Up until now, the clamor of big cities - first Mumbai, then London had allowed me the space to entertain multiple affiliations. Making friends was easy (sweet as?) and I found my best ones in the most unlikely of places.
On arriving here, the prospect of finding my way in the city that boasts of being home to a total of 181 ethnicities, I was looking forward to experiencing diversity at its best. Ironically, I find myself insulated instead. I am left wondering and waiting for the elusive multicultural experience.
Auckland regularly features at the top of all the right lists and is pitched as a cosmopolitan city. Yet, community clusters are close knit. As per one New Zealand immigration report on social relationships and social support, migrants from South Asia find it easiest to make friends through ethnic associations here. Almost half make friends mostly with only those they share an ethnic background with.
In fact, not just South Asians, but all migrants who settle in the country’s most populated cities - Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and the Bay of Plenty are more likely to report to having all or most of their friends from the same ethnic group as themselves. The report links this to a higher proportion of migrants from the same ethnic group settling in regions of relatively high migrant density.
So, migrants cling to their ethnic identity and gravitate towards the nucleus of shared culture. Perhaps a tad insular, this attitude is not necessarily bad. During my first few months, activities that centered around the festive calendar, Indian food and Indian arts and music events took the edge off the customary migrant rite-of-passage downers. In fact, if there is a check-list somewhere of the typical migrant experience, then I will most likely check many of the boxes.
Besides, ghettos often are as old as the cities themselves everywhere in the world. The term “ghetto” originates from the name of the Jewish quarter in Venice, established in 1516, in which the Venetian authorities compelled the city’s Jews to live.
Evolving from the need for fulfilling a cultural void and a sense of belonging, the ethnic segregation I’ve encountered in Auckland is of course vastly different from the infamous ghettos of the past.
The community does have its own character and unwritten mores. Not often but sometimes this means a contagious parochial mentality going hand-in-hand with natural ethnic segregation.
Working around the invisible walls has set my settling period in Auckland apart. Besides, getting cozy in ethnic isolation in a city that promises so much is a waste of a move and is definitely a bummer.
Putting my trust in the old-fashioned list of things to do, and fuelled by good intentions I have chalked up what I refer to fondly as my Auckland Activities and Action Plan. Finding the doors that make way to knowing people from diverse backgrounds has been harder than I expected, but, I am not giving up just yet.
The plan is a combination of unfinished projects, places to visit and potentially life changing adventures. In fact, the more unrealistic and never-before-attempted plans are the better. From the simple desire to volunteer, trying home-baking, daring to freelance, learning a new language, learning to drive or auditioning for reality TV…if I’ve never tried it, Auckland presents the perfect opportunity. Bring it on.