Abuse taints life in country these people call home
By Saskia Konynenburg
Some members of Whangarei’s Asian community say they face constant persecution and racial abuse, leaving them feeling unwelcome in New Zealand.
A group of Asian teenagers contacted the Northern Advocate saying they were often harassed and many of their peers had “experienced aggression from a very small but disturbing minority in Whangarei”.
Despite having spent most of their lives in New Zealand, they were still made to feel like foreigners in a country they called home.
Their concerns comes as new Census figures show New Zealand’s Asian population has grown to 9 percent, surpassing Pacific Islanders for the first time – and prompting some to complain of an “Asian Invasion”.
However, the Census figures show little grounds for a racist backlash in Northland, where the Asian population is not even 2 percent.
Nickie Muir, the group’s English tutor, said she had seen the racism first-hand. She described how a carload of youths yelled at her students: “Go back to your own country.”
“I was quite shocked and the kids claim this sort of abuse is not uncommon. When they wrote the letter, I realised there was a problem,” she said. All the pupils had experienced racism, she said.
The authors of the letter wanted to stay anonymous as they feared further abuse. They also didn’t want to be seen as “moaning”.
“We don’t complain in general because we just don’t want the hassle but many of us have spent more time in New Zealand than we did in `our’ countries and many more of us were born here. Our cultural identity therefore is here.”
One Korean resident who has seen racist threats is Young Ho Bae, who owns two shops in Whangarei. He was bashed in his central city store, Your Living, in October in what he says was a racially motivated attack by up to 15 youths.
“I have people shouting things at me, I get rude finger gestures and eggs thrown at my car. It is usually by young people but not always. I’ve been abused and my wife has also been physically attacked.
“I think Asian people are targeted because we look different. If someone from Europe moves here, no one can tell that they’re not a Kiwi. We Asians stick out and our English isn’t always that good,” said Mr Bae, who has lived in New Zealand for 14 years.
“My kids have been picked on and it is hard for them because they were born here. They feel like New Zealanders so they don’t like the racism,” he said.
One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said racism had decreased since she moved to New Zealand from South Korea six years ago – but there was still a problem.
“We still get people coming into our shop and saying things like, `Oh you’re just a bunch of Ching Chongs’. However, the racism is seeming to get less. It was much harder at first,” she said.
“I still don’t feel at home and welcome here. The population of New Zealand is changing and becoming more diverse and people just need to accept this.”
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission said most racial discrimination in Northland focused on Maori-Pakeha relations, but discrimination against other groups was likely to flare up as more migrants arrived.
Last year, the commission received 491 complaints of discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origins, down from 597 in 2005.
Many were employment-related, such as racial harassment by co-workers, reluctance of employers to employ people who were visibly different, and people being required to speak only English at work. Racial harassment accounted for 24 percent of the complaints.
The commission urged people to call its information line on 0800 496 877 for advice or to log complaints.
The Advocate’s editorial on this issue is spot on:
Anti-Asian attitudes are a disgrace
Laura Franklin, Editor
What kind of society are we living in when Asian teenagers feel harassed and victimised to the extent that they decide to send an anonymous letter to the newspaper, asking for understanding?
Today we examine a reported racist streak in Whangarei that has shown itself, at its worst, in the form of an attack on a shopkeeper and also in many other incidents of abuse and prejudice.
Some of the young people who say they have suffered from anti-Asian taunts and threats have in fact grown up in New Zealand. Many of them feel as “Kiwi” as the next kid – and yet they look different, and so they find themselves to be singled out.
All of this is especially saddening since Northland prides itself on the quality of the welcome it gives to visitors and locals alike. Ask anybody who lives here what this region feels to be its most important values, and “friendliness” and a “laidback nature” will usually be mentioned near the top of the list.
For the majority of people here, those accolades are true. This is indeed the type of region where people still smile at each other on the street, pass the time of day in a store and take the time to chat with their neighbours.
How disappointing, then, that certain sectors of the community may be feeling that acceptance is denied to them.
Small-minded bigots who victimise others on the basis of race – or any other arbitrary characteristic – drag all of us down.
It’s particularly concerning that some of those dishing out the hatred and bias seem to be teenagers themselves. Where are our young people learning to judge one another so harshly and unreasonably?
One doesn’t have to look far for an answer. Recent reports that census figures showed a 9 percent increase in New Zealand’s Asian population drew forth a distasteful barrage of opinion on talkback radio, and no doubt in homes around the country.
Many seemed to overlook the detail that the “Asian” category in the New Zealand census takes in people from India, the Phillippines, Cambodia and Sri Lanka as well as Chinese, Koreans and Japanese. A large chunk of the world, in fact.
English people still number the highest among immigrants to New Zealand. Australians and South Africans are arriving on our shores in large numbers also.
Those migrants, from wherever they hail, will by their very nature be enterprising and motivated. Anyone – of any background – who leaves their homeland to establish a new life in a new country must have high levels of courage, adventurousness and an open-minded attitude.
The opposite, in other words, to the type of person who will never venture outside his small circle, never expand his horizons, and who will never learn to treat people of other racial groups with the respect that all of us deserve.