What does it mean to be Kiwi?

Guest blogger Dr Phillipa Smith recently completed her PhD on what it means to be “Kiwi”.  Pretty fascinating how national identity shifts over time, with globalisation, immigration and everything else.

Phillipa is kind enough to produce a brief summary of her findings for the Euroasia blog (if you wish to read the full thesis you can find it here):

The increasing diversity of our small nation calls for new ways of defining what it means to be a New Zealander in the 21st century. As we become more diverse however, the ways in which we perceive ourselves and others are also varied. There are often ambiguities, contradictions, and varying interpretations regarding the categories we use in constructing our national and ethnic identities whether we refer to ourselves as Maori, Pakeha, New Zealand European, Pasifika, Asian, or hybrid labels such as New Zealand Chinese, Kurdish New Zealander, Latino Kiwi, Kowi (Korean Kiwi), or simply New Zealander.

Findings from my recently competed doctoral research at AUT University suggest that the political rhetoric about a new and inclusive national identity that emerged in New Zealand in the 1990s has not necessarily come to be shared or accepted by all New Zealanders. In fact, evidence shows that it is challenged on a number of different levels. In analyzing two discussions on the Internet between 2005 and 2008 involving New Zealanders from varying backgrounds – ethnic, religious, and cultural – it was clear that there are divergent views when it comes to defining ourselves.

My analysis did not indicate any sense of a divided nation in lived reality; however, it clearly showed there to be divided images of the nation. Differing interpretations of national identity as people perceived it to be, and as the Government projected it to be, led to a clash of imaginings. In the Internet discussions I found that feelings of belonging, whether through an attachment to the land, indigenous status, or the justification of citizenship through the holding of a symbolic artefact of membership such as a New Zealand passport, were some of the arguments used to frame national identity. Much depended, however, on people’s differing worldviews, their ancestry and family, and their life experiences.

I found that a strong belief that people had the democratic right to be recognised as New Zealanders regardless of whether they were Maori, Pakeha, belonged to an ethnic or religious minority, or had a hybrid identity was a point of complete agreement amongst the people who posted messages in the online discussions. At the same time, many people wished to have their various backgrounds acknowledged as part of their New Zealand identity which could be achieved in the ways they categorized themselves. However, there were conflicting views when it came to interpreting the meaning of certain labels associated with being a New Zealander.

Using a combined label such as Irish New Zealander, New Zealand Greek, or Kurdish New Zealander appeared to be one way by which people could acknowledge their background and/or heritage. However others were concerned that these labels might also isolate people in some circumstances distancing them from being included as New Zealanders. Interpretation of labels appeared to depend on whether people were defining themselves or others, and in what context.

Conversely some people disliked being labelled ‘New Zealand European’ when they had no connection or affinity

to Europe. They preferred to describe themselves as ‘New Zealanders’. In fact Statistics New Zealand’s decision, following the 2006 census, to accept ‘New Zealander’ as an ethnic category, available to all citizens, resulted from much public debate surrounding this. However some people said that the use of ‘New Zealander’ as an ethnic group was in fact exclusionary because it moved this descriptor of nationality to one that was dominated by people of NZ European ethnicity.

From my research I concluded that numerous identities involving nationality and ethnicity exist in New Zealand particularly since globalization has advanced the spread of peoples around the world. Identities are constructed in many different ways based on ethnic, religious and cultural background, but also on people’s shared experiences of living in New Zealand. This results in a richly diverse population which should be both recognized and acknowledged. The various interpretations or viewpoints about what it means to be a New Zealander should not simply be dismissed or ignored just because they do not equate with one singular national identity. Rather, there is a real need for people to understand the perspectives of others – particularly minority groups. Being a New Zealander means different things to different people.  Acknowledging this must surely be an essential part of living in today’s increasingly diverse society.

Dr Philippa Smith

Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication

AUT University

Auckland

I’ve always found it interesting that Chinese people refer to New Zealand Europeans as “Kiwis” and brown New Zealanders as “Maori”. If you’re white but from Russia, you’re always going to be Russian. On the other hand, Kiwis (white and brown) refer to Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Malaysian/Singaporean etc as the all-encompassing “Asian”.

And Indians, well, as Indians.

Just today a Russian/Ukrainian client came into the office with a Japanese girlfriend. He asked me where I was from and I explained my Malaysian Chinese background, although for all intents and purposes I’m sufficiently integrated into New Zealand society to regard myself as a “Kiwi”. At the moment, every employee of Euroasia is an immigrant. All speak at least 2, and some 3, 4 or more, languages. I don’t think it will get any easier to categorise New

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Zealanders by race/nationality.

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About The Author

Kenneth is Director of Euroasia. He is passionate about languages and cultures.

1 Comment

  1. […] someone Kiwi? This is a tough question. The other day I posted a guest blog by Dr Phillipa Smith on what it means to be Kiwi, which she studied for her PhD […]

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