Three weeks ago I attended the Diwali function at Parliament. I am always surprised when I receive invitations for events organised by government or related agencies or even political parties. Who could’ve invited me? Why have they invited me?
Some years ago, I received one for a meet and greet with Don Brash when he was the leader of the National Party. Those days of snail mail. I was a bit shocked when I opened the envelope. Me?! For a National Party event?! (Or a Labour/other Party event.) I went along. I mostly do. It is usually out of academic curiosity; as an observer of human behaviour. What do Indian migrants want? Why do they do what they do? Why do politicians say what they say? That is what drives me. Don Brash spoke the usual stuff. Numbers, immigration, law and order. Strong subtext perpetuating the model minority myth versus dole bludging tangata whenua. The Indians, mostly men all suited, talked about immigration, visas, direct flights to India, law and order. Some I knew, others I did not. All Very Important People. They didn’t see or did not want to see, that even if supposedly better than iwi, they were not quite Kiwi.
There were hardly any women and no youth; there was an early iteration of Paula Bennett. As is my wont, I stood in the middle and asked Don Brash why there were no women and youth. Then I asked him what the National Party was doing about the health sector and the creative sector. The TVNZ Charter was going to be scrapped and arts funding was iffy if National won the election. A senior, a pillar of the Indian community who edits an Indian newspaper, his eyes popped out of their sockets. Ah, there she goes again. Who does she think she is! It was a fun Sunday afternoon.
That was my intention when I attended Diwali in Parliament on 28/11/18. To observe. Besides I love to dress up.
I live tweeted. So much easier to rant.
The dear Pakeha lady sitting next to me, who told me I was entitled to my opinion is the wife of a very important, senior Indian New Zealander. She was perhaps not used to a brown woman opining about numbers being problematic. Or asking questions. According to Statistics NZ Indians were the fasting growing ethnic group in Aotearoa. There were 155, 178 of us here in 2013.
What could our needs be exactly? Direct flights to India? Better law and order? Better education? Better visa conditions perhaps? Jenny Salesa said, I paraphrase, we were doctors, engineers, accountants, all sort of highly educated, high earning types. We should also go into public service. Priyanca Radhakrishnan said we should make submissions to the select committees and she praised the honorary consul general to India Bhav Dhillon for looking after migrants.
Priyanca might become a minister one day, she is ambitious, makes all the right noises although the korero is empty but Jenny, Jenny should know better. What would she have said at a festive gathering of Pasifika peoples? Praised leaders and shining stars across the spectrum but also addressed the acute needs around health, social support, education, domestic violence, poverty, lack of housing? Encouraged the community to engage in finding solutions? Talked about the wonderful Pasifika creatives telling amazing stories about the communities and sought more? Acknowledge the racism, the resistance, the self-reflection. Yet also be fully aware of the intra-community beliefs and perspectives, the rebels, the feminists, the patriarchs.
I mean, it was a Diwali celebration. Good versus evil, illuminating light, happiness, good versus evil. That singular myth about a triumphant Rama returning to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana. Best time to re-iterate the model minority myth so why shatter it?. That four days of celebrating different traditions and myths coming out of an ancient agrarian society to mark harvest and new beginnings is also a time for introspection and reflection. Most opportune to look beyond the facade of high education and silk sarees. The issues, Jenny would find, are the same. Health, social support, domestic violence, poverty, lack of housing…exploited migrants…
Priyanca worked for Shakti and the Ministry of Women. Shakti’s Wellington Refuge has been struggling to get funding for some time now yet not a peep about domestic violence. Not before she became an MP, not now. Guess that sort of activism to create awareness and push for empowerment of her coloured sisters does not fit with her political goals. Then about Bhav helping migrants. I have young Indian migrant patients who are exploited by their employers and whom I have directed to unions. I suppose this does not happen in Auckland and north of then? Or maybe these young migrants with immense financial burden have been helped by the office of the honorary CG?No harm in mentioning that evil exploitation then?
There is now enough research to show gaps in health requirements, accessibility and outcome of the pan-Asian diaspora in America. That the model minority migrant is wealthy, generally healthy, can access health providers and services and have their supposedly fewer health needs met has been proved to be wrong. The Asian-American Health Initiative, the U.S. Office of Minority Health and this NCBI article are just some simple examples. It is not much different from Aotearoa and there is enough anecdotal evidence to warrant academic research and maybe those Very Important Indians could potentially fund it in partnership with various ministries themselves. So when for Diwali, one wishes happiness, long life and prosperity is it just related to material wealth? Maybe no one gave Jenny the memo even though Jenny should intuitively know. Because that is the problem with numbers. 150,000+ Indians in New Zealand will tell us their superficial needs and what governments can do. Such as organise Diwali to make them feel Important. Join the public service but who will weed out the casteist right-wing Hindus, the patriarchal men, the misogynists, that get into the public service? The numbers will not tell you such outlook and ideology exists amongst the Indian here will they? Because you will only see, for example, ten Indians pat yourself on the back for being inclusive.
I don’t expect invitations to any political party/government/parliament events because, you know, the ‘angry brown woman’ mars subservient, grateful gatherings of Very Important Indians. And that’s alright. It is not like you need to be seen by and known to ministers and MPs to make change.