Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

When saying 'I do' opens door to another culture

Mike and Ava Dickins say they both enjoy each other's cooking. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Mike and Ava Dickins say they both enjoy each other's cooking. Photo / Brett Phibbs

When Ava Dickins' mother first came visiting from China, she was keen to stay.

"She really wanted to stay here permanently. She stayed four months," says her Kiwi son-in-law Mike Dickins.

"That was in Mt Eden," Ava explains. "She has Chinese friends nearby so she could go and hang out."

But the next time she came visiting, Ava and Mike had bought a nice standard Kiwi bungalow in Royal Oak, and the mother was less enthusiastic.

"Where we are here it's out of the Chinese zone," says Ava.

Negotiating a Kiwi/Chinese marriage clearly involves a lot of subtleties.

For Mike and Ava, it included a wedding that blended a traditional tea ceremony, when the couple knelt to present tea to Ava's mother, with a Kiwi after-wedding bash at Mike's parents' place at Orewa.

Ava, now 32, had never intended to marry a Kiwi when she came here as an English and business student at AUT back in 2002.

"My initial plan was to come and study and go back," she says.

"But after a couple of years I just loved it here. Myself, I'm not a late-night person, the main thing is I like the people here. And I like the weather, and there's no pollution."

For his part, Mike, now 50, was already attuned to Chinese culture after working in Hong Kong for an importing company in 1995-96, making 82 trips into China.

The couple met at Target Furniture in 2005 when Mike was in the importing department and Ava worked in the retail store.

Both have made adjustments.

"I learned to watch rugby," says Ava. "When my Mum came over we took her to Eden Park to see the Blues. Mum enjoyed it - she didn't know what we were doing."

Ava has also learned to enjoy the speedway - Mike raced go-karts for 25 years.

"We went skiing, the first time I've done that," she says. "I learned to drink wine."

Mike hasn't quite got to love her traditional Chinese soup, but he likes just about every other kind of Chinese food. The couple take turns to cook and enjoy both Chinese and Western cuisine.

"I like Ava's cooking and she likes mine," Mike says. "We go out to yum char once every two weeks or so and we go to a lot of Asian foodcourts and little places down Dominion Rd. I would never go back to when I was in Palmerston North [as a youth] and just have bread and meat and three veg, I just couldn't eat that any more."

Mixed marriages like this are still rare in much of the world. Only one in 40 Americans claimed more than one ethnicity in the 2000 Census, and when Mike and Ava holidayed on Australia's Gold Coast they were amazed that shopkeepers stared at them and spoke only to Mike.

"Over there you don't see that many Asians with Australians, they look at us as a bit strange," says Ava.

But one in 10 New Zealanders claimed more than one ethnicity at the last Census and in Auckland, where 37 per cent of people were born overseas, Mike and Ava feel that nobody sees them as unusual.

Intermarriage is still less common here for Asians than for Maori and Pacific people. Only 7 per cent of Asian men and 20 per cent of Asian women lived with non-Asian partners at the last Census, compared with a quarter of Pacific people and almost half of all Maori - mainly because many Asians married before they came here.

But Waikato University demographers Richard Bedford and Elsie Ho found that 27 per cent of Chinese children under age 15 in the 2006 Census, and 40 per cent of all Chinese born in New Zealand, already had mixed ethnicity.

"There is clear evidence of different groups coming together in social relationships and partnerships," they concluded.

"Looking ahead to 2026, when there will be a much larger share of NZ-born in the Asian populations and, by extension, a much higher share of Asian peoples in the mixed-ethnicities categories, it is difficult to see immigrants from Asia forming their own mini-societies to the detriment of social cohesion."

- NZ Herald

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