New Zealanders who pride themselves on their open-minded attitude to multi-cultural immigration might be surprised at how hurtful some of their casual, good-natured comments can be. They need to read a small book we feature today by New Zealander Emma Ng.

She is a New Zealander born and bred, two generations removed from China, yet she is well accustomed to being asked where she comes from, or receiving a Chinese or Japanese greeting, or being told with surprise how well she speaks English.

Well, no offence intended, we might say. We are trying to be culturally sensitive. How are we supposed to know her family is one of those who has been here for generations rather than one of the far greater number who have migrated here in the past few years?

But there have in fact been Chinese in New Zealand for most of our history. Many established market gardens around Auckland 60 or 70 years ago and they remain a thriving community to this day.


Ng"s book is called Old Asian, New Asian. The "old Asians" did not altogether welcome the new immigration wave, fearing its greater numbers would cause tensions they could not avoid. The old as well as the new hear themselves blamed for house prices, bad driving, organised crime and the like.

But chances are, those generalised comments do not hurt nearly as much as the friendly question that implies they are not a Kiwi. These New Zealand Chinese feel as Kiwi as a Maori or a New Zealand European. They were born here, went to school here, grew up here, belong here.

How painful it would be have your nationality questioned, even innocently, because your face and name reflects your Asian heritage.

New Zealand needs to grow up in this respect. Britain is far more well attuned to its multi-cultural make up than we are.

Britons whose forebears migrated from the Indian subcontinent, Africa or the West Indies generations ago, do not get asked where they come from. When they speak with one of Britain's distinctive accents, we still find it surprising. The British think nothing of it.

Immigration in recent decades has lifted the Asian component of New Zealand's population to be comparable now with the proportion of Pacific Island extraction, and Maori. It should not take very long before the nationality of all is taken for granted. In the meantime treat everyone is a Kiwi.