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A successful community that adapts and adopts

To be a Punjabi or not to be a Punjabi? That is the Question!

Many migrant communities have asked themselves a similar question relating to their own identities.

In other words, can I keep my own cultural heritage and still become a Kiwi?

A resounding ‘Yes’ has been given to this once theoretical question, by the fact that New Zealand has been evolving , even if very unevenly into a multicultural society.

Until recently, all migrant cultures, and shame to say the indigenous Maori culture was included, were expected to be assimilated into the dominant English (note not Scottish, Irish or Welsh) colonial values.

Migrant children were not expected to retain the language or traditions of their parents if they were to be Kiwis. Many migrant parents bought into this as they did not think their children would be accepted or be successful at school or in careers if they did not.

But surprise! It was actually those migrants, confident and secure in their own language and traditions, who were successful in English and in adapting to the Kiwi way of life.

They also found a ready and willing audience among native-born Kiwis to accept, and indeed encourage the maintenance of original language and culture.

Not all Kiwis were so accepting of course, and many still do not.

Their prejudices were readily fostered by those politicians who claimed they were putting New Zealand first (No reference to any particular political party intended!).

Partners in Progress

Punjabis have been to the fore in the development of a multicultural society, blending the old with the new and enriching New Zealand by creating a country where different languages, religions, traditions and values can exist peacefully and cooperatively alongside each other to the benefit of all.

Punjabis were here along with the first settlers. They farmed, opened shops and entered trades. With successive waves of migrants, particularly after New Zealand abandoned the preference for migrants from Britain, the Punjabi community has grown and become a very large and beneficial influence on the country as a whole.

Punjabis have moved from traditional migrant occupations into the professions, government service, businesses across the spectrum and into academic life.

Punjabi is now spoken in the New Zealand Parliament.

Respected Religion

The Sikh religion is well known and respected.

Sports days and music concerts are attended not only by Punjabis but also by a growing band of other Kiwis.

Those younger Punjabis who are Sikhs and choose to wear traditional dress and males who sport beards and turbans do so confidently even though they were born in New Zealand.

Contacts with India and Punjab in trade, education, sport and tourism has grown enormously.

So the answer posed in the title is no long been answered.

There is no longer an agonising choice to be made.

You can be a Punjabi and a Kiwi or indeed any other combination of Kiwi.

There is still prejudice against the multicultural society but the Punjabi community, with its strong values, work ethic and positive contribution to Kiwi society in all fields over two centuries has been a major factor in the success of developing a multicultural society that works.

Matt Robson is a friend of the Indian community in general and the Punjabi Community in particular. He is the Deputy Leader of the Progressive Party and a practicing barrister and lawyer. He lives in Auckland.

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