The issues of immigration and connecting with mainstream New Zealand emerged as the key talking points at the Office of Ethnic Affairs EthnicA conference in Auckland last weekend.
The conference, held at Alexandra Park, attracted about two hundred people, including many from ethnic communities.
The Director of the Office of Ethnic Affairs, Mervin Singham welcomed guests by setting the scene of New Zealand’s diversity.
“Diversity has changed our DNA forever, there is no turning back. Discussing diversity issues will unlock potential and solve some of the challenges we face.”
The keynote speaker, Sir Ray Avery told the audience that being a New Zealander is a state of mind, not a place of origin and migrants to New Zealand can often see opportunities that Kiwis do not.
Sir Ray is a scientist, businessman and philanthropist who was named New Zealander of the Year in 2010 and he shared his views about New Zealand’s potential.
Ethnic Affairs Minister, Hon Judith Collins said she is impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit in ethnic communities.
“Diversity is a positive force, which broadens New Zealand’s horizons,” she said.
A session discussing New Zealand’s immigration trends heard from Professor Richard Bedford who believes the wellbeing of migrants to this country needs more consideration.
Professor Bedford, is a specialist in migration studies at the University of Waikato and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the Auckland University of Technology.
He told the conference that migrants should not be thought solely as “economic units” and that the social welfare of newcomers also needs to be part of Government policy.
A lively discussion about the ethnic community contribution to the arts sector heard from the first African to be employed as a Shortland Street doctor, Brian Manthenga.
The soap star, who had never acted before arriving here several years ago, described New Zealand as a country that offers great opportunity.
However, he made the point that migrants have to be ready to be persistent and grab opportunities.
“A closed mouth does not get food,” he said.
During the day, the Office of Ethnic Affairs asked the audience to take part in a telephone poll, and identify what, out of four choices, was the most important issue for them.
Of the 90 people who responded 38 per cent chose “connecting with mainstream New Zealand” and 35 per cent opted for “support to gain employment.”
“Information for new migrants” received 15 per cent of the votes and “preservation of cultural identity” received 12 per cent.