Being Kiwi: Migrants torn in mobile age

Denny Kim. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Denny Kim. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Nearly one in four people in New Zealand today were born overseas - creating a breed of Kiwis that are still part-something else.

Around the world, populations are on the move. Migration flows to the rich OECD countries increased by a third between 2000 and 2008, after China opened its doors to emigrants just as growing Western economies, cheap air fares and instant communications combined to lure immigrants.

New Zealand, a settlement country since European colonisation began in 1840, has taken in more than its fair share of migrants since immigration laws were rewritten in 1987, abandoning preferences for Europeans and opening up to skilled immigrants from anywhere.

The immigrant share of our population, 14 per cent in 1961 and 15.8 per cent in 1991, leapfrogged Canada and Australia to 22.4 per cent in the latest United Nations count of foreign-born populations in 2010, the tenth-highest in the world after mainly oil-rich Gulf states and second to Switzerland (23.2 per cent) within the OECD.

Statistics NZ estimates that our foreign-born have now increased to 23.7 per cent nationally.

New Zealanders of Asian ethnicities leaped 10-fold from 48,006 (1.5 per cent) in 1986 to an estimated 501,100 (11.4 per cent) last year.

But the same cheap travel, communications and open borders that helped them to leave home also make today's migrants more mobile than ever. Many struggle to find a balance between identifying with their adopted nation and their country of birth.

This is especially so for the youngest and most mobile group in their 20s and 30s, from which more than half of the immigrants who spoke to us still harbour the thought of returning to their home country.

"No, I am not Kiwi, I am still Korean," says 39-year-old Devonport cafe owner Denny Kim, who came here five years ago so his children could have a better education.

"At the moment, I am happy to live in New Zealand, but when my son and daughter go to university I will go back to Korea."

Teacher Rachel Somerville, who came from England two years ago with her husband and two daughters, says she does not yet feel Kiwi.

"We're still very much English imports, and we might be forever, I don't know," she says.

Meanwhile Stuart Waugh, 39, a sixth generation New Zealander from Christchurch, says he identifies himself as Kiwi, but not European. "I've never been there."

What shaped us - key events 1972-92

1973 Britain enters the EEC. For almost a century we had made a living by sending meat, butter and wool to England. Now we had to find new markets, and stand on our own feet.
1975 Maori land march. The month-long hikoi from the Far North to Wellington focused attention on issues of Maori land and proclaimed a new assertion of Maori rights. Three days before the march reached Wellington the Waitangi Tribunal was established.
1981 Springbok tour. The civil war between supporters and critics of the tour expressed a major debate about national identity and the effect was to present an image of New Zealand as standing for non-racial human justice.
1984 Rogernomics begins. With the election of the Labour Government, the dollar was floated, subsidies were removed, state assets sold and New Zealand embraced the free market. Within six years we could shop 24/7.
1985 Anti-nuclear policy. In expressing an opposition to nuclear power and arms, New Zealand was forced out of Anzus and into confrontation with France over the Rainbow Warrior. New Zealand took an independent line in the world.
1987 A new immigration act. From this time immigrants were selected firmly on skills, not ethnic background, and this was strengthened by the points system in 1991. Asian-born people increased from under 40,000 in 1986 to over 250,000 in 2006.
Source: 30 key events 1912-2012 selected by Dr Jock Phillips and his team at the online encyclopedia Te Ara. More online at: http://blog.teara.govt.nz

The question

Who are we: What does it mean to be a New Zealander in today's interconnected world?
The context: The "typical" New Zealander who will read the new compact Herald is much harder to pin down now that we are more likely than ever either to have come here from overseas or to have been born here and gone.
The methods: A DigiPoll of 750 New Zealanders plus in-depth interviews with 91 people in New Zealand and 16 NZ-born people in Australia, including similar numbers in five 20-year age bands. The NZ interviews were arranged with the help of primary schools spanning the decile range in North and West Auckland, Cambridge, Rotorua and Christchurch. In addition, historians at the online encyclopedia Te Ara selected 30 key events that helped shape our identity over the past 100 years.
The team: Greg Ansley, Kurt Bayer, Simon Collins, Yvonne Tahana, Lincoln Tan, Vaimoana Tapaleao.

The series

Monday: Pioneer stock - aged 80-plus
Tuesday: War babies - aged 60-79
Yesterday: Opening up - aged 40-59
Today: Children of Rogernomics - aged 20-39
Tomorrow: Sport unites the nation - aged under 20.

Snapshot: New Zealanders aged 20 to 39

* European 65.5%
* Asian 11%
* Maori 9.1%
* Pacific 6.8%
* European-Maori 5.1%
* Other/mixtures 2.7%

Where we are:
* New Zealand 81.5%
* Australia 13.2%
* Rest of world 5.2%
Source: Statistics NZ

- NZ Herald

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