Multiculturalism is a force for good

RICHARD BOOCK
Last updated 05:00 22/05/2012

Yen doesn't speak great English. He's fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin as well as a couple of other dialects but English? Not his strong suit. He's one of these Asian takeaway proprietors that Winston Peters has been wringing his hands over recently; a sign of how poorly we've handled our immigration policy. According to Peters, Yen is an example of the face we're about to suddenly wake up to and exclaim: "what on earth have we done?"

Actually, Yen is an example of a lot more than that. Like many of the Asian shop-owners in the Mt Roskill district he works seven days a week, from mid-morning until late. He's devoted to his wife; they've been married for 30 years and their three children are all at university, performing well. Yen is house proud and a stickler for maintenance; he washes his car twice a week. His shop is always spotless; his smile is always ready.

Jack runs the nearby dairy. His name isn't really Jack but he was persuaded to change it to an Anglo handle for convenience and business purposes. It makes me sad that he feels the need to do that but doubtless Peters would approve. Jack works from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, mostly on his own. His English isn't much chop but we all seem to get by. Like Yen, his biggest priorities are his wife, his kids and his business.

Then there's the wine shop. Used to be run by a bloke who hated Asians, Maori and Pacific Islanders in equal proportion. So fed up did he become about the lack of white faces that he packed up and sold the place. Where did he go? Ironically, to the North Shore. Now the shop's operated by a Chinese family who've transformed the business. They work hard, present a cheery disposition and (unlike Peters) try to get along with everyone else in the community.

The guys at the garage are middle-eastern. Their premises back onto ours and we share a common right of way. More polite, considerate or honest neighbours you'd be hard pressed to find. Once they prevented a break-in at our place by questioning a would-be burglar. Told us later they knew we were gone for the day and had become suspicious about the man's actions. In other words, they had our back. Good people, all of them, although they struggle a bit with their English.

The strangest part of Peters' take on "Asian" immigration? Just that, most of those Kiwis who support him will be of a right-wing political persuasion. Well, so is Yen. And Jack. The wine shop chaps probably more so. Most of them come from the "get tough on criminals" school of thought, they don't agree with the social welfare system and they adhere strongly to the principles of personal responsibility. Few would vote for Labour or the Greens.

Peters, you'll recall, was aghast at the number of foreign language advertising signs with no English translation on shops, especially along Dominion Rd. His real gripe, though, was the proliferation of ethnic eateries in the area. It's a shame he feels like that. Whether or not you're a connoisseur of the various cuisines, it's a part of Auckland that's hard not to love. The people are friendly and welcoming, the shops are diverse; the buzz distinctly cosmopolitan.

Yes, the Dominion Rd-Mt Roskill retail area might look a bit scary to Peters (and those with similarly stunted outlooks). But far from it being an example of what's wrong with this city, don't you think it's an example of what's good about it? I mean, people can still flee to their gated, white enclaves if they so wish; they can lie awake at night and worry about the bogeyman. But a real community? Who would want to live anywhere else?

9 comments
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Lou   #1   06:27 am May 22 2012

Pity the other minority ethnnic groups couldn't get off their collective fat backsides and do something for themselves instead of bludging off the taxpayer all the time.

Elizabeth Urry   #2   07:56 am May 22 2012

Wondering why that ACT donor did not support NZ First instead? This is how I see it. A generation who went through an education system which did not encourage questioning and that also taught that the European race was superior. How sad they feel threatened by a bit of cultural colour in our city.

David   #3   08:49 am May 22 2012

"Peters, you'll recall, was aghast at the number of foreign language advertising signs with no English translation on shops, especially along Dominion Rd. His real gripe, though, was the proliferation of ethnic eateries in the area. "

Can you please explain where Winston said his real gripe was the proliferation of ethnic eateries in the area?

Did he say that or did you just make up that his issue wasn't with non-multicultural signs (a sign in only one language can't be multi-cultural), If we are stating what we think Winston really means as fact then I think you will find Winston is saying we should align our immigration policies closer to those of the Asian nations many of these hard working individuals come from, and if you think that makes Winston a racist then obviously you think our hard working Asian immigrants come from racist nations.

Rose   #4   09:51 am May 22 2012

I agree with you mostly. Though I do worry about Asian immigration to the degree that it does change what I value about NZ. As you say the people that you spoke to on Dominion Road do not value the environment or social welfare, they come from countries that do not value these things. And as more and more NZ'er leave & are replaced by these immigrants what happens to NZ then?

richardb   #5   09:56 am May 22 2012

david #3 winston specifically complained about the number of eateries. he even exaggerated that number, as you can see in this tv3 story: http://www.3news.co.nz/Winston-Take-away-Dom-Rds-Asian-takeaways/tabid/1607/articleID/254653/Default.aspx will await your apology.

richardb   #6   10:04 am May 22 2012

lou #1: keep that up, lou, and you'll qualify as louis crimp's right-hand man... :)

John   #7   12:48 pm May 22 2012

I don't advocate not learning (or more importantly, using) English. I know of an elderly woman who came to NZ from overseas, and never integrated into English speaking society. She brought up children, who can speak English. But she needs assistance for everything. She can't go to the bank or doctor, without needing an interpreter. This is 50 years on from arriving in NZ.

Michael Wood   #8   03:01 pm May 22 2012

Good article Richard. The reality is that immigration has altered the cultural landscape, but in places like Roskill, signs of diversity have in fact become a point of local pride. Twenty years ago he may have hit a chord, but for most people now a sign in a different language is just a non-issue. Lou - I think you may have missed the point.

NZSounds   #9   10:20 am May 23 2012

Winston, of course, is pandering to his electorate: grumpy old white people. They are suspicious of anything they deem "foreign", including physical appearance, dress and cuisine. Personally, I love the ethnic diversity of today's Auckland. I enjoy making curries and always shop for ingredients in Sandringham, where the smell of spices wafts from the shops, and the staff are invariably friendly and helpful. We are enriched by such experiences, and I'm old enough to recall how dull our suburbs were back in the 1960s.

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