Legislating for racially specific immigrants… Asian discrimination in New Zealand

There’s a really informative book by Paola Voci and Jacqueline Leckie (eds), titled Localizing Asia in Aoteroa, which looks at different aspects of the ‘Asian’ experience of New Zealand… here are a couple of points (and yes, footnote 2, in spite of being out of order because I moved it, is footnote 2):

Model Minorities and the ‘Asian’ category

“Despite anti-Asian discrimination in New Zealand persisting during the twentieth century, after world War II Chinese and Indian communities in New Zealand became established, but were also further designated, somewhat patronizingly, as model minorities. Acquiescence to this dubious status may have been driven as a response to discrimination and to the internalization of dominant models of assimilation. We are conscious,” Ip and Leckie write, “of the dilemmas of essentializing Asians who originated from different regions of Asia. In New Zealand, the assumption of a common Asian ‘race’ can be traced to the late nineteenth century when ‘Chinamen’ and ‘Hindoos’ were discursively lumped together as undesirable aliens or Asiatics. Over a century later and less racially inflected, but still generalizing about an Asian presence, was hype about the Asian vote during the 2009 New Zealand parliamentary elections. Statistics New Zealand also presents Asians as a separate demographic. Not only can this gloss over the different identities within Chinese and Indian identities, but it can also mask internal differentiations such as region, language, religion, caste, clan and kin.”[1]

Immigration into New Zealand: some history

“Since 1920, for over half a century, New Zealand Customs controlled the country’s immigration borders. While white people from the United Kingdom and Ireland enjoyed free entry and even assisted passage, Asians were not accepted. This policy ensured the racial and cultural homogeneity of New Zealand until changes after 1987. For the Chinese community, it meant an insurmountable barrier, which few immigrants could breach. It ensured that the community remained small in number, isolated in outlook, and completely cut off from its roots in china, with no addition of new blood. The local Chinese community lost its heritage language fluency and by the 1960s few could read Chinese. It appeared inevitable that this highly marginalized and small transplanted population would be assimilated and lose all distinctiveness as a separate ethnic group.”[3]

The longevity of Chinese and Indians in New Zealand was pivotal to acceptance as Kiwis. The parameters of these established communities had been moulded by restrictive immigration policies. These radically changed by the late 1980s, prompted by economic pressures. During the severe economic downturn between the late 1970s and mid-1980s, many among New Zealand’s youngest and brightest working-age group left the country. Policy analysts warned that the nation needed to globally seek new immigrants. New Zealand finally opened its doors with the introduction of a colour-blind immigration policy in 1987, as part of the Fourth Labour Government’s economic liberalization policy. / The 1987 Immigration Act eliminated discrimination against coloured races, and removed preferences for British and migrants from traditional source countries. The new criteria concentrated upon the skills and personal merit of the applicants.”[4]

The 1990s was a decade that transformed New Zealand’s population composition and social dynamics. It ushered in large numbers of Asian peoples, and New Zealand became a multi-ethnic nation. New Zealand used to have the most homogeneous Anglo-Celtic population among immigrant nations of the world.”[5]

Indian and Chinese New Zealanders – communities united…

“Discrimination as the ‘Asiatic other’ connected Indians and Chinese at many levels.”[2]

Notably, Ip and Leckie acknowledge “that Indian and Chinese diasporas are distinct,” but emphasize “the common localization of these diasporas within New Zealand.”[6] In their concluding comments, they write: “It has been over 150 years since the first Chinese and Indians arrived in New Zealand. The common and divergent histories of these two communities provide an insight into how the story of New Zealand’s national identity was, and remains, fragmented and complex. This was partly because of the country’s negligent and often callous treatment of the ‘Asiatic other’. This marginalization of Asians has been simultaneous with a lack of engagement with Asia.”[7]


[1] 160 Ip, Manying and Jacqueline Leckie (2011) ‘‘Chinamen’ and ‘Hindoos’: Beyond stereotypes to Kiwi Asians’ pp.  -149 in (eds) Paola Voci and Jacqueline Leckie Localizing Asia in Aoteroa. dunmore Publishing: Wellington.

[2] 166 Ip, Manying and Jacqueline Leckie (2011) ‘‘Chinamen’ and ‘Hindoos’: Beyond stereotypes to Kiwi Asians’ pp.  -149 in (eds) Paola Voci and Jacqueline Leckie Localizing Asia in Aoteroa. dunmore Publishing: Wellington.

[3] 168 Ip, Manying and Jacqueline Leckie (2011) ‘‘Chinamen’ and ‘Hindoos’: Beyond stereotypes to Kiwi Asians’ pp.  -149 in (eds) Paola Voci and Jacqueline Leckie Localizing Asia in Aoteroa. dunmore Publishing: Wellington.

[4] 178 Ip, Manying and Jacqueline Leckie (2011) ‘‘Chinamen’ and ‘Hindoos’: Beyond stereotypes to Kiwi Asians’ pp.  -149 in (eds) Paola Voci and Jacqueline Leckie Localizing Asia in Aoteroa. dunmore Publishing: Wellington.

[5] 179 Ip, Manying and Jacqueline Leckie (2011) ‘‘Chinamen’ and ‘Hindoos’: Beyond stereotypes to Kiwi Asians’ pp.  -149 in (eds) Paola Voci and Jacqueline Leckie Localizing Asia in Aoteroa. dunmore Publishing: Wellington.

[6] 159 Ip, Manying and Jacqueline Leckie (2011) ‘‘Chinamen’ and ‘Hindoos’: Beyond stereotypes to Kiwi Asians’ pp.  -149 in (eds) Paola Voci and Jacqueline Leckie Localizing Asia in Aoteroa. dunmore Publishing: Wellington.

[7] 183 Ip, Manying and Jacqueline Leckie (2011) ‘‘Chinamen’ and ‘Hindoos’: Beyond stereotypes to Kiwi Asians’ pp.  -149 in (eds) Paola Voci and Jacqueline Leckie Localizing Asia in Aoteroa. dunmore Publishing: Wellington.

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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