Racey-race relations

Yesterday, there was a thought/anger provoking cartoon printed in the newspaper here in Christchurch, and in Marlborough. These things quite often provoke me, because as it happens, some of the issues are a little personal.

Here’s a link to the cartoons and an opinion piece…

First off, I should say that I don’t often read or watch the news. My husband often talks about how wonderful it would be if the newspaper was simply one A4 sheet of paper with a list of headlines. I personally would love a series of pictures on a sheet titled “Caption this”. Sure we’d get assumptions all over the place, but that’s what we’re getting anyway right? We’re just getting someone else’s assumptions from someone qualified to share them on a piece of paper or on the newsdesk at 6pm every night.

I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to issues of race. When I was in primary school, we were asked to do an exercise where we had to act like we were a family. One of the boys in my group said it wasn’t right for me to be there because I was brown. I didn’t actually hear what he said to me but one of the other girls was so offended she turned it into a massive deal. When she calmed down enough to tell me what was going on, I was shocked enough to cry about it. And boy did I cry. The teacher intervened in the end.
A few times I would walk home from school and someone would shout from their house,
“Go back to where you come from f***ing n***er!”
I’d cry the rest of the way home.

When I was in high school, my mum went to a parent-teacher interview with my English teacher. He had previously come from a school which had a high percentage of Pacific Island students. During the interview, he said to my mum,
“well Leilani… she’s pretty smart for a brown girl.”
What on earth that is supposed to mean, I’ve no idea.

A few years ago, someone told me that I was the whitest Samoan they had ever met. If they knew my history, perhaps they’d realise why I had to be. I moved to Christchurch from Porirua, Wellington where there were Islanders everywhere. Christchurch is a pretty culturally bland place (less so now than how it was back then). Each day we spent here, it was like we were fighting to fit in. And every now and then someone would remind us that we didn’t. I recall having a conversation with my dad a wee while ago about his reasons for not wanting to be here in Christchurch (he moved back to Porirua when I was 19). As a bus driver, he experienced racist attitudes all the time.
My family fits all the stereotypes too. Previously, there have been experiences of excessive alcohol consumption, gambling addictions, domestic violence, etc. My parents are both smokers. However, I’ve only ever seen them on the benefit perhaps 1 year in all the years I’ve known them. They work pretty damn hard.

So back to the issue at hand…
I do get the sense that there is a depiction of different types of people in the pictures, however what really bugs me is that the most prominent figures in the cartoons are Maori/Pacific Island contingent. And I do find it offensive. It offends my sense of worth as an New Zealand-born Pacific Islander. It’s harsh. It’s a harsh reality sure but if I recall how many people I saw on the pokies when I was at the pub, maybe 2 out of 10 of them were brown. I have never touched a poker machine in my life. I don’t smoke (thought I did for a while). I barely drink, and I’m not on the benefit

I dunno… perhaps it touches a nerve. Perhaps I’m feeling a little like someone’s attacking me. Perhaps it’s personal and perhaps it isn’t.


Death, dying and fighting…

It’s been almost a year since my grandma died. Of all the grandparents I had, her life and death had the biggest effect on me. I spent two years of my almost-28-year lifespan with her. And it was one of the most significant 2 years of my life. I was completing my final year of study at Laidlaw college when grandma came to live with us. She just came and didn’t leave. I was flatting at the time but decided to move home so mum would have some help. I only had classes two days a week so I could be home to give her lunch and take her to the bathroom, etc. It was a fine balance of duties as I was working at the same time in a resthome not far from home. Most of my life consisted of looking after old folks. But there’s a beauty in it ay. I listened to stories as told by this elderly generation about days gone by living on farms, designing rockets, raising children, writing stories, creating, making, living. And some of their stories were amazing… some were very very… um… tall haha.

Grandma was no different. She would tell stories of her brothers, her children, he cousins, her sisters, her parents. She told stories about her own experiences in growing up in the islands. I spent a lot of time with grandma. A lot. And I learned a few things worth holding on to. I learned primarily that regardless of how stern she was with her 30+ grandkids, oh boy did she love us. I don’t think there was anything that gave her more joy and pride than the lot of us.
She got cold and wanted to go home, so I took her home to Samoa and stayed with her for 6 months. It was supposed to be a year post-study but we ended it on bad terms. Grandma and I were fine but there were a few other relationships that got broken and never really got healed. All of us have our own version of what happened and some of us have tried to be as honest as possible (even about our shortcomings), but pride is an awful thing and a hard thing to let go of. It’s the sufferance of many people in my family and a weakness that perhaps stems from our matriarch – the proudest of them all (not always a bad thing… but definitely not always great).

So grandma came back to NZ, and after a small bit of drama, ended up living with my parents in Wellington. Then… again, she got cold and wanted to go home. So mum took her home and stayed with her for 2 years. My younger sister came and lived with me while I was working as a youth worker (from having an entire life dedicated to caring for old folks to dedicating my life to young people lol). The 2 years ended when grandma passed away at Easter weekend last year. For years I celebrated Easter at Eastercamp with a bunch of young people  but this last year and a bit, Easter consists of remember grandma.

And I guess it’s a time for remembering other people’s grandmas too. A few weeks ago, a friend lost her grandma. And interestingly, the chapel where the funeral was in Timaru, was set up quite similarly to the place we had my grandma’s family service in Samoa. I sat in a spot with my cousins similar to where my friend sat with her cousins. Pain is one of those universal languages we all speak ay.
And last week, my great-aunt died. My cousin’s (or 2nd cousins or whatever – they’re all the same to me), lost their grandma.
One of her grandchildren is currently fighting cancer. It’s been a slow uphill battle for him. 24 and fighting cancer. What do you even do with that? And before I ditched facebook, one of the glimpses I caught of him was the desire to fight for other people once he’s won his own fight. He’s inspiring me.

I guess hope is a universal language too…

Effects of a transitory kind…

I’ve lived in my current place for almost two years and it’s quite interesting to see how much I haven’t bothered to unpack. When my mum moved up to Wellington a couple of years ago, things had to permanently move from the place I grew up in. You know how you keep some stuff with you at your new flat and keep all your other stuff at the place you’ve always known as home? And it’s not like the place was home, it was the fact that my family was there that made it home. But when home packed up and moved away, it became a little less accessible to leave stuff there. So I packed lots of it in boxes. Most of those boxes came with me. Some sit untouched in my room. Others sit untouched in the garage.

It’s kinda like I live with this expectation that tomorrow I could be gone. And flats are a bit awkward like that. When you’re a student, you live there for a year and generally, one person stays while most of the flat disbands. And that’s not because everyone hates each other, it’s just that, that’s kind of how it is. After highschool, those of us who don’t get married super early or don’t have stable functioning families to live with, become nomads in a sense. We leave home to study, we go flatting with our friends until it turns out we don’t like them as much as we thought we did. And we’re searching aimfully. It’s not aimless at all. We aim to find something that catches us in the belonging (‘belonging’ is totally like a limb). We aim to find something that gives us hope and meaning.

So yesterday, I pretty much decided that here in this place that I live in, I’m home. So I hung up some photo frames and made the space my own. Things could disband at any time. It’s possible that Mr Rapture dude in America is wrong about October 21st. Maybe it’ll happen tomorrow. Who knows? All I know is that while I’m here, I may as well lay down some foundations. And I’m currently journeying with some people I really like. They draw reason from my grumpy rants and we’re growing. We’re trudging our way through some challenging questions about life, community and eternity.

I guess the thought for today is… maybe I should unpack more?

Dear John…

I’m not sure I can put a number on this monument. It’s closest to my heart for the moment because of the way life has panned out lately. A week ago, after visiting my cousin, I was driving around her neighbourhood. I was exploring and trying to find my way to the main road when I came across a familiar stretch of road. I drove past a familiar entry point to a cemetery. I pulled over, turned around and parked by that entry. Then I hurriedly got out of the car and went to see John.

When we moved to Christchurch from Porirua, there was one particular family we built strong relations with. My dad had a soft spot for his younger sister so we spent a bit of time with her and her family. Her eldest son John became particularly dear to us. He and my brother Rob were great friends. On the rugby field, they played for different teams. I think that was the only time they were ever enemies. Even then, it was all a big laugh.

John was the funniest guy any of us had ever known. I remember he decided to take his dad’s bike for a spin and ended up biking over the motorway to get to our house. When he showed up, dad told him off and taught him the proper bike path. He used to call everyone a Chinaman, because to him, everyone was the same. It was no mock of Chinese people, it was that wisdom that underneath it all we’re all just people. Plus, I come from a part-Chinese family so to him, it was even funnier. And we’d make up actions to every pop song and convert English words to Samoan. Man we thought we were hilarious. We had this stupid saying where whenever someone turned up, we’d say “just in time for the breakfast time” even if it wasn’t breakfast. But this one time, John and I had made breakfast for everyone and Rob walks in and we both say in sync “just in time for the breakfast time.” We totally hadn’t organised it so we laughed for ages. Everyone thought we were lame but we thought it was funny as.

One day when I was 12, my parents decided to pick my bro Rob, Sina (my sis) and I up from school. This was a little bit out of character because usually we walked. Dad stopped by the dairy, bought us each a pie and took us the rest of the way home. Then when we were half way through our pies, he sat us down and said, “we’ve got some bad news.” Mum seemed pretty sombre. My aunty was having an operation on her foot so we thought something might have gone wrong.
“It’s John.”
I stopped mid-pie, chucked in the oven, went to my room and wept. Rob was in shock. Neither of us were expecting it at all. Just the weekend before, we were all laughing and joking around. A little over a week later, he was gone. My parents said he was playing cricket, when he skidded on a rusted nail while fielding. His blood was poisoned and a few days later he was dead. He was only 15.

So last weekend, I hung out with John for a while. Another grieving man came and stood with me a while and we shared stories. Turns out he went to school with John and he was visiting his brother who had died last year. Grief brings people together, even strangers. Samoans are pretty good at remembering their dead. I often forget. I even forget that every moment could be the last moment you spend together.

Dear John…

I miss you.


25 years later…

Yesterday I celebrated my 25th birthday. And you know what? It was pretty cool. The people who have journeyed with me most in the last couple of years were mostly there. And let’s face it, I spent more of my life with people I work with, than anyone else. But they’re not just my workmates. They’re my friends and whanau.

So despite having to celebrate my birthday “working”, it was good. I learnt lots, courtesy of Mike King. I enjoyed the most beautiful sunrise with Jess, courtesy of God. I got the sweetest cake ever, courtesy of Rach and Sharon. AND I got some sweet presents, courtesy of Sharon, KW, Philippa and Robstar.

And then we got to sit around a table and eat cake!! Pretty much made my day really.

So here’s to 25 years and to the beginning of another set of 25. I hope it’s a cool journey and I hope we can continue to add more cool little stories to the massive sweet one that’s already happening.

Dear Nick…

When I was about 15, I had a journal. It ended up being a series of letters I had written to a friend named Nick. Funny thing was that he was never really my friend. He spent a lot of time at his grandparents’ house down the road from us. They were great friends with my mum. So we’d occasionally pass glances and hellos as we passed each other in the alley. His grandfather would often send him to our house to drop off vegetables. He would always place them gently on the doorstep and I’d watch through the kitchen window as he’d walk away towards the end of the drive way.

Our conversations never progressed beyond hello and the occasional smile. A short while after beginning his apprenticeship at the Countdown butchery, he died. They told me it was an epileptic fit that killed him. Despite never really knowing who he was, his death shook me somewhat. I took the day off to attend his funeral, mainly in support of his grandparents.

That’s when the letters to Nick really started. In my first letter, I expressed my regret in never really saying more than hello. I gave myself the comfort of knowing he was ok with that. I’ll never really know for sure.
But he’s a pretty easy guy to talk to. May be it’s because he doesn’t talk back. Or maybe because to me, his kinda character is expressed in characterlessness. I mean, I haven’t assumed a personality for him. I’ve just decided to talk to him and he smiles. At least that’s what I think he does.

So yesterday, I bought a new journal and began with this…

Dear Nick,
It’s been a while…

learning the self

I’ve been doing lots of self-discovery type stuff by way of StrengthsFinder and while it hasn’t completely revolutionised the way I see myself, it has helped me put words to some of my personal traits.

I see the world as a giant web of connections. I see stories as one birthed out of another and yet part of a greater over arching narrative. I see that everything has a purpose and is perhaps the result of something before it, and in turn will affect something proceeding it.

I love getting to know people. Each person has depth and in keeping in line with the former, each person has a story. Stories are important to me. They show me your character, your place in the great metanarrative, etc. I love relating, especially one-on-one. It’s important for me to go deep. It’s also important for me to trust you in that journey of relating.

For my next life career, I would either like to be a builder or a mechanic. Today, I watched my mechanic go through a Warrant of Fitness check ticking of all the things that were right with my car. Then it occurred to me why I was more interested in doing courses in Engine Mechanics, than I was in Beauty Therapy. I love restoring the broken things. Again, in keeping with connections, I love pulling things apart to see how they work. Everything is the result of something else and if something isn’t working, then the whole thing falls.

I like to live in the now. Tomorrow brings about her own concerns. We have enough for now. If things happen that detract from my mission of the day, then that’s ok. I expect that things will come up that will disrupt how my day was initially planned out. I can adapt on a whim. Why worry? We’ll figure it out.

We’re all part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re part of a network of people responsible for each other. This is why I believe we shouldn’t hurt each other. Because everything ultimately affects us. Take Fair Trade for instance… we’re responsible for our global community. My non-negotiables are about ethics and people. We should love each other. We should treat each other with dignity.

If you haven’t already guessed, Connectedness is pretty much the one trumper I need. Everything else kinda works itself into the big C. Ah super connected ay?! Yep, that’s me.