Earlier this semester, a group of elementary school students visited my Māori Studies (the indigenous people of New Zealand) class to see the Māori art on the walls of our lecture room. The group of children was mostly white, with one black student, one Asian student, and a few Māori students. After the class left, my professor said, “Isn’t that the most diverse group of little kids you’ve ever seen?”
Coming from a diverse city in the Northeast U.S., New Zealand was an adjustment. Additionally, I’m based on the South Island, which is notoriously less diverse than the North Island. Still, diversity in New Zealand (or lack thereof) is an interesting topic. I’ve split this post into different aspects of diversity I’ve come across.
On Clubs Day this semester, I fully expected to find a booth offering the New Zealand equivalent of Hillel. I did not find one, but I did get free candy from a Christian youth group.
It makes sense that New Zealand has much less religious diversity than the U.S. Nearly everybody is Christian, and the few other religious communities are comprised of students from other countries, temporary travelers, or recent immigrants to NZ. Surprisingly though, I feel less aware of my status as a minority here than I do in the U.S. (then again, it isn’t quite the Christmas season yet). In general, religion isn’t a big part of life in New Zealand. A huge proportion of the population identifies as atheist, and those who don’t are quite private about their beliefs. There aren’t any Bell Tower Preachers.
For many Kiwis I’ve met here, I’m the first Jew they’ve come across. I find myself answering a lot of questions about Judaism, some of which require me to reach far into the depths of my memory and think back to my days of Hebrew School. I’m glad I can answer the questions, and although I’ve felt like a token Jew, I’ve never felt discriminated against.
I did manage to track down the only synagogue on the South Island, which happens to be in Christchurch. My friends Becca and Molly (also Jewish exchange students) and I attended on Rosh Hashanah, and it was so nice to be surrounded by my own culture for a few hours! There are 600 Jews on the entire South Island, and now we joke that there are 603.
I’ll be more appreciative of the Jewish community in Philly in the future, and I miss the conversations that come from being among people with vastly different religious backgrounds. For now though, I’m happy to be an ambassador for my culture.
In the words of a friend, New Zealand is “an island full of white people.” This is very much an overstatement, but…yeah. That’s what happens when a bunch of British and Scottish people move to the South Pacific.
Obviously, Māori also make up a large proportion of New Zealand’s population, although there are no fully-Māori people left. There is also a large Korean and Chinese population as a result of immigration.
An interesting aspect of race relations in New Zealand is the concept of biculturalism vs. multiculturalism. We discuss it a lot in my Māori class, which is about the Treaty of Waitangi (1840 document of cession between Māori and the Crown). Since the Treaty was signed between two parties, Māori and Pākehā (white people), there is an ongoing debate in New Zealand concerning whether their society is bicultural (i.e. Māori and everyone else who isn’t Māori) or multicultural, and whether that consideration should affect the legal system, politics, and other organizations.
As with religious and racial diversity, New Zealand also has less socioeconomic stratification than the U.S. The North Island has more cities and struggles with more poverty and homelessness than the South, but in general one can comfortably support a family on minimum wage, and there are no private universities (and university is cheap — one year as an international student at UC costs the same as one year in-state at Temple). Most of New Zealand seems solidly middle-class.
New Zealand will be an interesting country to watch in the future and see if diversity increases as the world grows. In the case of Christchurch, many people have told me that they believe the earthquake was good for the city — people are more open to the differences in others post-quake, and different types of people are moving into the city.
And worst comes to worst, we can all unite over cheering on the All Blacks — beat Australia!