Jestena Raj


Jestena Raj's portrait
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“I would like to go to university. I would like to get a degree and I would like to be a pharmacist”

Jestena is thirteen now.  She was twelve when we interviewed her.  She has been in New Zealand since 2010. When she arrived in New Zealand, she lived with her aunt in Ashburton and her family and herself have been in Ashburton ever since. Her first impression of the town was that it was cold! Hailing from beautiful Fiji, the weather was a bit of a shock for her but then starting school made dealing with the weather look like a piece of cake. Her English wasn’t very good and she didn’t know anyone and she had to push herself to learn English so that people could understand her. She also missed her family back home a lot and missed the warmth of her home country. In spite of having grown up here in New Zealand, she still talks fondly of Fiji; but New Zealand is also her home.

She recalls that she noticed people pronounced words very differently here in New Zealand and that at the beginning the accent used to confuse her…and still does now sometimes! Luckily, she made lots of friends very fast and they helped her to get used to the strange Kiwi accent. Jestena was the third young migrant that we interviewed and many themes already seemed to appear. For instance, the children all loved the school system here more than the one they had been previously enrolled in at home, especially thanks to the balance between work and play that allowed them to live and thrive outside of the prescribed academic curriculum. They also relished in the fact that kids seem to have less homework here in New Zealand! Yet, they also all identified very closely with their cultural identity, even though for some, like for example Jestena, memories of home were becoming more and more distant.

Jestena identifies as an Indian- Fijian. During our interview, she discussed her religious beliefs, her respect of dietary laws and sense of belonging with the rest of the community. She talks about the Diwali festival that her community organises here in Ashburton and explains that she enjoys being able to practice her culture here in New Zealand. At only twelve, she tells us, “I am proud to be Indian- Fijian. I consider myself a Fijian Indian New Zealander even though it sounds really weird.”

There are nevertheless some difficulties with growing up in two different cultures. Food for instance is a occasionally a challenge for her. She explains that most commercial and all school kitchens serve beef and pork and that she has to be careful of what she eats so as to adhere to her religious values. In anthropology, Without knowing, Jestena has just touched on a highly controversial and very important aspect of understanding and embracing migration. Indeed, integrating religious minorities has been the subject of many public anxieties in host communities of Western and European descent and a highly contested topic. European countries are grappling with ways to accommodate minorities while upholding national values. Getting the balance right has not been easy and some policies have drawn public support in some quarters but been criticized elsewhere as an attack on ethnic minorities and their ways of life. In New Zealand, the rapid pace of demographic change has exacerbated public anxieties about how immigration has altered local communities, but according to Jestena, Ashburton seems to get it right. She often has to explain to her friends why she cannot eat certain food or do certain things and in the end, “they always understand”.

What is more difficult to deal with for Jestena, however, is the generational clash between her parents and their cultural values, which are very deeply engrained in their own experiences of growing up in Fiji; and her own, coloured by her own experiences as an Indian Fijian New Zealander. She tells us for example that “my mum was brought up going to school, doing chores around the house and cooking. My mum grew up learning how to cook when she was twelve…I can’t cook an egg but I can play the violin though!”