Thursday, May 13, 2010
On May 12 1970 this baby-faced family boarded a plane from Winnipeg, Canada to Hamilton, New Zealand, and forty years later three of us are still here. Dad was taking up a position as English lecturer at an almost brand new Waikato University, and he will retire from there later this year. Mum optimistically thought New Zealand was New Caledonia and she could wear a bikini all year round; she's now a printmaker and community arts leader in Hamilton. Brother had turned two the day before immigrating, and now rides big motorcycles in New York City. I was, at three, a passionate consumer of books and if you read this blog you know all about my passionate productions here and now.
My parents had already emigrated once, from the United States to Canada just a few months before my birth. Then they were escaping Vietnam-era politics and the draft for my dad, who was working on his PhD about a medieval romance starring Princess Meliors (I know you've been wondering). After a few years in the snow, New Zealand sounded like a South Sea paradise, with progressive social policies.
We arrived with our North American accents and our fancy whiteware (a clothes drier! -unheard of luxury here). Hamilton in May 1970 was a dreary small town of damp, cold, little houses; the university was still more paddock than ivory tower. I think I adjusted most enthusiastically of the four of us to the culture (and climate) shock. I picked up the kiwi accent quickly (though I tried to hide it at home or be teased mercilessly for pronouncing egg 'ig'). I've always proudly and passionately identified as a New Zealander, a kiwi, a pakeha.
I'm incredibly grateful that my parents were brave enough to emigrate to the other side of the world, leaving behind their family, friends and culture. New Zealand was much further away back then: before there was internet; when long distance telephone was too expensive for more than an annual call; when airfares were too expensive for more than a seven-year sabbatical trip.
New Zealand is the home I love. But not so much for the picture postcard, tourism board reasons to love New Zealand. To be honest, the natural environment I am drawn to most is tropical rainforest. But I'm here and not there and that's because of the human environment. Our fresh young history. Our quirky inclusive political system. Our equitable health and welfare systems, that no matter how flawed are still better than most. The intimacy of a very small nation with barely a couple of degrees of separation between me and anyone else.
I love our our anti-nuclear and anti-whaling leadership. I love the journey towards each other that Maori and Pakeha have undertaken in my lifetime and that so much te reo is part of my daily life. I love that Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world. I love that I was exposed to more British popular culture than American when I was a kid. I appreciate the perspective provided by growing up in a small country on the edge of the planet, the outsider's and the underdog's point of view.
I've had a few tries at living in other countries, and every time I end up back here in New Zealand. It's always been the easiest place to make friends, in every new town I've moved to, at every stage of my life. No matter how likeable people are in other countries (and I do have some dear friends made overseas), I've never found such an easy abundance of close intimates as in New Zealand. Maybe it's because I'm an outsider in other countries, or maybe it's because kiwis really are exceptionally open, warm and relaxed. I don't know. But I count myself among the lucky few in the world who get to live in this beautiful, easy, caring, safe, temperate little land.