Being Maori Chinese: Mixed Identities
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Presenting the stories behind several generations of seven Maori-Chinese families whose voices have seldom been heard before, this account casts a fascinating light on the historical and contemporary relations between Maori and Chinese in New Zealand. The two groups first came into contact in the late 19th century and often lived and interacted closely, leading to intermarriage and large families. By the 1930s, proximity and similarities had brought many Maori-Chinese families together, the majority of whom had to deal with cultural differences and discrimination. The growing political confidence of Maori since the 1970s and the more recent tensions around Asian immigration have put pressure on the relationship and the families’ dual identities. Today’s Maori-Chinese, reaffirming their multiple roots and cultural advantages, are playing increasingly important roles in New Zealand society. This account is oral history at its most compelling—an absorbing read for anyone interested in the complex yet rewarding topic of cultural interactions between indigenous and immigrant groups.
of us?’ Another grandson compared the experience of his visit to the Chinese house with his first visit to his grandmother’s marae. It was a sense of being accepted, being grounded, and knowing where he fits in. The great surprise was when they saw their own baby photos and other group family photos of the Māori–Chinese family on the wall. A GRANDDAUGHTER When I went to the village, and when I finally found the house and someone knew about our family, there were no [negative or uncomplimentary]
the family was apparently stronger. It was on her insistence that the Nin family moved to Northland. In the Nin household, the father spoke in English, even though it was ‘broken English’ according to Dolly’s description. Both Lloyd and Dolly look distinctively mixed Māori–Chinese, with soft, round faces and dark olive skin. They are warm and easy-going as interviewees, ever ready to share. While Lloyd’s manner is more measured, slightly restrained and somewhat thoughtful, Dolly is much more
supported China’s United Nations membership, switching from its earlier position of supporting the membership of Nationalist Taiwan. The local Chinese community was sharply divided, with the older members usually supporting Nationalist Taiwan, and the younger radicals (like Nancy Goddard and Jock Hoe) supporting China. 8 Frank Kwok is the only boy among Nancy’s nine siblings. He assumed the role of ‘head of the family’ after his parents’ passing. For a fuller story of the Kwok family, see my
or diminish my true Māoriness. She hoped I would hold on that I was Māori. When they finally met, Mother only asked Mui Yin, ‘Is he impatient with you?’ Returning to New Zealand MUI YIN After Jennifer came along, sometimes we took her to different places because of work, and I just felt so tired. I decided to stay back in Singapore. When Jennifer was getting older, we worried about her education. Also Tom didn’t fit into Singapore society well because it was very controlled. People there are
bewildering, like ‘one side of me attacking the other side’. Mixed identity Arlene is often thoughtful about her identity. She was born in Malaysia, which has its share of ethnic problems. The indigenous population is Malay. Chinese ethnicity often attracts suspicion as well as jealousy. In recent years, race riots had become much less infrequent, but they were always a looming shadow. Educational opportunities, in terms of university placements and scholarships, still heavily favour the Malay.