Peter Heuweler


Peter Heuweler's portrait
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“Yeah people are always gonna judge you on where you’re from until they get to know you.”

Pete or Peter is very “German”. Our interview was straight to the point and he offered us clear and direct answers about his experiences first travelling to New Zealand and then deciding to move to Ashburton for a year because, as he told us, he “wasn’t done with it yet.” Yet, he has that “twist” that many travellers develop from absorbing elements of the culture and lifestyles they seek to explore and engage with.

Pete didn’t even know where New Zealand was before coming here. His first impression was that “the street were so much bigger… Twice the size of European streets.” What baffled him more was that “people wore boots with shoes.” He tells us that his initial sense of place was challenged in many ways, especially since he didn’t start work for a couple of weeks after he arrived. He tells us that one of the most challenging things for him was to get an IRD number. Apart from that and the slight language barrier, he nevertheless admits that there were no real challenges for him. Once he joined the garage in which he still works however, his life here started flowing more fluidly. He explains that work grounded him and that from then on, everything was easy. “You meet people, you go to the pub with him and from there everything is a lot easier.”

If there in anything to take from Pete’s musings about life in New Zealand as a migrant, it is the clear perspective he has of “home”. This was a concept that we were particularly interested in when developing Crossing The Bridge. Theories of home and the ways in which human beings embody space have punctuated anthropological inquiry because of our fascination as social and cultural beings with defining our experience of the world and place in it on the basis of how we situate ourselves within the different realities we engage with. As far as Pete is concerned, he developed a more astute sense of what “home” means to him once he detached himself from Germany and from what had ultimately always been his home… Discussing this concept with Pete, it becomes apparent that he has indeed created a home right here, in Ashburton; on Cambridge Street; even though he has lived here for a much shorter time than many of our other participants. We had to find out why…

Pete tells us about the potluck dinners that he attends on a regular basis and the people that he meets at his local supermarket. It strikes me that even though he has only been here for eight weeks, he already has a local supermarket. Writer Taiye Selasi developed a theory linking our understanding of home or our local place with  three Rs: rituals, relationships, restrictions and Pete’s experience living in New Zealand is definitely anchored in his own three Rs. Pete’s sense of belonging is not, unlike many, “multinational”. His experience of “home” is localised. He finds it in the routine that he has developed for himself; such as talking to his girlfriend every morning during his break, the places that he goes mountain- biking, the pubs he goes to with his workmates and the humour with which he reflects of Ashburtonians and of our day to day lives. There are also many more Germans now than in 2006, when he came to New Zealand for the first time and that probably helps! In addition to this, he feels comfortable in New Zealand because on a more rhetorical level, he is aware of the fact that while he is foreign, he doesn’t portray difference in the same way that other more “ethnic” migrants do and that this fact has opened up more opportunities for him to engage and connect with locals. Nevertheless, he tells us that he has been through some awkward situations in New Zealand, especially when people find out where he is from. His response; with a shrug and a cheeky smile is that “yeah…people will always judge you until they get to know you.”

Talking with Pete gave us the context to explore what identity means when thinking about migrants. When we ask, “Where are you from?” Taiye Selasi explains that we are using a kind of shorthand. It isn’t the specificity of the answer that we should focus on when considering the social implications of the migrant experience ; it’s the intention of the question.

What are we really seeking, though, when we ask where someone comes from? And what are we really seeing when we hear an answer? Is it curiosity or are we using this question as a mirror for making sense of our place within our own reality and ultimately our own home?