Editorial: The pleasures of Polyfest

Last updated 05:00 28/08/2014

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OPINION: The Murihiku Polyfest has taken its own quite joyous place in the southern cultural firmament.

Far more than a resolutely Maori and Pasifika celebration, it invites open appreciation of the range of ethnicities from which modern Southland draws.

The place is increasingly more diverse than the tight little homogenous huddle that our good friends further north tend to assume.

And thank goodness for immigration. It's effectively been our handbrake on what had become an alarmingly shrinking population with all the attendant miseries.

You could see the likes of immigrant migrant dairy workers and international Southern Institute of Technology students as visitors rather than settlers, but look - the story told in yesterday's edition by early Pasifika immigrants Johnny Penisula and Willy Tou is one many will recognise in their own lives. Vini, vidi velcro. They came, they saw, they stuck around. To their own surprise.

Half a century ago Tou came here for a season at the Ocean Beach meat plant. The plant's long gone now, sadly, but Tou isn't. He met a girl. As Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse beamed to migrant SIT students in Invercargill this week, "biology is our friend".

Plenty of migrant workers and students will come and go, and if they depart ready to attest to a happy, rewarding experience then there's a fair chance they will be replaced with fresh transfusions. And if our immigration settings are good, few parts of New Zealand are better placed to benefit than Southland. We really could handle more people.

But interaction is so important and there's a real potential problem here that is quite distinct from that of the cliched view of monocultural distrust. It's shyness. A disinclination shared by visitor and local to intrude unbidden into each others' lives, for fear of being . . . it's hard to pin down the word . . .brash? Pushy? Impolite?

Time helps fix that. Penisula - one of our leading artists - and Tou are simultaneously, and essentially, Pasifika and Southlander. Events like Polyfest, so open and vibrant, help open and keep open the channels for a shared enjoyment of our own backgrounds, and one another's.

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- The Southland Times

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