Kiwi val­ues are to chill, not to troll

Dis­cov­ered na­tion­al­i­ties, dis­cov­ered gen­ders, dis­cov­ered com­mu­ni­ties: They are the peo­ple who cause talk ra­dio to crackle with barely sup­pressed ou­trage. They are the new New Zealan­ders, writes Rob Mitchell.

Sunday Star-Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Un­til now, MP Gol­riz Ghahra­man and her co­me­dian part­ner Guy Wil­liams have kept their work­ing lives sep­a­rate, as Gol­riz has bat­tled some of NZ’s most vi­cious so­cial me­dia abuse. To­day, they join up to cel­e­brate val­ues that unite, not di­vide. Gol­riz says Ki­wis give oth­ers a fair go. And Guy’s favourite? ‘‘I’m proud of how chill we are.’’

Gol­riz Ghahra­man is laugh­ing loudly. She wasn’t born in this coun­try but our first refugee MP has at least two key things to prove she’s Kiwi as. There are the nick­names she’s picked up from friends and also her part­ner, good Kiwi bloke and co­me­dian, Guy Wil­liams. ‘‘He calls me Gol­rizee or Lit­tle Gol­rizee, be­cause I’m so much smaller than he is. My friends call me Rizza.’’ And she says it all with just a hint of that par­tic­u­lar, pe­cu­liar in­flec­tion at the end of the sen­tence, a ris­ing in­to­na­tion made fa­mous by Lyn of Tawa and in­fa­mous by Laura Lang­man. Nine-year-old Gol­riz and her fam­ily ar­rived in New Zealand from Iran in 1990, two years af­ter all-fe­male band When the Cat’s Away sang of a ‘‘great big melt­ing pot, big enough to take the world and all it’s got’’. It would be close to three decades be­fore she would have the chance to rep­re­sent her fel­low Ki­wis in gov­ern­ment, but she and her fam­ily rep­re­sented a pat­tern of mi­gra­tion that would change for­ever the make-up of the coun­try’s com­mu­nity. Those are some of the changes doc­u­mented by Sun­day Star-Times as part of a se­ries look­ing at what it means to be Kiwi.

New Zealand’s on­go­ing in­flux of im­mi­grants is one of ‘‘the most pro­found changes de­mo­graph­i­cally in this coun­try’s his­tory’’, says Pro­fes­sor Paul Spoon­ley, Pro Vice-Chan­cel­lor of the Col­lege of Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sciences at Massey Univer­sity. Our largest and fastest-grow­ing city has been the great­est ben­e­fi­ciary of this de­mo­graphic change; it is now re­garded as one of the most di­verse cen­tres on the planet. Two-thirds of all fu­ture growth in this coun­try will blow through the city of sails, says Spoon­ley. Gol­riz didn’t take long to find her own place in that chang­ing com­mu­nity. Within two years her English was good, the Mid­dle Eastern ac­cent was pretty much gone and she was mak­ing friends both at school and the sub­urb of Kel­ston. ‘‘It was di­verse. There were South Asian-back­ground dairy own­ers and take­away shops up the road, a bit of a Pa­cific com­mu­nity.’’ At ‘‘Ag’’ (Auck­land Girls’ Gram­mar), Rizza and her mates lis­tened to hip-hop on Mai FM, which went down well with the 70 per cent of stu­dents who were Maori or Pa­cific Is­lan­ders. Many lived in nearby Grey Lynn, al­though that was get­ting harder, with poor fam­i­lies be­ing pushed fur­ther out by the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of in­ner-city Auck­land and in­ex­orable rise in prop­erty prices. Other things were chang­ing in the late 1990s. ‘‘It hap­pened re­ally fast,’’ says Gol­riz, ‘‘but a lot more Asian mi­grants were com­ing in. ‘‘On Mt Eden Rd, there’s a Chi­nese fruit shop that’s been there for 100 years – Mrs Loo’s fruit shop. She’s this lit­tle old lady and she’s got the thick­est Kiwi ac­cent . . . and sud­denly there were all these peo­ple that looked like Mrs Loo but they didn’t sound like her.’’ With the new foods and cul­ture there were also fears of the im­pact on New Zealand life and lib­erty.

Talk­back ra­dio crack­led with in­tense de­bate and barely sup­pressed ou­trage.

Iron­i­cally, the refugee from re­pres­sive Iran shared some of those con­cerns.

‘‘By then I didn’t see my­self as an im­mi­grant . . . it was in­ter­est­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the Kiwi re­ac­tion to it, which was start­ing to go, why is this hap­pen­ing, who are these peo­ple?’’

At KC Loo Fruit Cen­tre on Mt Eden’s Owens Rd. Eileen Loo, 86, tops up the new-sea­son straw­ber­ries and as­para­gus. Her mother brought her to New Zealand in 1939, as the war be­tween China and Ja­pan gath­ered mo­men­tum. Her fa­ther was al­ready here and brought in his fam­ily as refugees. It was meant to be for one year. But as the war dragged on, New Zealan­der granted the fam­ily cit­i­zen­ship. ‘‘I was seven,’’ she says.

They set­tled in Ro­torua. ‘‘I be­lieve we were the only Chi­nese there. So we couldn’t com­mu­ni­cate with the neigh­bours.’’

But they man­aged. They did some gardening in the back yard; her par­ents even­tu­ally opened a fruit and vege shop. ‘‘I re­mem­ber my fa­ther had a stick and we used it to point to the veg­eta­bles peo­ple wanted, or they had to point, be­cause we couldn’t speak English.’’

Eileen went to kinder­garten to learn English be­fore school. And she al­ways felt like a New Zealan­der. ‘‘Yes, ever since I started school. I had New Zealan­ders as friends and neigh­bours. There was no other Chi­nese com­mu­nity so we be­came New Zealan­ders. In a small town we didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence so much racism as you would think. We had a few slings, you know, ching-chong Chi­na­man. But that was it. We had Ma¯ ori friends and cus­tomers. We didn’t think much of it.’’

She mar­ried an Auck­lan­der, Kong Chew Loo, and they opened their own store in Mt Eden. Now, she muses, their store is one of the last. ‘‘The small shops like butch­ers, fruit and veg­etable, fish shops, they’ll prob­a­bly be things of the past, as the super­mar­kets take over.’’

Across town, a young eco­nom­ics lec­turer was strug­gling to see him­self as a man. Jeremy Traylen’s jour­ney to Jem would mark an­other sig­nif­i­cant change in New Zealand so­ci­ety – the rise of gen­der iden­tity is­sues

and ques­tion­ing of tra­di­tional roles and fam­ily dy­nam­ics.

Born in 1968, he was the mid­dle son of three boys in a ‘‘pretty stan­dard nu­clear fam­ily’’. Mum and dad were teach­ers, she a prod­uct of a farm­ing fam­ily but also the on­go­ing pop­u­la­tion drift from the re­gions to our big­ger cities.

Partly in re­sponse to the val­ues of the time, partly ‘‘peer pres­sure’’ within the com­mu­nity, she gave up her ca­reer to look af­ter the fam­ily. A few decades later that would be­come a rar­ity, with women driven by eco­nom­ics and am­bi­tion to re­main in the work­force; sim­i­larly, more now choose to have fewer chil­dren, and later in life. ‘‘The big event of the year was the Mel­bourne Cup,’’ re­calls Jem; ‘‘it was two TV chan­nels, horserac­ing, watch­ing cricket and rugby, there wasn’t a lot else on.’’

Nei­ther was there a lot of talk about or in­ter­est in ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

Jeremy and his fam­ily had at­tended an Angli­can church since he was young, but the church’s grip was weak­en­ing. He was strug­gling to em­brace the so­ci­etal shift.

He’d known since the age of six that he was dif­fer­ent, had tried to ‘‘come out’’ a few times but couldn’t quite scale the bar­ri­ers be­ing bro­ken down around him.

‘‘By then the in­ter­net had pro­gressed and it was so much eas­ier to make con­tact with other trans peo­ple and their ex­pe­ri­ences. It made you feel like you were not alone.’’

Jeremy fi­nally put aside the stove-pipes and picked up some­thing ‘‘flo­ral and fem­i­nine’’. He be­came a she. Jeremy adopted the name of Jem. Mx Jem Traylen.

The rise of Rizza, Jem and many oth­ers per­son­i­fies sig­nif­i­cant cul­tural shifts in the wider New Zealand com­mu­nity: the mi­grant, the gen­der Mx, the change in women’s roles.

But in the Ghahra­man house­hold, Gol­riz’s fa­ther is still try­ing to save some­thing of the cul­ture of his for­mer coun­try while em­brac­ing those of his adopted home.

‘‘Fa­ther fo­cuses on Ira­nian cook­ing,’’ says Gol­riz. ‘‘He wanted to pre­serve that. He’s an avid gar­dener, plays lawn bowls at the lo­cal club and re­li­giously watches the All Blacks. He’ll be sit­ting there with his slow-cooked lamb and aubergine, with his mates, hav­ing a beer and watch­ing the game.’’

That’s as Kiwi as.



Eileen Loo, 86, at her fruit and vege store in Mt Eden, Auck­land. She was 7 when she ar­rived in New Zealand in 1939, flee­ing the Sino-Ja­panese War.

Guy Wil­liams and Gol­riz Ghahra­man.

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