Posted on October 3, 2012

Embracing Ethnic Diversity: Melting-Pot Reality Okay with New Zealanders

Lincoln Tan, New Zealand Herald, October 1, 2012

New Zealanders are accepting ethnic diversity as “part of our reality” and most no longer view migrant communities with suspicion like we did in the 1990s.

Almost seven in 10 Aucklanders in a Herald street poll said they were comfortable with the ethnic diversity in Auckland, and 72 per cent said they have a close friend or friends outside their own ethnic group.

More than six in 10 also felt New Zealand society today was “multicultural” and slightly more than half said they would be comfortable even if Asians, Pacific and Maori outnumbered Europeans in the city.

These were some of the findings of a survey of 214 Aucklanders taken at Albany, Botany, New Lynn and the central city between September 22 and 30.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said the results showed New Zealanders have gone from being suspicious of migrant communities to one of acceptance and acknowledgement of the contribution of migrants.

“We had that period early on post-1987 when we were unsure about Asian migration,” he said.

“But these figures shows that it has become accepted much more as part of our reality as Aucklanders and as we think about the future, where Pakeha would become a minority, is not that frightening.”

Professor Spoonley said the street poll findings were consistent with recent studies, including an Asia New Zealand Foundation study of Kiwi perceptions on Asia, where 21 per cent said they had felt warmer towards Asian people in the past year.

In that survey, more than four out of five agreed Asians contributed significantly to New Zealand society and 83 per cent rated the Asian region as important or very important to New Zealand’s future.

“In terms of public opinion polling, the two countries that currently stand out are Canada and New Zealand, and it doesn’t matter what the questions that you ask about the effects of immigration, the positive answers tend to be 60 per cent and higher,” he said.

“If you go to Europe, it tends to be 50 per cent or lower, and Australia too [seems] to be dropping away.”

The Herald poll found 76 per cent said ethnic diversity was a good thing and 63 per cent saying their experience of diversity had been positive.

Professor Spoonley said there had been a huge change in attitudes towards migrants in the past decade and believed that positive answers would have been significantly lower if the same questions had been asked in the 1990s.

New Zealand has had a “history of intolerance towards Asians” since colonial times, especially towards the Chinese who were considered an “inferior” race, he said.

Online encyclopedia Te Ara said: “Chinese were considered racially inferior to white people and their culture was seen as a threat.

“Their habits were viewed as strange, and they were seen as ‘drug-besotten sin-begotten fiends’.”

Professor Spoonley said politicians, like Winston Peters, capitalised on this in the 1990s by making inflammatory remarks about Asian migration to win votes.

But recent efforts to stir similar anti-Asian sentiments in Auckland last year by political activist group the Right Wing Resistance “failed to get off the ground”, he said.

“In the scheme of things, we as New Zealanders have come an incredibly long way in terms of how we view diversity,” Professor Spoonley said.

“Today a majority of Kiwis are just embracing and enjoying what ethnic diversity brings,” he said.

University of Auckland professor of Asian studies Manying Ip said greater interaction between people of different ethnicities has helped in increasing the feeling of warmth, and the internet has also helped raise Kiwi awareness about Asia.

“It has been an ongoing trend of greater acceptance of Asians in recent times, and this is mainly due to a greater awareness of Asia and an increase in meaningful social interaction with Asians, especially in Auckland,” Professor Ip said.

She said many of those who did not have friends outside their community were newcomers, mostly people from China or Korea, who struggled with English and lacked the confidence to socialise.

“But this will be a one generation thing, because their children will definitely be socialising with people who are not just of their own ethnicities in schools,” said Professor Ip.

Asia New Zealand research director Andrew Butcher said studies by the foundation have found that “the more people have contact with Asians the warmer they feel towards them”.

“For Auckland, there are large Asian populations and there [is] lots of contact so I would say that the welcoming of diversity is probably warmer in Auckland then elsewhere,” he said.

“Auckland is what we call a super diverse city; it’s right up there with Toronto in terms of migrant populations and international surveys have shown that New Zealanders are warmer, and in some ways considerably warmer to people from other countries then elsewhere.”

Dr Butcher said there was “antipathy” by some local-born Chinese to the new immigrant Chinese groups.

“Partly because the new Chinese were seen as more ostentatious, they came with money whereas of course the New Zealand-born Chinese didn’t.

“The new immigrants obviously came with different motivations, and were not thought to be a model minority,” Dr Butcher said.

A foundation study entitled “Diverse Auckland: The Face of New Zealand in the 21st Century” by University of Auckland geographer Wardlow Friesen found Auckland’s Asian population had distinctive characteristics that were very different to the rest of the country.

There was a higher proportion of those in the 15-30 age group, reflecting the presence of international students, and females were over-represented in the 30-50 age group, possibly because of the high number of families from Korea and China with absent fathers.

At the last Census, the Asian population of Auckland was 19 per cent, but that is projected to reach 23.5 per cent by 2016 and 27 to 30 per cent by 2021.

The study said the biggest impacts that these migrants have had on Auckland are on retailing, restaurants, festivals, religion and media.

According to the report, growth for the Asian population in Auckland will be about 51 per cent up to 2016 compared with 46 per cent for New Zealand as a whole.

Last year China, with 5262 permanent residents and India with 4218, were the second and third largest source countries for immigrants to New Zealand behind United Kingdom.