Monday 18 March 2019

After Christchurch: what I think

I grew up in Christchurch. I’m old, so it was through the 1960s and ‘70s. It was a very white, monocultural city then. I remember, when I was about 14, being so delighted and astonished to hear a couple (of tourists) speaking French as they walked along Colombo Street and through the Square, that I followed them closely, shamelessly eavesdropping on a language I’d just started to learn, thrilled and amazed to hear it being used so casually.

I was at least fortunate to go to Avonside Girls’ High where our roll included students from all over the country who attended Te Wai Pounamu girls’ boarding college. So we had a strong Maori presence at school, which was unusual for Christchurch; and I was a member of the Maori Club, learning action and poi songs, which I can still sing along to now.

But that was the limit, as far as non-English cultural contact went. It was only the sainted OE that brought me into contact with other nationalities and ethnicities – starting with my first taste of Parmesan cheese, in an Italian restaurant in Sydney, in 1973. I’ve come a long way since then.

Now I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to every continent, and been in contact with most major ethnic groups, as well as some very small ones. It’s been fascinating and enlightening, surprising and rewarding, mind-opening - and reassuring. Because of course I’ve discovered that everyone, all over the world, is pretty much the same.

The clothes, customs, religion, architecture and superficial appearances differ, and thank goodness for that. I remember the Blue Mink song that came out in 1970, ‘Melting Pot’, which said “What we need is a great big melting pot… turning out coffee-coloured people by the score” and at the time I thought how that would solve so many problems.

Now, though, I think how boring that would be. Not the brown people bit – to be honest, I think mixed-race people are the most attractive of all of us – but the cultural amalgamation that’s implied. It’s the differences that make the world interesting, worth travelling to witness, our own domestic lives richer when those cultures are brought into our own country.

I love that New Zealand is now one of the most ethnically diverse in the world. I enjoy going to a coffee shop and hearing lots of different languages being spoken as we all enjoy our flat whites. I like seeing saris and the hijab and lavalava being worn around the streets. I think it’s great that kids at primary school learn everybody’s different greetings and important days.

And I hate those who want to get rid of it all, to go back in time to when we were so limited, and our lives so narrow and pale and dull. I hate their ill-founded self-importance, their bigotry, their self-deluded sense of superiority, their retrogression, their ignorance. I’m sorry that their lives are so impoverished – but I’m glad that they are in the minority and that they will be pushed aside, and they will not get their way. We are moving on towards our rich, colourful future, and they will be left behind. No-one will miss them.

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