AS I SEE IT : Leilani Salesa

• BA, social anthropology and English. BA, museum and cultural heritage. MA student at Auckland University. • Pacific educator, Auckland War Memorial Museum. • Represented the Museum and Auckland University at the inaugural Young Pacific Leaders Conference in Wellington.
• Mother is third generation Pakeha New Zealander. Father is Samoan. • 24 years old.

How would you describe the New Zealand identity?

It’s an interesting time. We are waking to our reality as Pacific nation – starting to discuss what that means and how it informs our individual identities. When I address meetings and describe myself as ‘Pakeha’ people are taken aback; when I identify as ‘Samoan’ I play to their expectations. We need to discuss what ‘Pakeha’ is – white New Zealanders should not be invisible; there should be awareness of what that means and celebration of it. We also need to discuss what ‘Pacifika’ and ‘Mori’ mean.

Who are we as people?

This is both exciting and problematic. For us to acknowledge our differences and savour the strength in the collective ‘we’, there must be confident and respectful discourse. Discussions about the Treaty of Waitangi for example are often loaded and emotive. We need vernacular for talking about New Zealand as Pacific nation.
The richness of Selwyn College (my Auckland secondary school) in its cross-cultural relations – the convergence of cultures – was microcosm of New Zealand and equipped students well for real life.

What can we learn from our past?

Our past is before us; things are cyclical; our future is behind us.
The way of life today with its pervasive technology means that it is even more important to reclaim our history and take time to consider its lessons. There are two things we all must do. One is to read. The other is to follow the concept of ‘talanoa’ – ‘tala’ meaning to speak and ‘noa’ meaning the everyday, human reality. Together they mean taking the time to sit and talk with people.

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