m always torn. I don’t feel like I am just Asian, but neither am I just Caucasian. At these times, I tend to question where I belong. When I am in Taiwan, they can tell I’m not fully Taiwanese, yet when I’m in New Zealand, I don’t look a New Zealander either. I belong to more places than someone generally would, yet wherever I go, I will be foreign- seems paradoxical.

A situation where people made you feel embarrassed about your culture 

Mum used to pack these heat retaining metal lunchboxes for me to bring to school. At first, I felt embarrassed because my friends would say it was funny and the smell would travel a lot more than their sandwiches. But, it soon became a bit of a superpower, and friends would peer over at my warm lunch, wondering what tasty treat mum had packed for me and whether they could try some.

Something you wish people knew about your background/culture

I think there are some customs people still try to infer from their own knowledge to figure out. But the thing is, there lies greater meaning behind these things and it’s worthwhile to just ask; debunk the myths you have heard. Why is food so popular and so largely relevant to Chinese people? Sure, it does taste good and we love to create many dishes, but it’s also a medium through which we can gather people and enjoy their company. So if a Chinese person asks you to stay for tea, don’t think it rude to sit down- if anything, they will appreciate you taking the time to join their communal hour. It is also not impolite to be served a second time. If we see you enjoying our food, it really only makes us happier. I feel as if we’re always cooking for more than just the people we see.

What do you love about being an Asian Kiwi?

You get the perks of both lifestyles! You can speak to both groups of people, you can celebrate events from both cultures. Having the two cultures helps me keep an open mind and understand where people are coming from. I really do love that I’ve had the privilege to experience different roots.

What’s something that you would love to learn/know more about your Asian culture 

I would love to know more about my language. I would love to be able to watch a full Chinese drama and understand what every word means rather than make the wrong inferences. I would love to go to a Chinese restaurant, read the menu, and understand things more than ‘oil’, ‘chicken’ and ‘water’.

Are you an Asian Kiwi? Feel free to share your stories and experiences in the comments below :)

Photography by Arata Suzuki

2 thoughts on “Growing Up As An Asian Kiwi | Part 1

  1. It’s really interesting reading the experiences of others – the parts that are similar, the parts that are different. Thank you Katie for posting these! It’s very interesting and nice to read these as growing up, no one really spoke of these types of experiences. I’m going to go check out the links you provided!

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