Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok


Mt Roskill Will Take Over the World Part III: Back to the Future

The Central Leader and the Aucklander both carried front page announcements last week: Roskill is the new hot suburb, Roskill is the future, tourists should go to Roskill to see the People of the Future, and to eat the Food of the Future.

I double-taked the Roskill Grammar girl on the top right of the Aucklander front page, and the woman buying veges behind the Community Board member at the Wesley market in the Central Leader. If you're of a certain generation of Chinese female who was a schoolkid for a while before critical mass really hit, you and your mother will always think the Chinese girl with the short hair in the class photo is you. Our time has come! Chinese girls with geeky short haircuts and glasses, we are the people of the future!

And what is our futuristic food? For those in the know down Southwest Central, the grounds of Wesley Intermediate and War Memorial park provided no muesli bars this weekend. Instead, we had the freshest, most chutney-laden kachoris of Avondale, the finest beef rendang of Manurewa (or indeed, Auckland), smooth black Ethiopean coffee from that Ethiopian lady who's always there with her coals, pots, little cups, bored, styley young daughters, and son in the soccer gears working the huge mixing-deck pumping out Amharic pop, the homemade gravlax on a Finnish rye cracker called, I believe, something like 'Finncracker', Kurdish daterolls, the Eritrean Injera stall staring down the Ethiopian Injera stall from opposite ends of the field (don't mention the war!) and the Rojak guy's dry run for the Lantern Festival coming up this weekend.

I'd dare to say the International Cultural Festival was a better experience than the Lantern Festival this year, food-logistics-wise. Not as much shade, but more room, more diversity, less madness, more bins per stall. Mother's loudly patterned shirt still required however.

Yes, the International Cultural Festival had spread out from Potter's Park, and migrated to its natural home, Ros-Killa, MF. McGehan Close was just around the corner, as was the hall where I used to sing in the Mt Roskill Municipal Choir (the hardasses we were, we fundraised for two years to tour Japan doing Sound of Music medleys. The Japanese were a little confused as to why the alto section was made up of yellow and brown kids when they'd ordered blondes.) As well as the 'melting pot', you had your Roskill Churches tent, outnumbered on the field by the Falun Dafa adherents and Yogic Meditators. You had your Waikowhai Scouts.

Yes, so I've moved back in with the folks before leaving the country in ...good god.... about three weeks. It's nice taking time out in good old sleepy Roskill. Er, I mean, vibrant Roskill, Gateway to the World, Portal to the Future. I like going to the Cameron Pools (sorry, 'Roskill Aquasports') where swimmers in the fast lane are slow (so slow they're nearly going backwards... to the Future!), then sitting in the sauna where there will always be two middle-aged South Asian guys with big stomachs and chest-rugs, talking about somebody's (Future!) wife in Hindi possibly, a pair of Mainland girls in (Futuristic!) skirted one-pieces giggling in Mandarin, a doughy ageless Chinese guy sitting on the top shelf like an grotto-Buddha with his legs crossed and eyes closed (bending the space-time continuum!), perhaps a couple of South Asian ladies with long heavy plaits, fully clothed, enjoying the heat and talking about somebody's (Future!) husband in Punjabi maybe, and usually one white guy looking kind of nervous (...about the Crowded Future?) - but hey, we're all sweating, except the fully clothed South Asian ladies. I like strolling back down along the field to my parents' house and seeing the blingin' neighbourhood mums out walking slowly with their baby-strollers and their own mums ambling alongside them in saris and sandals-with-socks. I like going to Yogijis with my mum for muruku and banana chips.

I like being East Asian in the CBD because you can walk down the street and no-one will stare at you, or bother you with inane requests. You can be completely invisible in a way that says 'I am this town.' One does not stare at office blocks, at traffic lights, at stormwater drains, or ask them for money, time, directions.

But I also like being East Asian in Roskill because you can walk down the street and no-one will stare at you or bother you with inane requests. Instead they will smile and say hi, because obviously, we all actually live here.

Just a little to the side, in New Lynn on Saturday (hey, we're all part of the 'Rainbow Region'), the desis got together for their preliminary forum in preparation for launching a full scale South Asian New Zealand conference next year, along the lines of us Chinkies' regular Going Bananas efforts. (Ahem, once more, South Asians: now 33.4% of all 'Asian NZers'; Chinese down to 41%.)

Mumbai-ite Media Mogul (ho ho) Sapna Samant reports back:

I came out with a positive buzz. It was valuable to hear critical dialogue on the construction of national identity and how we can/not be part of this rather than let the dominant groups (in the mainstream and within South Asians) define what we should call ourselves or where our loyalty lies. It was the older patriarchs (two of them, one a 'pillar' of the community) who insisted that our duty lies towards NZ. Yes it does, but in this globalised economy where transnationalism is getting to be the norm amongst many Asians how can 'duty to NZ but maintain Indian culture' be a defining parameter?

Another interesting point raised was changing names to get a job. While the academics did not have a moral stand on it (because it is a question of survival so to each his own), there was emphasis on changing the power structure that compels immigrants to change their names. Once again two men (may I say Hindu Indian men, well settled in New Zealand and hence, in my opinion, giving themselves the right to be judgemental)opined that 'we' should not change our names and were condescending towards those who do. So instead of accomodating the survival needs of new migrants or letting them negotiate their own identity (who likes to change their name, unless it is for survival?)the community sets fixed boundaries on who should do what in order to maintain 'Indianness'. I have friends in India who thought long and hard to name their kids because these kids are going to study/live overseas in the future and should have short, sweet Indian names to make it easy for them. Is that 'Indianness' or not? Or is it accomodating the self within global cultures? Our parents perhaps never had an idea where our destinies will take us so they gave us names without thinking about our existence within such spaces.

So, while I was really stimulated by the speakers and the workshops and just meeting/seeing people what troubles me is the theme of accomodating oneself within New Zealand and maintaining 'Indian culture' in rigid, visible, obvious ways (such as your name) rather than questioning and changing the hierarchies (in the mainstream and communities) that propogate such modes of survival and difference.

Another really interesting theme that came out was this thrust by government, political parties and politicians to push 'national identity' towards ethnic minorities. The academics of course questioned that and rightly so. This week the Herald has spent reams and editorials on religious identity in NZ and the underlying theme was the liberal, democratric and Christian beliefs on which NZ society is based, which allows for accomodation of other religions and cultures. I dispute this belief because democracy is not a Christian or Western institution in the first place and neither is the idea of tolerance. Similarly national identity and the place of ethnic minorities within that is for the minorities to decide, not for mainstream Pakeha to push.

See also:
Mt Roskill Will Take Over the World Part II: No.2

Mt Roskill Will Take Over the World Part I: The Brethren Wing

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