Census 2013: New Kiwis add to our diversity

By Simon Collins

Our latest batch of citizens are embracing the multicultural nature of the country they now call home.

From left, new citizens Marlon and Maida Macatual with daughter Maive, from the Philippines, Cecilia Liu from China, Patamyai Hla from Burma and Sherene Marais and Gareth Poley from South Africa. Photo / Richard Robinson
From left, new citizens Marlon and Maida Macatual with daughter Maive, from the Philippines, Cecilia Liu from China, Patamyai Hla from Burma and Sherene Marais and Gareth Poley from South Africa. Photo / Richard Robinson

In just under six years in Auckland, Sherene Marais has learned not just about New Zealand but about the world.

"I had never been exposed to Japanese food before I came to New Zealand," said the 29-year-old South African migrant who works at Heritage Hotels' corporate office.

"When I first started at Heritage we were in little pods and everyone in my pod was from a different country, be it America or China or Japan or the UK. There was only one Kiwi."

Yesterday Ms Marais and her partner Gareth Poley became New Zealand citizens in a moving ceremony at the Auckland Town Hall with 327 other new Kiwis from 56 countries.

Mr Poley, creative director at a marketing agency called Traffic, marvelled at the diverse crowd at his firm's Christmas party last Friday.

"I looked around and I said to one of the New Zealanders, 'How does it feel to be in a minority in your own country?"' he said.

"Coming from South Africa, where the racial topic is a negative, here it's actually a positive. I actually quite like the way everyone is so integrated and gets along."

Among the other new Kiwis, Marlon and Maida Macatual and their 7-year-old daughter Maive came from the Philippines because of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies.

"I had been working for quite a while in the Philippines and looking for other opportunities," said Mr Macatual, 41, a business analyst now with Southern Cross Healthcare.

He said the movie gave him an idea of New Zealand.

"So in 2007 I came here as a tourist for two months to check out the place, and everything worked out well and the company [Southern Cross] entertained my approach so I stayed here."

His wife and daughter, then just 2, followed the next year. They live in Greenlane, where Maive blends in at Cornwall Park District School.

"At home she has a different accent. When she's with her Kiwi friends, she's a Kiwi," her dad said.

"The thing I like most here in New Zealand is the lifestyle. We were in Manila, which is very congested. I went home at 7pm. Here at 5pm everyone is going home already."

Cecilia Liu, 30, came here as a student from China 10 years ago and now works for the China Travel Service, helping other Chinese people to come here and helping New Zealanders to visit China.

She already owns a house near a beach and enjoys walking her dog in the sun. "Every day I get a really good mood, and Kiwis are really nice so I want to be one of them," she said.

Patamyai Hla, 20, came here as a child in 2006 from a refugee camp in Thailand, where his parents had fled from Burma. His parents have since separated and Patamyai is the only one who became a New Zealand citizen yesterday because his mother, who lives with him, can't yet afford the $470 fee.

The family knew no English when they came here, but were lucky to get a Housing NZ house in Glendowie so they could all attend Selwyn College's renowned Refugee Education for Adults and Families (REAF) programme.

Patamyai qualified as a house painter at Manukau Institute of Technology and now works for a "Kiwi" painting business. Yesterday he became a Kiwi himself.

"I feel good, excited," he said.

- NZ Herald

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