What New Zealand Taught Me About Celebrating My Indigeneity
by Ashley Parra Dec 17, 2018
Aotearoa New Zealand is probably the furthest place from home that I could have travelled to. Or at least that’s what my concerned mum always says, regardless of the numerical distance. Despite my mum’s skepticism, I chose to study in this little corner of the world for a multitude of reasons. I wanted to come to a country where indigeneity is celebrated. That is not to say that structural violence against indigenous people is non-existent or that minorities are not disproportionately affected by social issues. New Zealand is not an intersectional feminist utopia free of all social and economic injustices. However, Aotearoa New Zealand has adopted indigenous culture in ways that many other nations have not. For example, Māori is one of the three recognized official languages of New Zealand (aside from English and New Zealand sign language). It is taught in many schools, and most New Zealanders are familiar with some Māori language and culture. In the smallest of ways, such as the use of kia ora in everyday language, the welcoming of celebrities to New Zealand with a pōwhiri and haka, or the presence of Māori culture at the Auckland airport, Māori culture is visible. This may seem like the norm for New Zealanders, but I come from the United States, a place where I, a Mexican-American woman, was not allowed to be taught about my own culture when my school district banned Mexican-American studies from the curriculum. Though there are places in the States that are more open to teaching histories of people of colour, on the whole, the educational system at large and society in general most often appropriate the culture of marginalised people rather than embrace it. This is why I wanted to study at a place that celebrates indigenous culture. Aside from that, the University of Auckland has one of the best Psychology programs globally, which sealed the deal for me on studying in Auckland. During my time here, I took two educational courses, one criminology course, and a course on archaeology in Aotearoa New Zealand, focusing specifically on the coming of the Māori to New Zealand. Though I came to study Psychology, it is this archaeology class that I appreciated the most from my time here. I learned so much about the Polynesian migration in general and how the Pacific Islands are connected. I learned about Māori culture, both ancient and contemporary, and was able to connect this knowledge to everyday places, objects, and situations that I experienced.
During my time here, I was open to all new experiences, as this is the only way to fully emerge oneself in another culture.Though there were not any national holidays or festivities that took place during my time here, I still got to taste hāngī, a traditional Māori dish and way to prepare food (meat and vegetables are cooked underground!), and see a marae where Māori celebrations are held. New Zealand surprised me everyday, and everyday the culture and the stunning views took my breath away.
About the Author
Ashley is a Mexican-American undergraduate studying Psychology from Tucson, Arizona. She was born in a small border town, and though she is undoubtedly grateful for being able to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she has an affinity for desert life and the places that raised her. She hopes to bring back her knowledge gleaned during her college experiences to her home community and help prospective first generation college students have access to the same educational opportunities that she did.