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Asian immigration commentary by Philip Burdon


Asian immigration commentary by Philip Burdon
Chairman of the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Regrettably concern has been raised about the threat of Asian immigration following the release of recent population projections by Statistics New Zealand.

At the core of these assertions is the unfortunate belief that there is a standard and ubiquitous Asian migrant. The reality is that our migrants from Asia come from a range of countries that often bear little in common with each other linguistically, socially, historically and culturally.

New Zealand’s largest Asian ethnic subgroups are Chinese and Indian followed by smaller groupings of Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Thai and people from other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

So to present people from as many countries as one broad ethnicity that is on the way to ‘overtaking’ the Maori population is just plainly wrong.

But unfortunately this limited and narrow view of Asian as an ethnicity is compounded by broadcast images that accompanied news reports on this issue which only seem to show the Chinese, Japanese or Korean faces that many New Zealanders find recognisably Asian. Where for instance were the South Asian or Southeast Asian faces of New Zealand?

Another misconception is that most migrants from Asia won’t speak English. The reality that while China, India and Korea are likely to remain important sources of migrants for many years, policy changes that emphasise English language skills have been shown in the past to reduce flows from China and Korea in particular.

But such changes would have less effect on potential migrants from South Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka and parts of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines because of the prevalence of English in the education system.

It is also important to bear in mind that other countries have changed in the way that New Zealand is changing. Canada, Australia and the United States are prosperous and diverse countries built on the foundations of immigration. Cities such as Melbourne, Sydney, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto are incredibly diverse and thriving places with large Asian communities. Many New Zealanders even choose to live in these cities.

Another factor that the media and others need to take into account is that by 2026, many Asian New Zealanders will have been born here. They and many of those that arrive here as children will have gone through New Zealand’s education system and be New Zealanders in every sense of the term.

There is also the increasing factor of cross cultural marriage and relationships. Studies show that emerging generations of New Zealanders are increasingly likely to identify with more than one ethnicity.

For example, in 2006, about 10 percent of the New Zealand population identified with more than one broad ethnic group and this was especially the case for people aged less than 15 years of age.

While the Asian population identifying with more than one broad ethnic group was slightly lower at 8 percent, it is very different for those young Asian New Zealanders below the age of 15 where nearly one in five identified with more than one ethnic identity - real evidence of intermarriage between races.

Thus it is increasingly likely that over time an increasing part of the Asian population will also have European, Maori, Pacific and other identities.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Diverse Auckland report that will be released next week highlights the complexity of what defines a New Zealander with the ongoing debate about national identity increasingly likely to involve multiple layers of identity.

At long last Asian people are now recognised as a component of our national identity. But acknowledgement of this has been relatively recent and grudging despite Asian communities having been a part of New Zealand society since the mid 1800s.

Meanwhile the contemporary picture reveals that Asian New Zealanders – whether they were born here or came as migrants - are of significant social and economic importance. They are highly motivated. They are great achievers. They are ambitious and they are playing a key role in shaping New Zealand’s future.

It is also important to reflect that while the media and many in the public often use ‘Asian’ as if it represents a single identity and voice, most Asian people do not think of it as their primary identity. It may even come as a surprise to some that they might prefer to identify themselves as New Zealanders.

ENDS

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