'My ethnicity was my choice...

by tosca on Tuesday, August 10, 2010

...It still is.'
~ Isaac Mizrahi

Well no, it's not. Or at least, not for me. I am Maori every second of every minute of every hour of every day. I don't know how to be anything else. For me that means: I speak the language (although no longer as fluently as I used to and that's my own fault); I know my whakapapa going generations back; I can recite the stories that go with those ancestors; I have a turangawaewae, rangatira, waka, awa, maunga & marae; I know about my culture & my history - and those parts of me are not dying out. I am not dying out. It's Tuesday and this is a 'My family & other animals post' or hmm, things my family say or do that are worth blogging about. The quick roundabout story for how this post came about goes like this: Professor Paul Moon (lecturer from my angry student days) commented on a link on Facebook that was initially shared by Joris de Bres (yeah, as in NZ's Race Relations Commissioner) that was actually an article written by Matt Lawrey in The Nelson Mail called 'Kia ora to an enlightened attitude towards te reo.' It's a great article...until you read the comments. Depressed the hell outta me and reminded me of advice my parents gave me that sucked. Badly.

My parents love me. A lot. I'm eminently lovable so hey *shrugs* it's easy to do. Well, that and as my parents it's their job to love me. It's only natural for them to want to have guided me when I was younger and oh so impressionable. I know that they always have my best interests at heart. This doesn't mean, however, that they always know what's right for me. Shocker, huh, that your parents aren't always right? But they mean well, and they say what they say with love and with the best of intentions. Even if it was crappy advice at the time, advice like:

1) Learning the reo is not a smart career move
2) You'll never get a job if you have a nose piercing
3) People will think twice about hiring you if you have a tattoo

I'm living proof that all of those are a huge crock of shit :0) When I was about 11 (I was always a year younger than all of my classmates) and considering my high school 'options' (the subjects that we were allowed to choose - as opposed to the compulsory maths, science etc.) my parents told me that te reo Maori was not a smart career choice. They were dead serious. Learning te reo at school, or having a qualification for it at any rate - I grew up with it in the home but wanted qualifications for it even if it was just school cert - was not going to earn me big money. Japanese, I was informed, would be a more logical choice. So I took Japanese right up through 6th form...and hated it. Yeah sure, I was really good at it, but it turned out that I was also good at German and, weirdly, French, which I had to barter with my parents to take. We both walked away from the bargaining table with a compromise that we could all live with but I can't help thinking that perhaps in winning we maybe lost something as well. And, in doing so, maybe let the hurt of past grievances have more importance than they ever should have in my lifetime.

My dad doesn't talk much about growing up Maori in a rural area but I know, from what little I've listened in on, that it was hard and it was painful - and it was enough to make him believe for many years that being Maori held no worth at all. Not in anyone's eyes. I'd imagine that a large part of this was because he and his siblings had been caned, strapped, yelled at and humiliated in front of their school friends for talking in Maori. Over time they got the idea that it was better to just give it all up because, hey, the nail that sticks up the highest gets hit the hardest, right? I'm almost 100% certain that it was this treatment that prompted his advice to me as an adolescent. Which is totally understandable, although slightly insane because I shouldn't have had to pay for crappy government policies a generation or two later geez. No way. And reading comments like those left on Lawrey's article make me absolutely livid - it's like a neverending frickin' loop: shit stuff happened, and a crapload of Maori lost their language etc., and some of them are still without (and apparently learning a language that's dying *rolls eyes*) because shit stuff happened, and a crapload of Maori lost their language etc., and some of them are still without (and apparently learning a language that's dying *rolls eyes*) because...you get the picture. Debate - healthy debate - is always good! But some of those comments weren't what I'd call healthy. No way, no how. It's a bit of a reality check for me not to get too complacent about my identity because someone out there will always challenge it. Maybe that's what my parents didn't want, I don't know. It's never boring being Maori, right? I just wish half of them would do it with some actual knowledge behind their opinions and not just knee jerk reactions.

1) Lawrey's initial article: 'Kia ora to an enlightened attitude towards te reo'
2) Editorial: 'Embracing te reo'
3) Lawrey's follow up article: 'Level of bigotry that can only depress'

A colleague and I were discussing Hone Harawira's comment about how he'd feel uncomfortable if one of his children brought home a non-Maori partner. He was asked his thoughts, he gave them. For fuxake, if you don't really want to know what Hone thinks then don't ruddy well ask him because for sure you'll get it in spades and you know most of you won't like it LOL But it sells papers, right? Did anyone ask him why he'd be uncomfortable and, in having asked him, did they give him an opportunity to answer? I'd be interested in knowing his full answer. I wonder if I can ask him? I really want to know because here is a man who has worked hard his whole life to ensure that his children are exceptionally strong in their knowledge of Maori history, culture, protocols, customs and most especially the language. I wonder if he's concerned about what compromises would have to be made and where, and if he's worried that they might feel like they had to leave parts of their Maori identity on the bargaining table...


Thanks for posting this - and the articles.

I really identified with Matt Lawrey - and the comments did depress me - and make me ashamed of being paheka.

Then came the fear - am I really racist, but I pretend not to be? Is my 'racial sensitivity' just covering it up?
Does my upbringing as a Westie kid in the 70s actually overrule my subsequent re-education? We were a suburb of urban migration with two houses set aside for Maori.

Thus, it's taken me a week to get the courage to post a comment.

Yours... confused and dispirited...

by Annie on August 17, 2010 at 4:03 PM. #

I think it must be normal to have fears like that because I think I have those fears, too. The comments on his post that were positive - those are good things to take away. It's just a shame that they got lost in the blatantly off-colour comments. It left me very confused and very grumpy. And maybe that's good, too, because it keeps your brain ticking over and it makes you go, 'Well, Tosca, you're grumpy - what're you gonna do about it?' To date, well, not much LOL But I'm still thinking about it :)

by catatonia on August 23, 2010 at 10:39 PM. #

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