|Samoans in South Auckland||
The Politics of Culture – “The Pacific Island Experience – A Culture in Crisis”
By Sofia Dennison
My sister asked me to resurrect an essay I had written three years ago outlining my views on the impact that culture had on the ability of Pacific Island communities to succeed in a western context. Unfortunately I was not able to locate the original article but in retrospect this has given me an opportunity to introduce new material that has influenced my thinking since that time.
My parents migrated to New Zealand when I was three, the main impetus being a strong desire to give their children a better life. In the case of my family it definitely was about education and the opportunities that being part of a Euro-centric culture would offer. My father had a comfortable office job working for a travel agency and my mother was a nurse in Apia. When I think of what my parents sacrificed to come to New Zealand in the 1960s’ in search of what they considered a more advantageous lifestyle I have to wonder if they felt somewhat cheated by the whole experience. They in essence left a secure financial situation with a net work of family and friends that provided continual support and companionship for a life of uncertain economic and social conditions.
Like many immigrants they envisioned a future that would eventually bring them and their children great material rewards and hopefully academic success. Unfortunately, the reality for many Pacific Island families has been one of struggle and disillusionment which stems from a deeply entrenched feeling of isolation from the mainstream political culture that exists in New Zealand.
My parents started their Kiwi life in Herne Bay, an upmarket part of Auckland City – the house they leased and later had to vacate because of the cost is currently worth 1.3 million dollars. This is an experience that other Pacific Island families can identify with and there must be a great deal of annoyance at the fact that they were unable to benefit financially from owning homes in the now exclusive areas of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn.
Many families like mine were forced to move to the suburbs and seek Government assisted housing which saw a mass exodus from the inner city to periphery townships like Otara, Mangere and Massey. What eventuated was the creation of homogenous Pacific Island communities, while this situation is not unique to Pacific Islanders the impact has been highly detrimental and the difference being the extent to which other ethnicities have been able over the same period of time to find social and economic mobility within New Zealand society. Pacific Island communities have become trapped in a cultural prism and what is largely reflected in these environments are the aspects of western culture that they value; the ability to earn money, the acquisition of material possessions like cars and houses and in general a better lifestyle than that which they left behind.
However, what still eludes Pacific Island communities from a holistic perspective is an appreciation of the social structures required and the amount of effort that needs to be exerted in order for them to participate significantly in a western context.
The importance of strengthening Pacific communities through an increased understanding of the barriers that are preventing them from being successful is an imperative. And it is clear that many of these barriers can be directly attributed to the mythology endemic in our cultural traditions. The current global economic crisis has made it difficult to find employment that does not require a certain level of education, gone are occupations like the freezing works, many of the factory and labouring jobs that in the past has supported the Polynesian lifestyle. Add to that equation the increased number of foreigners migrating to New Zealand like Indians and Asians who are better equipped to deal with the current economic requirements, it becomes more apparent how serious the situation is for Pacific Islanders.
When I was a student forty years ago, attending Mangere College I often heard the question asked in my presence “why are Polynesian children struggling to succeed in the academic arena?” In one of my history tutorials at Auckland University, the subject of why Polynesian children were being forced to study Shakespeare was introduced as a discussion topic. According to the European students - failure was the direct result of being forced to study subjects that were foreign to their cultural psyche. As was often the case in my academic journey I always felt excluded from the conversation that was about me and today the messages being propagated by the media and other organisations is a regurgitating of the same attitudes and thinking that was prevalent then except it is 2013.
The issues plaguing our communities pervade every facet of our lives; housing, health, education and employment. The gravity of the problems related to our communities seriously undermine any achievements that have been gained and highlight the overwhelming hurdles confronting those being conscripted to address these concerns within the social and political machinery of this country.
When one considers the fact that western civilisation has evolved over the centuries and continues to do so - I feel there has been an unrealistic expectation in terms of what is required to transform a feudal culture that intrinsically lacks the sophistication necessary to participate in the global marketplace. In order to develop and cultivate the prerequisite level of expertise there has to be a commitment to creating the structures that are essential not just for higher education but for everyday existence in a western country; for example the need to have a full drivers’ license. In New Zealand obtaining a full drivers’ license is a graduated program that takes over a two year period to achieve and involves a series of tests to gain each level - so one starts with a learners, then a restricted and finally a full license. In Polynesian communities this is a huge problem, generally for two reasons, the cost and a lack of confidence with respect to sitting exams. Yet in the marketplace having a full license is essential for most jobs, which means that by not having a firm comprehension of how important it is to have a full license - individuals are automatically being excluded from an already highly competitive environment.
I read an article recently written by Tevita Liku Hingano, in the 2013/2014 summer edition of the SPASIFIK magazine entitled “Glass Ceiling or Sticky Floor” which outlined research that he has done analysing the issues that confront Pacific Professionals. I came to the conclusion that while there is definitely a “Glass Ceiling” in this country – I believe that it is the latter that is affecting our ability to integrate fully into western society and preventing us from utilising the opportunities available to us more effectively.
The other day I was listening to a hip hop song on the radio and I was immediately impressed by the first two lines; “money is the motivation, money is the conversation”. This fundamental principle is what we need to understand - that in order for us to participate fully in a western context we must establish social structures within our communities that will give our children access to the tools necessary to secure financial control over their future aspirations.
A Father's Place. How can we value the role of a father in the Home?
By Sofia Dennison
January 14th 2013, is a day I will never forget – my siblings and I had found out a week earlier that my father, who had lived in Los Angeles for the last thirty years, had gone missing a few days prior to Christmas. Up until that day I had chosen to be optimistic, anxiously awaiting that call to say he had been staying at some Casino and had lost all sense of time as he often did. Instead I received a text at two in the afternoon, texting that colloquial idiom that can transform something as personal as death into a meaningless sentence of clinical jargon “Sorry Sis dad has passed away - call you soon”. But in this instance it felt so appropriate because the howling that followed of uncontrollable sobbing was done in the security of privacy and I was given the freedom to openly express my grief without the added burden of an audience.
I knew this feeling I had experienced it twice in 2003 within the space of four months, two sisters whose lives in many ways had mirrored that of our father. On one hand a nomadic life of addiction, violence and extreme loneliness while on the other a life filled with humour, beauty, intelligence and extreme generosity of spirit. I remember vividly the acceptance speech that Meryl Streep gave at the Bafter Award Ceremony a few years back, where she had won the best actress category for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, she eloquently referred to this quote ‘the greatest fear of the famous is that in death they will be misunderstood.” This thought strongly resonated with me because I feel it is a human concern that even in our seemingly ordinary existence the complexity of our lives is totally unappreciated by others. This year marked my sisters’ tenth anniversary and next week on the 21st of December will be my father’s first. I want this to be a memorial piece in honour of my father as well as a discussion on fatherhood and the importance of social evolution in the way that we perceive this role.
My daughter introduced me to this saying with respect to parenting “you did the best with what you knew – if you knew better you would have done better”. This is evident in my family where the absence of a father figure has been a dominant feature of our experience. My parents never knew their fathers - both died when they were young and in the case of my maternal grand-father his career as a teacher meant he spent the majority of his time away from home. My father under emotional duress from his sisters reluctantly agreed in my first year at Auckland University to visit my ailing grand-mother in America. As a consequence of that decision my siblings and I have been fatherless for most of our lives. One of my lingering regrets as an adult will always be the fact that I never had the opportunity to actually speak to my father about his childhood, those formative years, his dreams and aspirations. That we will never have those honest and insightful conversations that provide you with understanding and maybe more importantly closure.
My children fortunately have grown up with a father in their lives but even in their situation there has been trauma and difficulty. Their father is older than their grand-parents; he is European and his personality at times abrasive and condescending. It is only in recent years that I have come to the realisation that the choices you make in the ignorance of youth impact greatly on the lives of others. And while I can rationally say in my defence that a lack of maturity and a short sightedness with respect to envisaging the future repercussions of my actions are to blame. Nevertheless, there are some serious questions that need to be answered and a deep sense of accountability required in order for me to move forward. My husband never knew his father and his mother was incapable of understanding the unfathomable damage that her refusal to discuss the matter would have upon him. To this day my husband still struggles emotionally with the feelings of abandonment and rejection he felt as a child.
An area of focus for some of my future articles will be the plight of the Pacific Island family in a western context. What many fail to grasp fully when discussing a culture in crisis which is what exists today with respect to the Pacific Island community. Is that if we don’t change the cultural paradigm we will lose the next generation. Our traditional perspective on the family has to evolve, the mythology exposed, for example the notion that a good parent has to be cruel to be kind. The suicide rate for Pacific Island youth is alarming and the underlying problem is our inability as a community to hear the concerns of our young because it makes us uncomfortable.
Good parenting is about breeding and effort, we are not born good parents we need guidance and direction. Mentoring is about having role models in your life that represent in a physical, emotional, social and intellectual way those attributes that create positive environments. Attributes like intimacy, our children are not chattel they need affection and have a right to grow up in a secure and creative environment where learning is a high priority. There needs to be more thought and planning prior to bringing a child into this world and an understanding that communication is a two way conversation. Men are not born good fathers or good partners – they are moulded through a strong close knit community where the characteristics and tools required are endemic in the tapestry.
For me this cycle of fatherlessness was broken with the birth of my first grand-child. It has taken four generations for me to experience what a father should be and while he is young and still grappling with the enormity of that responsibility my grand-children have for a father a man who has the potential to grow and evolve with them. I attended my grand-daughter’s play centre break-up this week, when I arrived I caught a glimpse of my son standing alone with a pensive expression etched on his face, watching his children at play and thinking I am sure how can I create a better world for them to grow-up in. Trust me you are already doing that son.
The tragedy for me at the time was that prior to his death what my father wanted most was to have his children with him. And the most difficult thing for me to accept was that he died alone but now on the eve of his first anniversary I feel a great sense of peace. Dad you do have a legacy that you can be proud of – it has taken a few generations for us as a family to arrive at this point but we have finally broken that cycle.
Nobody – as George Leaupepe shows – was prepared for rugby's massive changes
OPINION: It's an odd phrase to use about a 40-year-old who was a barrel-chested, block-busting centre when he played, but George Leaupepe is one of the lost boys of New Zealand rugby.
He pleaded guilty this week to cultivating cannabis, which he says was for personal use to relieve pain from old playing injuries.
Once a star for Counties-Manukau, the Chiefs and Manu Samoa, Leaupepe says he feels rugby left him on the scrapheap – and he has struggled to make a decent living.
For five years from 1996 he would have made close to $100,000 a year from rugby, at a time when even in the Auckland house market $200,000 would buy a good home. But he finished rugby far from comfortably off.
His misfortune is that he's one of the playing pioneers who signed the first cash contracts when rugby went professional at the end of 1995.In many ways nobody was prepared for the massive change.
The first All Blacks who signed to play in 1996 were on around $200,000 a year at a time when an experienced teacher would be earning not much more than $40,000 a year. It was so new and raw no wonder some were as stunned, and as unprepared to deal with wealth, as a Lotto winner.
In 1996 one young All Black told me how he cashed up his first rugby pay cheque just so he could gaze at the dollar notes. "Man, I'd never seen so much money in one place in the whole of my life."
Another built a deck at his modest home so massive, team-mates swore it was worth more than the house.
The fallout from the Leaupepe story has been widespread. He's blamed New Zealand rugby administrators. A 60-test All Black, Craig Dowd, has blasted the NZ Rugby Players' Association, formed in 1999, which he claims, is basically star struck. "The only time you hear from [the association] is when Richie McCaw or Dan Carter farts."
In the process one idea that was floating around – for money to be withheld from players' NZRU payments in order to set up what would basically be a pension fund – was lost in the melee.Hindsight vision is always 20/20, but two decades after the fact it's true that professional rugby didn't arrive in well-considered, carefully constructed stages, but in an avalanche of $100 bills. To be fair to the New Zealand Rugby Union, the alternative was to hand the game over to Australian billionaires.
Exactly whose idea a pension fund was is lost in time, but I do remember clearly one player suggesting off the record that the last people he'd want running his own money were NZRU officials.
Basically there was bad blood between the officials and the players. "It took some of us a while," one of the council members of the time told me this week, "to realise it was no longer a master-servant relationship."
Rugby officials thought they'd staved off the budding threat of Super League (the competition that would bitterly divide Australian league when it was played for one year in 1997) when South Africa, New Zealand and Australia announced a US$555 million contract with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation on June 23, 1995.
To their horror, rugby bosses found Australian media mogul Kerry Packer's people had the '95 All Blacks, along with test players in Australia, South Africa and France, mesmerised with promises of contracts for up to US$1 million a year to play for the World Rugby Corporation.
Player power was immediately expressed. At the first meeting between NZRU chairman Richie Guy and the '95 All Blacks in Wellington, on July 5, 1995, when Guy offered them $50,000 a year each to sign with the union, the players asked him to leave his own NZRU offices in Wellington so they could make a decision. It was basically a laughable offer, captain Sean Fitzpatrick would later say.
When, after frantic negotiations led by council member Jock Hobbs, the NZRU finally secured players' contracts in August, there was no clause securing a cash safety net when players retired.
But it isn't true to say there was no concern for players managing their new wealth. The problem was they weren't that interested.
In 1996, in his first year as All Black coach John Hart, set up a seminar at Waipuna Lodge in Auckland to help steer players through the new professional world.
Hart did in again in 1998, this time at Wairakei in Taupo. How did the players react? Veteran lock Ian Jones would say, "Personally I took little out of the seminar that would have helped me as a rugby player. It probably had merit if you were focusing on your career after rugby, but it wasn't what we as All Blacks were about."
If ever there was an illustration of how fraught offering money advice to players, that quote surely sums it up.
Relationships between officials and players run more smoothly now.
But answering the key question, "Would a George Leaupepe feel abandoned if his career only finished in 2016?" remains one of the biggest challenges facing rugby.
If you are a former professional player who is struggling, your best starting point is the NZ Rugby Players' Association. Call 0800 PLAYER.
Graduates from the Pacific Institute of Performance Arts receive their diplomas.
Sui Ah Chong Lolo stood proudly beside her son, Paul after his Graduation from the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (P.I.P.A.) with a Diploma in Pacific Arts Level 5 extremely happy that he had completed the program. PIPA is a part of the Best Pacific Institute of Education located throughout New Zealand.
The graduation ceremony was held for students graduating and it was well attended by family members. After receiving their diplomas it is now time to continue education or find work. These are the best times of a young person's life. Paul was very excited and optimistic at the prospect of moving forward. Good luck to Paul and all the other graduates.
A UNIQUE TALENT...A