One nation with many nationalities

By Simon Collins

Clare and Aaron Wallis with their son Jacob. Photo / Greg Bowker
Clare and Aaron Wallis with their son Jacob. Photo / Greg Bowker

Two-year-old Jacob Wallis has European and Maori ancestors, but his parents hope he will think of himself as simply a "Kiwi".

His mother Clare Wallis, 32, is one of a "leading lights" group of 200 chosen to test each round of the Growing Up in New Zealand surveys, and comes from a Pakeha family in Pukekohe.

She and Aaron Wallis, also 32, were teenage sweethearts at Pukekohe High and the fact that Aaron's grandmother was Ngati Porou was irrelevant.

"He's not involved with his iwi. You tick a box on a piece of paper, I think that is a sign of New Zealand where we've all got different backgrounds," Clare says.

Aaron ticked the "NZ Maori" box on his census form "because that's what my mother would do".

His mother was brought up speaking te reo Maori at Te Araroa near East Cape, but Aaron understands only a few words of the language, and is uneasy talking about ethnicity.

"I don't know if ethnicity is different from nationality," he says.

"I identify myself as my cultural upbringing and I was raised as a Kiwi.

"There was no option for 'Kiwi'. I don't put myself on the [Maori] electoral roll, I think it's a wasted vote. I thought about putting 'New Zealander' [on the census form] but I thought that would be a waste, too."

The couple have been to Te Araroa for funerals and other family events and will take Jacob there when he's older. He is already learning Maori songs at his creche in Onehunga, where the family lives.

But both parents are happy that Jacob's classmates come from every part of the world. The creche celebrates Diwali as well as Matariki.

"There's a bit of everything - Pacific Island, Indian, Asian, European - and the teachers are all different ethnic groups as well," says Clare.

"It's a big change in the world, it wasn't that long ago that it wasn't like that. So I think it's wonderful that you grow up and just think it's normal that there are lots of different cultures."

The full Growing Up in NZ study of 6822 babies born in Auckland and Waikato in the past two years reveals for the first time the full extent of ethnic mixing going on around us.

Almost half the babies have more than one ethnicity - 33 per cent have two ethnicities, 8 per cent have three and 3 per cent have more than three.

A fifth of babies will grow up in homes where English is not the main language.

More than a third of the mothers were born overseas, most in Asia (11 per cent), the Pacific Islands (10 per cent) or Europe (7 per cent).

When pressed for their "main ethnicity", only 57 per cent of the mothers said they were NZ European, followed by almost equal numbers of Pacific people and Asians (both 15 per cent) and Maori (14 per cent).

But the ethnicities of the babies reveal that the country's two historically dominant groups, European and Maori, look set to keep their influence in our future through intermarriage.

Almost three-quarters (72.5 per cent) of the babies will be partly European and almost a quarter (24.1 per cent) will be partly Maori.

A further fifth (21.4 per cent) will be partly Pacific and 16.2 per cent will be partly Asian.

Moreover, Europeans and Maori are still much more dominant in the rest of New Zealand than they are in Auckland, where most of the Growing Up sample live.

Nationally, 66 per cent of mothers still give European as one of their ethnicities and 23 per cent are at least part-Maori, while Pacific people account for only 12 per cent and Asians for 11 per cent.

- NZ Herald

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