Wednesday 5 February 2014

Why I'm not celebrating Waitangi Day

A friend of mine is doing research at the Psychology Department at the University of Auckland about 1.5 and 2nd generation Asian New Zealanders and how they perceive themselves and their culture. As part of that, she's going to follow some of them on Waitangi day, and find out how we celebrate that day. When she asked me, I replied the only way I could:

"I'll just be at home. What do you mean by celebrate Waitangi Day?"

I was lucky enough to be born in wonderful NZ, and have grown up with the education and culture. I know the history and the importance of the day, and yet at the same time, it doesn't mean much to me. My general feelings towards it are the same as probably hundreds of thousands of other Kiwis - yay public holiday! Lots of people will go to the beach, or catch up as a family (and I'll just be at home, playing Sid Meier's Railroads!). But I don't get the sense of patriotism that comes with ANZAC Day or the sense of community that comes with Christmas or the sense of celebration that comes with New Years. To me, Waitangi Day feels very distant.

I asked my parents, who have been here for 24 years now, about how they perceived Waitangi Day when they first arrived in New Zealand and how they feel about it now. The change was interesting - when they were first told about it, they understood it as a day of commemorating the partnership between the Maori and European people. As migrants, they thought it was pretty good - there aren't many other countries that have that sort of relationship with their indigenous people. However, over the years they feel that the day has lost much of that significance, and that it's very much a political show now. Every group has certain interests that they want to push forward, and it's all wrapped in the sensitive cloud of race and indigenous rights. I think in reality there's only a small portion of people in the entire country doing that, but you only have to look at the media to see how that perception might be created. Which makes me think...

Where's the celebration? I know it's supposed to happen somewhere, and the advertisements seem to show lots of people attending, but that's not what I remember about Waitangi in all the years that I've grown up here. It's a "national day of celebration" but it doesn't feel like that. Part of it is the visibility of the celebration - people aren't out in the streets outside my house having a parade, and the news coverage is mostly saturated by politics. But the more important part of that is the racial distance - Waitangi Day is very much about Maori and Pakeha, but I'm not either. I get collateral "white guilt" from feeling that I'm somewhat responsible for what happened in New Zealand 170 or so years ago and the impacts that's had on people even today, but that doesn't make feel like Waitangi Day is something that I can take part in. People tell me it's "New Zealand Day" but it's not. It just isn't.

There are lots of New Zealand things that I consider to be part of my culture as a young Asian New Zealander. I learnt to do the school haka. I watch rugby when I have to. I enjoy a refreshing glass (can) of L&P. But Waitangi Day just isn't part of my culture.

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