Annemarie and Claudia Wen used to do kapa haka and were proud of it, until it surprised some of their teachers.
"They're like, you've done haka before? You?" Annemarie recalls, wondering, "Am I not supposed to?"
Now 15 and 13, the sisters dropped kapa haka in high school. Born and raised in New Zealand, questions like these made them feel like they didn't belong and it wasn't fair.
They're not alone. A new study found 25 per cent, or one in four Asian students say they have been treated unfairly by a teacher because of their ethnicity. 14 per cent Pākehā and other European students said the same.
Five per cent of Asian students felt they had been treated unfairly by a health professional because of their ethnicity.
There's a need to make sense of these numbers because they're not good enough, says Ivan Yeo, deputy director of counselling non-profit Asian Family Services.
"Is it because [especially for newer arrivals] their English is not good? The colour of their skin? Asians don't tend to question, we try to be respectful. Are they not getting the same attention [from teachers] as other students?"
The numbers are a snapshot of the "East Asian, South Asian, Chinese and Indian Students in Aotearoa" report, part of a larger Youth19 Rangatahi Smart Survey project by researchers from the universities of Auckland, Victoria and Otago. It asked more than 7000 secondary school students (nearly 2000 of them Asian) about everything from family life to school, health care and sexual activity in 2019.
Ten per cent of Asian students said they were bullied in school because of their ethnicity or religion, compared to 3 per cent for Pākehā.
Annemarie fleshes out this statistic. She remembers a group of boys who taunted her in primary school.
"Do you know what 'penis' means?" they asked one day. When she said no, they laughed and told her to go home and ask her parents what it meant.
The sisters are perfectly bilingual today, speaking mostly English at school and Mandarin at home. Mum is from Taipei and dad from Shanghai.
"In primary school we felt more pride that we could speak another language, until it wasn't something to be proud of," says Claudia.
"Until someone decides it's not something to be proud of," says Annemarie.
Migrants often have a strong sense of belonging to their home countries, but Asians who grew up in New Zealand often experience an existential homelessness, says Yeo. "If they're told to go home, where is the home for them to go back to?"
He has seen what it does to young men and women. They become sad and angry.
The simplistic 'Asian' label
The report has happier findings. Asian students had positive feelings about school (Asians 90 per cent, Pākehā 85 per cent), felt cared for by their teacher (Asians 85 per cent, Pākehā 80 per cent), and had relatively low substance misuse.
It's the first study of its kind to dig deeper into the broad Asian category, sifting out data specific to East Asians, South Asians, and also Chinese and Indian, the two largest Asian ethnic groups among survey respondents, says lead author Roshini Peiris-John, Associate Professor at the University of Auckland.
South Asian students reported higher rates of poverty, with 15 per cent saying their parents often or always worried about money for food. For East Asians, the figure is 10 per cent.
But East Asians students' mental health needs were higher, with 29 per cent reporting depressive symptoms, compared to 24 per cent of South Asians.
The simplistic "Asian" label is hiding just how different Asians and their experiences are, says Peiris-John.
"'Asian' captures everyone from Afghanistan in the west to Japan in the east and from China in the north to Indonesia in the south. It also covers everyone from new arrivals to those who have multi-generational ties to New Zealand," she said.
Official population projections show Asians becoming the second largest ethnic grouping in New Zealand within the next 10 years, but Peiris-John and Yeo argue Asians remain largely invisible in national health strategy and planning.
"People say there are a lot of Asians but there isn't a lot of information for Asians to identify with. Research says 90 per cent of Asians are happy. Is that true?" Yeo asks.
"We need to build these narratives, this data, this information. Why? Because one day our children will wonder, what does New Zealand know about me, about my culture?"
'Why are you sad?'
Growing up, Nikki Singh fit the smart Asian stereotype.
The 23-year-old Fiji Indian research assistant and youth worker did well in school and teachers had high expectations of her.
She has two older brothers; her father works in a bank and her mother in early childhood education.
"It was like, Nikki's Indian, Nikki would do smart. Instead of just Nikki's smart."
It's a peculiar stereotype many Asians have to bear, she says. Being smart is positive, but the flipside was people didn't think she needed help, and failure was unimaginable.
She remembers feeling down in her final years of high school.
An aunt she loved was dying from cancer. At school, she was under pressure to get straight A's for university entry.
"People say well Nikki, you have so much privilege. You grew up in a secure family, you have parents who are together, who love you, have good jobs ... why are you sad?"
She hit another low in her final year of university, when she was writing her Honours thesis about the experiences of Fiji Indian students in New Zealand, including her own experiences of discrimination.
"I had to relive almost every single day all the trauma of racism, and having to justify my own identity in a piece of work that was literally half my grade, and that would determine whether I got scholarships, entry into my PhD and all that."
For two weeks, she wrote or slept in her bedroom, not talking to anyone.
She eventually called Youthline, sheepish. "Hi, this is the first time I'm calling a helpline..." she recalls.
She was working as a facilitator in high school sexual violence prevention programmes at the time.
"We're constantly talking about helplines to students ... and I'm sitting here really stuck, really needing help ... thinking I'll get through this by myself ... so it was like, you're being an idiot, just reach out for help bro."
Healthy young people from healthy homes are not exempt from depression, says the co-author of the report "East Asian, South Asian, Chinese and Indian Students in Aotearoa".
It found 15 per cent of South Asian students experienced poverty.
Nikki doesn't fit the statistic. She has always lived in a safe and loving home with food on the table, but even cowgirls get the blues.
"What must these young people be feeling?"