We met Ginaefer by the duck pond in the beautiful Ashburton Domain. She chose that particular place because this is where she meets her friends to “hang out and talk about everything and nothing”. She moved to New Zealand from Manila when she was ten. She found out that she was moving here two months before her departure date and she tells us that she was shocked to find out that this country she knew nothing about was going to become her new home. The Teves moved first to Rakaia and then two years ago they moved to Ashburton. She didn’t really like living on a farm but what was scary was that she didn’t know how to speak English and couldn’t understand people much. She remembers that she started school pretty much straightaway and that it was totally different to what she knew. The language barrier was tremendously difficult for her to overcome and she found herself alone most of the time. Then she made a friend…
Ginaefer explains that it was a very nice feeling to meet someone from the Philippines whom she could connect with but also learn from when she met another young Filippino girl at school. She admits that she doesn’t find many kiwis friendly but that it might be because of the initial language barrier. She just feels more comfortable with other young Filippinos and most of her friends are children of migrants and migrants themselves. Yet, New Zealand has grown on her, Ashburton has grown on her and she has found joy in going to college and being able to learn a range of subjects that she may not have had access to if she had stayed in the Philippines. Ginaefer’s experience is very different to the that of the other young migrants we have interviewed. Culturally, the Filippino community is very well organised in Ashburton. Linguistically, they are very attached to speaking Tagalog and as Ginaefer says, “it’s much easier to talk in our language and the things we are interested in.”
When asked about the Philippines, Ginaefer has a hint of sadness in her voice. I notice it and ask whether she misses home. She tells us that she went back to the Philippines for a holiday and that it was very hard for her to leave. She says that she found herself realising how proud she is to be a Filippino and that when she left, she knew that sadly, it would be years before she could see the people she reconnected with…her family and her friends. Ginaefer has left the Philippines and built a life in New Zealand during her formative years; meaning that is old enough to have developed a dual cultural identity and evolved into a transnational migrant. She has assimilated the difficulties of her experiences related to moving to Ashburton and still feel strongly connected to her roots in the Philippines. These allegiances are not antithetical to one another.
Filippinos have formed a very dynamic transnational community here in New Zealand and in Ashburton. At some stages in their lives they are more focused on the Philippines while at others they are more involved in their country of reception; in this case, New Zealand. Similarly, they are active in two different realities, often sending money back home and cultivating strong ties to their circles back in the Philippines. Many other migrant communities in New Zealand go through similar phases; especially those in the farming industry in rural regions. Together, they can influence our local economy, culture, and everyday life. These organized transnational migrant communities challenge notions about gender relations and even democracy. Are you wondering…Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Some anthropologists say believe that countries need newcomers to subscribe to a core set of shared values to continue to survive and thrive. If people stay active in their homelands, they say, how will these migrants contribute to the countries where they settle?
Transnational migrant communities such as Ginaefer’s Filippino community in Ashburton, are not a long-term threat to assimilation, nor do they take away from migrants’ ability to contribute to and be loyal to their host country. As increasing numbers of migrants live parts of their social and economic lives across national boundaries, the question is no longer whether this is good or bad, but rather, how to ensure they are protected, represented, and that they contribute something in return.
When migrants live their lives across national borders, they challenge many long-held assumptions about membership, development, and equity. Understanding this reality requires new creative tools. It also requires new policy responses.