An increasing number of children in NZ identifying with more than one ethnicity tests how we frame identity — but also offers huge opportunities on the world stage, writes Lincoln Tan in the third part of our series

More Kiwis are tying the knot with partners of a different ethnicity, according to data derived from the latest Census figures.

The New Zealand face of the future will be browner and likely to comprise multiple ethnic identities as a result, experts say.

A report, "Ethnic Intermarriage in New Zealand", found ethnic intermarriage to be common among Asians, Maori and Pacific people and significantly higher for those born in New Zealand.

Researchers Robert Didham and Paul Callister used the 2001 and 2013 Census data to examine the patterns of ethnic intermarriage here.



The study found Asian women were far less likely to marry another Asian than were Asian men to marry an Asian woman.

In the 12 years, it was found there had been some small but important changes in ethnic marriages, authors of the report said.

"The small but important continued increase in intermarriage for most main ethnic groups continues to undermine concepts such as 'Maori families' or 'Pacific families," it said.

Over the period, the number of Maori who have a Maori partner dropped from 53 to 48 per cent for Maori men, and from 52 to 47 per cent for Maori women.

For Pacific males, those with an ethnically Pacific partner dropped from 70 to 68 per cent, and there was an increase of Pacific women with Maori or Asian partners.

"While historically the most common ethnic intermarriage was between European and Maori, and more recently between Europeans and Pacific peoples, the ethnic combinations are getting more complex," the authors said.

"Marriage between Pacific peoples and Maori is becoming more common, as is marriage between Asians and Europeans."


The report found the patterns for Pacific people and Asians were complicated and strongly influenced by migration.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said New Zealand always had high levels of intermarriage, which resulted in new community connections and behaviours.

"Some New Zealanders think that intermarriage means that people do not see themselves as members of ethnic communities.

"But ethnic identity remains strong and important to individuals and communities, whatever their mixed ethnicity," he said.

Professor Spoonley said the questions of "what is a New Zealander" and "what are New Zealand traditions" were also changing.

"We will always see the All Blacks as a key part of who we are as New Zealanders, but our connections with Asia as a result of migration and what that means for daily practices or national identity will change."


Ethnic intermarriage was, however, uncommon for New Zealanders who identified with the European ethnicity.

About 96 per cent of European males and 94 per cent of females had European partners.

This, according to the report's authors, was not because the group was averse to intermarriage, but rather the size of the European community meant they were more likely to find partners of the same ethnicity.

But ethnic intermarriage could become a norm come 2038, when the combined Asian, Pacific and Maori population will outnumber Europeans in Auckland, AUT University Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio believed. "There will be children born with multiple ethnicities, and we, as a society, need to show respect and honour for diversity," she said.

The proportion of the population identifying with more than one ethnic group had steadily risen from 9 per cent in 2001 to 11.2 per cent in 2013.

Nearly one in four, or 23 per cent, of children between the ages of 0-14 identified with more than one ethnicity, up from one in five in 2006.


More than half of Maori, or 53.5 per cent, and almost four in 10, or 37.2 per cent of Pacific people, identified with two or more ethnic groups.

As a result of increasing ethnic intermarriage, Professor Pio said New Zealanders will become "browner" and the nation's taste in food, music and culture will also change.

"This begs the question of what is NZ tradition, is it not a mix of four million ways of looking at the world?" she said.

"We need to pick the best from each tradition and showcase this in schools, organisations and government."

A 2013 study by University of Auckland researcher Hyeeun Kim suggested that the 1.5 generation - migrants who had grown up here and were exposed to New Zealand culture - had dual identities.

Her study looked at parenting patterns of 1.5 generation Kowis, or Korean-Kiwis, in New Zealand.


"The 1.5 generation Kowis are still very much part of their Korean families and migrant communities," said Dr Kim, who first moved to New Zealand as an English language student in 1994.

"They live in a creative tension between these two complex cultures, and this location influences their personal identity development, worldviews and the parenting of their own children."

The report said the 1.5 generation were a group with "global talents" and were potentiality beneficial to both New Zealand and their country of origin because they are culturally adaptive in both cultures.

"The 1.5 generation are not only agents of change but also have the potential to act as bridging agents between the two nations and cultures in day-to-day life," it said. "Their children could carry even more potential and ability to bridge the two nations and cultures."

Dr Shanjiang Yu, senior Chinese lecturer at AUT University, said having people of multi-ethnic background potentially offered New Zealand a multilingual advantage.

He said it was vital for New Zealand to have a national language policy, akin to Singapore's, to push foreign language learning at school and not leave the responsibility to parents.


"Parents are really keen to have their children speak and maintain their language, but they just don't know how to ... do it," Dr Yu said.

He said maintaining ethnic language is key to keeping one's ethnic and cultural identity.

"For example, the New Zealand Chinese, when the economic and political situation of China was not good, the Chinese immigrants here tend to keep a low profile," he said.

"Nowadays, the increase in influence of China, you see more who are proud of speaking Chinese because that defines their identity."

NZ offers couple comfy compromise

Rajan Bruce Mariadas with his wife Julieta Gagna and their sons Sebastian Gagna Mariadas, 2, and Nicholas, 8 months. Photo / Dean Purcell
Rajan Bruce Mariadas with his wife Julieta Gagna and their sons Sebastian Gagna Mariadas, 2, and Nicholas, 8 months. Photo / Dean Purcell

When Argentinian Maria Julieta Gagna, 30, first met her dark-skinned Indian boss while working at an Auckland restaurant in 2008, she thought he looked "exotic".

"We don't have Indian people in Argentina and he caught my eye, I was fascinated and very intrigued by his looks," the former waitress said.


The manager at Wildfire Brazilian restaurant at Auckland's Viaduct, Rajan Bruce Mariadas, was just as smitten.

"We couldn't date while we were working there because of company policy, and had to wait until after I resigned before going out with him," Ms Gagna said.

A few dates and parties later, they became a couple and travelled together to India and Argentina to meet both sides of the family.

Ms Gagna said she was shocked by what she saw in India - from the poverty to restrictions on her dress.

"In Argentina we are very more revealing, but in India people expect you to cover up and I can't even wear a bikini at the beach," she said.

"The poverty, the smells and people following me, I was thinking there was no way I can live in India."


In Argentina, Mr Mariadas, 39, said he became the "centre of focus" for Ms Gagna's family and friends, who had not met an Indian person before.

"I was overwhelmed by the warmth of the people and the strong family bonds, I didn't expect that," he said. "But I felt it could be too much if we were to move and relocate to Argentina."

A compromise was to settle in New Zealand. Starting with a wedding where it all began, at Wildfire, they also had banquets in Argentina and India.

The couple have two sons, Sebastian Gagna Mariadas, 2, and Nicholas, 8 months.

Embracing her ethnicity

Audrey Tan-Atkinson and Mark Atkinson with their daughter Gloria, 11. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Audrey Tan-Atkinson and Mark Atkinson with their daughter Gloria, 11. Photo / Jason Oxenham

For Gloria Atkinson,11, having a mix of two ethnicities doesn't make her feel different - it makes her feel special.

"While my friends only get presents at Christmas, I also get hong bao [lucky money packets] during Chinese New Year," says Gloria, a Howick Intermediate School Year 7 student.


Her mother, Audrey Tan-Atkinson, 43, is ethnic Chinese from Singapore and father Mark, 51, is European, from Bedford, England.

Gloria joins a growing number of young New Zealanders aged 0-14 years old who identify with more than one ethnic group, rising from 19.7 per cent in 2006 to 22.6 per cent in 2013.

Kiwis aged 65 years and over identifying with more than one ethnicity number 2.6 per cent, down from 3.5 per cent over the same period.

Gloria, whose Chinese name is Jia Ling, says teachers and friends treat her no differently at school and differences in race are not even talked about.

"I think I have lots of friends who have more than one ethnicity too, but I don't really know because we don't talk about it," she said.

Mrs Tan-Atkinson, credit manager at the Langham Auckland, started seeing Mark, an aviation security officer, in secret when she first moved to New Zealand in 1998.


"Dad was very particular - I couldn't tell him I was dating a white guy when he had sent me here to study," she said.

When she eventually told him after graduation he wasn't too happy and had to be "put right" by her godmother.

"Mum's reaction was the opposite, she was so excited about getting Eurasian grandchildren."

In order to please both sides of the family, the couple went through two weddings - a European garden wedding here and a Chinese banquet in Singapore.

Mr Atkinson, who has lived in New Zealand since 1973, said: "It did feel strange going through the tea ceremony where I had to kneel before her family, but it was also rather exciting."

'Rebel for love' gets her man

Hui-Leng Lee and Craig Perry with their children Adam Jun Ahn (left), 13, and Maia Shen Yin, 10. Photo / Dean Purcell
Hui-Leng Lee and Craig Perry with their children Adam Jun Ahn (left), 13, and Maia Shen Yin, 10. Photo / Dean Purcell

Malaysian Chinese Hui-Leng Lee, 42, calls herself "a rebel for love" and has married a European New Zealander, Christchurch-born Craig Perry.


The Glendowie couple have been married for 15 years and have a New Zealand-born son Adam Jun Ahn, 13, and daughter Maia Shen Yin, 10.

"We started out as flatmates and were friends for a long time before realising that we more than liked each other," said Dr Lee, a dentist, who came to New Zealand in 1990 as a high school student.

"Our ethnic differences did play a part when I told my parents about Craig because it was one of the things they were worried most about.

"They had warned me when they sent me here that you cannot marry a person of this race or that race.

"My parents had always viewed the Western culture as a little more loose and liberal, and they were concerned ... that I would lose my Chinese identity and Asianess."

Mr Perry, 44, was Dr Lee's first non-Asian boyfriend, and she said she was "prepared for the worst" when she introduced him to her parents.


"But when you're in Rome, you do as Romans do ... I guess I am a little bit of a rebel, and I was in love," she said.

"Initially there was a little bit of hesitancy on their part, but they soon realised he's a nice guy and accepted him as part of the family."

Mr Perry, an accountant, said he had never seen Dr Lee as Asian, but rather "the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with".

"I supposed if I do think about it, then I would say I'm proud that I'm married to an Asian and I'm proud that our kids have two cultures," he said.

"They are starting to learn Chinese at school now and embracing that side of things."

The series



Changing faces


Changing learning


Changing families



Changing democracy


Changing business


Changing future

The Herald's Superdiversity series is inspired by the Superdiversity Stocktake report, by Mai Chen. The Stocktake presents data on what is happening to our country demographically and what we need to do to ensure it remains economically and socially strong. The report is launched at the Auckland Art Gallery on November 3. The Herald has a limited number of copies to give away. To request one, email