Colourful festivals open doors to other cultures

Auckland Mayor Len Brown believes the growing number of celebrations have an important role for the region's melting pot of 180 ethnicities and will help bring communities together

Next week's Diwali celebrations will include traditional performances such as a Tamil dance by Ashwini Rohan (foreground). Photo / Natalie Slade
Next week's Diwali celebrations will include traditional performances such as a Tamil dance by Ashwini Rohan (foreground). Photo / Natalie Slade

Belmont Primary School associate principal Moiera Clews does not think the Lantern Festival has helped her increase her understanding about the Chinese culture, but it has taught her "a thing or two" about how and what to celebrate.

Mrs Clews said since attending her first Lantern Festival about 10 years ago, she has made her family adopt festivals that other cultures celebrate.

"We don't have very much of a festival culture, there's Christmas and New Year, and that's about it, but what the Lantern Festival shows is that we now have lots of other festivals we can celebrate," Mrs Clews said.

"Now, in our family, we celebrate Chinese New Year, Bastille Day, the 4th of July ... we grab any days in the world that are happening because I think it opens you up to the food, the language, and the cultures that we can all enjoy."

Publicly celebrated Asian festivals, such as Auckland International Cultural Festival, Diwali, Lantern Festival, are a recent development in the country's largest and most ethnically diverse city.

An Asia New Zealand Foundation report said these festivals were "highly visible manifestations of Asian ethnoscapes" in Auckland, and were being attended by increasingly diverse participants.

The annual Chinese Lantern Festival at Albert Park, held around Chinese New Year, is estimated to attract crowds of about 200,000 over three days, and the foundation estimates between 60 and 70 per cent of those are non-Chinese.

The foundation's research director Andrew Butcher said these festivals gave New Zealanders a window into Asian festivals and was also often a gateway into the different cultures.

Computer technician and Indian immigrant Sunil Rajoo, 31, attended his first Lantern Festival last year and described it as an "incredible experience".

"Often when we talk about experiencing another culture, we refer to European Kiwis experiencing an Asian culture," he said.

"But I think these festivals also give migrants a peek into how other migrant communities celebrate."

Mr Rajoo said the Diwali celebrations, due to take place next week, also helped him feel at home in Auckland.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown said more than 180 different ethnic communities were living in Auckland, and festivals and celebrations helped bring communities together.

"Our various festivals and celebrations, Matariki, Anniversary Day, Pasifika, the Lantern Festival and Diwali, are already huge events in the Auckland calendar, but they have potential to be more and that's why Pasifika, for example, is growing," Mr Brown said.

From next year, Pasifika will become a two-day event with an increased emphasis on tradition and authenticity in the festival villages.

Auckland Council was also looking into introducing an Islamic Festival and a Caribbean Festival within the next two years.

The mayor said festivals played a key role in attracting visitors to Auckland. "As well as celebrating our diversity, they are great draw cards for the visitor economy as we make Auckland an events capital.

"In Otara, I grew up being exposed to a multitude of cultures and it is one of the things I love most about this city."

But University of Auckland Asian Studies professor Manying Ip said the "gateway" role these festivals played were slowly being replaced by Asian pop-culture.

"Festivals may be a cultural eye-opener for Kiwis during the first two decades of Asian migration, but it won't be for their children who are already interacting with Asian classmates and schoolmates," she said.

"More of these kids will be experiencing Asian pop-culture, like K-Pop and cosplay and watching Asian cultural performances at school assemblies even before they attend their first public festival."

A K-Pop song, Gangnam Style, last week became the first Korean song to top the New Zealand music charts.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said festivals were a good first step to Auckland's embracing of cultural diversity, but efforts should be made to look for more permanent ways to recognise migrant communities as being part of the city.

"Politically, there remains a reluctance to acknowledge the immigrant and minority ethnic nature of Auckland's cityscapes," he said.

"There has been some resistance, from the communities concerned, both co-ethnics and others, to brand some city as ethnic. The opposition to the establishment of a Chinatown is one example."

He said migrants were already changing some areas, such as Northcote, Sandringham and Dominion Rd, into ethnic precincts, but these were products of "immigrant-driven processes" rather than a policy reform or political leadership which were prepared to see diversity as having direct economic benefits.

Professor Spoonley said the recent migrants, from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, have helped New Zealand become more connected globally as these new communities maintained strong connections with their homeland and their diaspora.

"Nothing could more markedly signal the difference between the British-dominated migration of the 19th and 20th centuries and the diasporic connections that this produced, than the Asian migration of the 21st century," he said.

"The immigrants are visibly different.

"They maintain origin of languages and practices, and they have transformed parts of the city as their ethno-burbs and ethnic business precincts signal their differentness."

Embracing Auckland's diversity

What you can do this month to experience a different culture:

Diwali: Join in the Indian festival of lights celebrations next weekend at Aotea Square and Queen St. Highlights include Indian food and cultural performances, a Bollywood dance competition and fireworks display.

Indonesia festival: Join in the dynamic njot-njotan dance from Jakarta and experience the Balinese trance dance kecak. Sample some Indonesian signature dishes such as mie bakso, sate ayam, nasi padang and siomay. North Shore Events Centre, October 20 from noon to 7pm.

Speak Korean: Learn the Korean language for free at the Korean Education Centre, which is funded by the Korean Ministry of Education. New classes starting next school term. Contact centre adviser Lisa Lee on (09) 303-2625.

- NZ Herald

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