Bikash is possibly one of the most successful migrants that we had the pleasure to meet during our research. He hails from Votualevu, Fiji and worked as a teacher before resigning and relocating to Ashburton. His wife is also an educator. When they moved to New Zealand, Rohini worked as a relief teacher after successfully becoming certified to teach. During that time Bikash tried different things before settling for exploring his ambitions to become a businessman. Community is very important to his family and himself and as we sat down in his new house to discuss his experiences he soon opened up about their decision to band together with the rest of the Fijian migrant community to respond to the needs of their community back home after a major cyclone hit the islands and caused a lot of damage. He tells us that while migrants do not necessarily earn a lot, for many, sending money back home is a good cause and if that money can help improve the living conditions of their families and communities back home, then the sacrifice is worth it.
He remembers that the biggest challenge for him was the language barrier that he had to overcome as he was learning to navigate his way in an English speaking country. Ashburton was a totally different town and he had to learn everything by himself. “If you don’t know English you cannot communicate and the other side cannot understand you.” There were other challenges; for example, where to buy groceries from, where to find play centres for the family, where to buy a car, how to access healthcare and how to create a fulfilling life. As he opened up to us, he began talking about the feelings of insecurity and powerlessness that he felt and remembered that if was difficult for him to not only restart a whole life, but also relearn the basic cues to integrate the local community. Work was for Bikash the outlet through which he gradually built a routine and started connecting with people. He was one of the first Fijians to migrate to Ashburton and for the first months; away from his home, he missed the comfort and independence that a familiar place brought. Being alone, he craved the support of his Fijian community and culture. “We can’t change and do not want to change our culture. We keep on taking our culture with us. Finding friends from our own country gives us more power and a deeper sense of belonging” he explained, when we asked him about whether he sought out Fijian connections after settling in Ashburton.
Bikash explains that Fiji is itself a very diverse country. He identifies as a Fijian Indian, but at home, “they call us kiwi now”. He is a proud Fijian but he also confides that he felt immense pride at receiving his “black passport”. As far as he is concerned, his loyalties lay in both countries; the one where he was born and the one which has given him so much and allowed him to thrive and empower his family. In return, he gives back a lot. He co-founded the Indian Multicultural Society and works towards uniting migrants of Hindu faith and creating a space where Hindu religious and cultural identity can be celebrated and shared. One of their ongoing projects has been the celebration of Diwali, the Indian festival of light; which brought together 400 people in Ashburton in 2015. He explains that this festival represents something that the members of his community can give in response to everything that the local community has given them.
Anthropologists have compared modern celebrations of festivals to traditional society’s public rituals, which reflect and justify contemporary values and social situations, and which offer a vision of the future. The celebration of Diwali embodies the creation of this vision of the future as Ashburton’s demographic is changing with the influx of migrants from around the world. While he admits that the festival that the Indian Multicultural Association organises is but a small taste of Indian culture, many people in Ashburton may have not been to Fiji or India and do not know anything about Diwali. This festival is an opportunity for the Indian migrant community to open up to the community which has welcomed them and invite locals to share in their ways of life. “Different cultures have different ways of praying and celebrating but at the end of the day, our prayers have the same meaning.” For Bikash, knowing is the first part of understanding and he believes that this process will lead to us to embrace one another as a community and celebrate our diversity.
We asked Bikash whether he thought that moving to New Zealand had changed him and changed the ways in which he identified with his cultural identity. His response was that if anything, moving away from Fiji had made him stronger and it had also led him to realise how much he loved his culture and was proud of it. New Zealand is his home and Ashburton is his home town. He gradually misses his “home” in the Fiji Islands a bit less as he builds a successful life in New Zealand with his family, but his heart remains true to his roots. Passing this sense of belonging on to the future generations is very important to him; especially in relation to the Indo- Fijian mothertongue; Hindi. He wants his young son to get the best of both worlds but he hopes that Veehan will one day seek to gain more knowledge about his Indo- Fijian roots and culture and engage with his heritage. As for other young Indo Fijian New Zealanders such as Jestena, a friend of the family whom we interviewed after we wrapped up, he wishes them to find the strength to stay true to themselves but also work hard here in New Zealand for in his own words, “we came here with a bag of clothes but we kept on learning and working hard to get to where we are…Migrants have different ideas in their mind as to why they come here but my advice is work hard and the time will come for you too.”