We met Louise while we were in the research phase of Crossing The Bridge. She has been very active in Ashburton; working as the coordinator of a small organisation which helps migrants settle in Mid Canterbury and acting as a community connector between migrants and newcomers and the services and support networks that help facilitate transition and settling in. Louise herself migrated from Scotland with her family in search of a new beginning. Life in Edinburgh was fast-paced, the weather was terrible and she felt like her family needed a change. New Zealand gave them that and so much more and her family and herself have thrived since making their big move here.
When we meet Louise at her home in Ashburton, we enter spatial reality that in many ways reflects this sense of new beginnings. The Glennons are in the middle of renovations. They have bought a beautiful house and have been busy turning it into a home and it feels good. The energy is very positive, even though her dog is a bit grumpy! He is a rescue dog and he completed her family. Moving to New Zealand and choosing to settle in Ashburton were for Louise the best decisions she could have made. She tells us that her children are very happy here, they can play outside in the sun, take part in extra curricular activities, run around bare feet and they are safe. Her husband and herself love it too! They have found good jobs here, go on holidays and have been able to cultivate rich and fulfilling lives for themselves individually and as a couple. Yet, the transition had its challenges. Louise explains how the first few months were quite isolating. They didn’t know anyone, they had some problems finding the right house and everything was new and different. She missed her mum and her mum in turn missed the grandkids and herself terribly and there were moments when she felt alone. She explains that at the beginning, she was also looking for “that one person” to meet and make friends with… This happened one afternoon, outside school while she was waiting for her kids to come out. A bit over a year later, they are still friends and she has made many more connections since.
One could say that Louise’s experience is idyllic, or that she sees New Zealand with rose tainted glasses but I believe that that would be simplistic. Her experience is the sum of historical, economic and social dynamics related to European migration and human experience; in this case, that new beginning that was sought after by the family. Migration in an anthropological sense means human migration; the movement of large numbers of people across the borders of countries. Louise and her family migrated from on Western European country to another one in many ways similar in its political, social and cultural landscapes to the former. Europe across borders is a melange of geography, culture, civilisation, and religion and one country can find itself in another, I believe making things easier for people moving across European borders. There are many variances but the clash of cultures and the culture shock can be somewhat managed by a sense of common meaning round what it means to be European. This identity is one that many people find easy to hold in relation to national identities; with lifestyles, values and understandings being easily transferable. From an outsider’s perspective, I can see the similarities in experience but also in understanding between Petra, Pete and Louise. From an anthropological perspective, I wonder if there is room to develop a theory around a European Diaspora in New Zealand; one which by virtue of its common grounds with European New Zealand culture finds the transition easier and more fluid.
Nevertheless, Louise has a deep connection with the complexity of the migrant experience. While her own path has been an easy one, she is fully aware of the difficulties that others have faced in trying to rebuild a home here in New Zealand. She also understands that for a small town like Ashburton; changing as fast as Ashburton is, the influx of migrants can be scary. The Ashburton District Council published a report in 2013 which focused on the wide range of experiences of migrants settling into the district. The report identified a number of issues relating to migrants and newcomers and took an in depth look into the challenges faced by the district to develop a solid support framework to welcome migrants into our community. Among those, many migrants noted that there was “a need to encourage the host community to welcome, celebrate and embrace newcomer diversity, and further to enable newcomers to sustain and maintain their cultures / languages and to contribute their unique skills and perspectives into the wider Ashburton community. The organisation that Louise works for tackles those issues exactly.
Ashburton still has a long way to go to become a vibrant and inclusive multi- cultural community where to integrate will not mean that migrants need to assimilate to the status quo. However, people like Louise are laying the ground work for our community to thrive. This leads me to ask to you; yes, you who are reading this now…What are you doing to make your community more inclusive of diversity? What more can you do? Sustainable change starts small but with you and I and people like Louise. It becomes sustainable and grows and our communities become better for that… Have a think about it.