Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ethnic labelling

I had an interesting issue come up when I dropped Mapera off for her first school visit today. I had filled in all her enrollment forms and when I got to the "ethnicity" box, I put what I put on all forms to reflect our
multicultural family: English/Maori/Burmese. This has always been the way I describe my children's ethnic grouping and I've never had to think any further about it. Today I was asked by the school secretary to pick one which was the main group our children identified with and as I was on the spot I ended up picking one I'd never ticked on any form "NZ European".

I thought about it on the way home and then discussed it with my husband (who is 1/2 Maori, 1/2 English but born in NZ) and he said that NZ European was for people decended from European settlers.

Like his Dad, who came over from Lancashire at the age of 7 with his parents and siblings.

Like me, who came over in 2004 from the UK.

Oh, says the husband.

So I sat and thought about what label I want to stick on my kids when there is not enough room in the box to put in their full heritage. I asked hubby what he wanted and he went away and thought about it too.

We came back with the same conclusion; Maori.

Although my hubby is very close to his English side of the family (especially his Dad), and spent a lot of his time in the UK with his English rellies, he is a Maori boy at heart. We both love being on the Marae, being part of the Maori tikanga and we both try and speak Te Reo as much as we are able (which is not a lot, admittedly). I feel most at home and relaxed amongst the whanau and my children love being part of a huge extended family, where everyone your own age is your cousin, and everyone older than you is Aunty or Uncle.

Hearing the karanga at a tangi or a powhiri never fails to make me emotional, and I love Te Reo Maori as it is unlike any language I have ever learned before.

I remembered a crazy dream I had as a teenager that I would go find a lost Amazonian rain forest tribe and disappear into their midst, to live as a native. I should think this could be partly considered typical teenage solipsism and alienation we all feel during those years, but when I thought about it, I have found my Tribe. I am an English Maori.

So, as for my children, I contacted the school and asked for the enrollment form to read Maori as their ethnicity. We will teach them all about their English and Burmese roots, alongside all the Kiwi heritage that will surround them, and the Maori culture they will undoubtably be part of, and one day I hope they grow up knowing that they are children of Aotearoa, and anywhere else they choose to live.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

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