To my mystical womb creature,
At your birth, you will arrive covered in amniotic fluid and mucous, you will wail and cry and be comforted by your mother’s touch. You will be blissfully unaware that you belong to any race at all, as you will remain mostly in the home, learning to walk, learning to talk, and taking in the sights and sounds and touch of things around you.
But over time, when you begin to socialise, when you interact with the world outside of home – during childcare, or kindergarten or primary school – you will discover that the way you look, the colour of your skin, the shape of your features, and the history of your family will mean something to those around you. You will come to define yourself as Māori, Pākehā, Chinese and Kiwi. One thing that I hope does not come to define you – one thing that I hope I have not passed down to you – is internalised racial shame.
I cannot write about how you will experience your Chinese identity, this will be a discussion for you to have with your father if one of you wishes to raise it. But as for your Māori identity, I can write about that from my own experience.
I’ve known my ancestral land of Whananaki for as far back as my memories stretch. To be raised near your tūrangawaewae is a blessing, and as I look on across the Tutukaka coast I have a sense of pride in knowing this is an area where my ancestors lived, fished, traded, fought for and died. It is my place to stand and will be yours too. But it does not take long for the blissful connection one has to their place in the world to be marred by social realities. Before long I realised that the positive feelings towards my Māori identity were not shared by the wider community. One of my earliest memories is crying to my grandma, tired of being teased for having olive skin, asking, “how long it will it be until I can get the ‘Michael Jackson’ operation?”
As I grew, so did my internal shame, and I resented being asked what race I was and if I could speak Māori. I didn’t want to know about the Foreshore and Seabed Act, about land claims and Māori history, I resented any Māori who protested (the ones who gave Māori like me a bad name, I thought) and I often dreamt about finding out I was really from some other olive skinned race; South American, Tahitian, Turkish – anything other than Māori.
Whenever I liked a guy at school, I wondered if they would consider liking a Māori girl. I thought that my race and my skin colour left me deficient in some way. I even dieted in the hope that my thinness would compensate for my brownness.
When I went on student exchange to Spain for university, I felt relieved to identify myself as a New Zealander and not be asked further questions. Or upon explaining that I am part indigenous, to get a positive response along the lines of, ‘that’s so cool’. Away from home I was finally able to identify the negativity that accompanies Māori identity in New Zealand.
You may notice this is particularly prominent of Waitangi Day, as the media works to report on things that break away from the equilibrium of everyday life. Often the most radical of speakers get coverage – they make for good headlines – and it creates a perception that all Māori seek radically unattainable rights.
What’s more, there are many in New Zealand who do not care for history and think that Māori want nothing more than special privileges. These people will often demand that we change the day to ‘New Zealand Day’.
It is these people who are the negative ones. Waitangi Day is about acknowledging our two founding races, and the celebration of our cultures; quite unlike the disastrous ‘invasion’ day celebrations that occur across the ditch. I will endeavour to expose you to the groups that get little coverage on the news. Māori and tauiwi, enjoying the day off, making the most of our beautiful land and sea. Positive people, getting on with the Waitangi Day celebrations, acknowledging and appreciating grievances and celebrating our differences.
I hope, as a Māori woman, you will have a special place in your heart for Waitangi Day and feel a sense of pride all aspects of your racial identity, knowing that no aspect of who you are should be hidden or denied. That will ensure that you develop into what we call mana wahine, a strong woman. A woman who defines herself on her own terms, and not by those handed down to her.