10 Apr 2019

Migration surprises keep coming.

Anthony Baker
I went to my Uncle Ant's funeral a few weeks ago. This meant a trip across the ditch (the Australian and New Zealand term for crossing the Tasman Sea to each other's country). I was unsure about going; I had visited my Sydney uncles eighteen months earlier, when they’d bantered like Morecambe and Wise. People close to me said I wouldn't regret it. They were right.

When the coffin left the chapel, my throat closed and my tear ducts opened. The tears weren't only for the person in the coffin, they were for all the people I have loved who I’m no longer am able to touch – my father, Ant’s eldest brother, being one of them.

When Dad was dying I received the call that said, if you want to see Dad alive you had better come now. Ant must have had the same call or email, because he arrived in Dad's hospital room a few hours after me.

Ant and his brother and sister had migrated to Australia in the sixties as ‘Ten pound Poms.’ As Ant's career was in shipping, London was a business destination, which meant we saw him more than our other Australian relatives. Ant would tell us about shark-infested beaches protected by nets, Christmas Day on the beach, and having so much sun you didn't want to go out in it. We were captivated. He became known as Uncle Australia.

Perhaps it was hearing his tales that made me open to living in another country. Like others who leave their homelands, I had assumed that migration was a mostly positive experience. Uncle Ant seemed happy. He was able to visit his parents and us, and his mother and father often went to see him and his family.

When Dad was dying, I had been living in New Zealand for ten years. I had three children under five.   I already had many doubts about bringing my children up in an environment very different to the one I was brought up in. Since Dad's diagnosis two years earlier, we had made two trips to see him while he was well. Saying goodbye each time was a punch on my heart.

I assumed it was only me who was struggling with living with a heart in two homes. I decided it was my habit of over-analysing, together with hormonal panics and self-doubt, making me feel so torn between the place I live and love, and the place I once lived and still love.

In the hospital, Ant and I talked about the journey over. He winced when he realised I’d left my young children behind. He listened when I told him how torn I felt. Then he said, almost casually, ‘It doesn't get any better, you just get more used to it.’

I had an ally. Here was someone who knew the feeling of being away from family, my sofa, my daily environment.  My father's brother knew what I was going through because he’d been through it himself and was going through it now with his brother.

It meant so much to me to have someone there who understood.

From that time on I realised that many migrants struggle with having a heart in two homes. I may have been irrational or over-sensitive, but even if I was, I now knew that I was not alone.

Twenty-two years later I was present for Ant's funeral. This time I didn't have to go around the world, only 'across the ditch.' I travelled with my sister Jaine, who has lived in New Zealand for the past eleven years.  During the sun-filled day we met up with ten of our cousins, their spouses and children, aunts, uncles and distant cousins. To be amongst such familiar and familial faces, mannerisms, stories and senses of humour was a joy. When my cousin Aiden scratched the right side of his neck with a pointed index finger, just as my twenty-two-year-old travelling nephew had when he’d stayed with us during the Christmas holidays, my sense of belonging swelled.  I don't think these two had met; I don't remember my grandparents having this mannerism and so perhaps it really was genes that dictated that hand gesture. Throughout the day family stories came out in a variety of themes, depending how the storyteller remembered them, or who had passed on the story to the storyteller. The new and retold stories were received equally keenly. Did I regret going to the funeral ? No way. I loved it. My belonging tank had been topped up.

Uncle Ant was my ally who helped me see how living far away can be managed. His funeral reminded me that our family may be scattered, but we are all part of a warm and caring family network. We are allies. We may be disconnected geographically but we are connected by history, by genes, and by caring and family love.

My paternal Grandparents Phil and Grace Baker. 3/5 of their children went to Australia in the sixties.
Farewell to Grace and Phil as they leave UK to visit the Australian relatives

21 Mar 2019

Careless talk costs lives. NZ mourns.

On Friday 15th March 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand a man filled with hate shot and killed fifty people in two mosques.  Saturday morning my husband David and I spent three hours absorbing the TV coverage. Many of those killed and injured were migrants. There was a lot of talk about hate. We wept at the acts of compassion and love.
I came away wanting to know why someone would be so driven to carry out such a heinous act. Why would someone have so much hate? 

Like the world I am shaken that this has happened in gentle New Zealand. In our sadness we have to remind ourselves that the act on Friday was race motivated. Hate for a group that was different to the man who called the shots that day.

What do we know about hate?

  1. We hate what is different. The Psychology of Hate by Get Psyched stated we form an in-group and an out-group. We turn to our in-group for survival.
  2. Hate is driven by love and aggression. Love for the group you belong to and aggression for the group you don’t. You will probably feel that your in-group is right in all facets, and the out-group is wrong.
  3. Hate is driven by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that those in the out-group will affect those in the in-group. The killer's manifesto apparently said that he feared that Muslims would take over the world, and  "He wrote about becoming “increasingly disgusted” at immigrant communities."  
  4. Get Psyched suggested that we often hate other people who are achieving something we cannot or fear we cannot achieve for ourselves. Why would this man hate Muslims so much?  I wondered what the killer saw in the Muslim way of life that he felt he could not achieve in his? Like all religions Islam has obligations. Muslims attend the mosque for collective prayer, just as other faiths gather for collective prayer. Arranging your life so that you can pray at a mosque on a Friday, a western work day would take conviction. You would need a strong sense of identity. Maybe this man was missing that. Perhaps he hated the sense of purpose, faith and belonging he saw in Muslims. He envied it. I suggest he feared he would never have such conviction. Unfortunately for us, his hate gave him a strong enough sense of conviction to massacre fifty people.
  5. We are not born with hate. Hate is learnt from our environment. When 9/11 happened in 2001, the Christchurch killer was five years old. In the following ten or so years anyone with a beard and brown eyes seemed to be suspected to be a terrorist. If our social conscience develops at seven, then he had enough racism in his environment to form an opinion. This man’s hate may have been fueled by extremists on line, but the racism was also reinforced by his encounters with people he engaged with face to face.

There was racism before the internet. Many of us if not all of us would have heard a racist comment in social gatherings, a workplace, a party, a bar, a barbecue, a family dinner. What did we do when we heard those comments?

Over the last few days we have been moved by compassion and grief. As a nation we have laid flowers and donated money. We have attended vigils. We have wept. We have felt helpless what more can we do?

We can show some practical aroha (compassion.)
Love and compassion is the antidote to hate. We can show compassion by being more informed about the group that is different to us. We already have learnt more about the process for a Muslim funeral.  The more you know about the out-group, the less you will feel they are the out-group.

What else can we do?

Halt the hate. Stop racist comments gaining traction. When you hear a racist joke or comment, you could respond with, "Those comments are a bit out of date," or, “I'm going to disagree with you on that," or, "I don't see it that way."
With racist jokes, you could say, “I'm feeling uncomfortable about the victim of the joke," or, “I can’t laugh about that." Another suggestion I was given recently was to ask the joke teller to explain the joke which would produce an accountable if awkward silence.

Racist comments are often flippant or careless. Said by people who care less. Let us give new meaning to, “Careless talk costs lives.”
New Zealand is showing unity and love at the moment. Racism in New Zealand has been highlighted. Soon the flowers will be cleared away. There will still be racism. We need to continue to show aroha by learning more about people who are different to us. We need to halt the hate. We need to stop the careless talk by speaking out.

"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me."
Martin Niemöller