Twelve or so years ago my daughter returned home on the bus and when she got off, three boys – they were probably 18 or 19 - began abusing her and calling her a bloody Asian. She had never seen them before in her life. They had food and were throwing it in her face, they were coming nearer and nearer to her.

She rang me so I rushed to the scene and told them to go away. They didn’t, and they said to me, “F***** Asians go home to your country”, so I called the Police on my mobile. I made sure my daughter was OK, she was a strong person kind of like me. My daughter has passed away since then but the fact is no one needs to be treated like that.

Yes. We are Asians.

Yes. We were born in Asia. But regardless of where we were born, we are also human beings with feelings.

If you’re about to abuse someone think of your own daughter, sister, mother or family members: how would you feel if it was your loved ones who were being targeted and abused by strangers?

·  ·  ·

Many years back I was leading a NZ delegation to an international peace conference, there were twelve of us. When we returned back to NZ the customs officers detained me as well as searched my luggage. They wiped down my bag for drugs and held me for hours. Upon letting me go, the officer walked me out so I asked the officer why they chose to search me and he said the only reason was my Malaysian passport. They randomly stop people to check and people holding a Malaysian passport were a good target. There was no other reason. I felt really belittled because here I am representing New Zealand, helping to find ways to help our country promote peace and yet I am accused of carrying drugs for no other reason than my passport.

Discrimination happens everywhere not just in certain countries, but people should learn how to speak out instead of hitting out, I don’t believe in fighting. It is the lack of knowledge, if people would make efforts to understand about the other people more we would be able to live in harmony and that is why dialogue is so important. In the same token, instead of only focusing on us being discriminated against because we are immigrants, I often reflect on whether I myself have been discriminating against others. 

The young people from Asia coming here to study remind me of my own children, I just love them and I feel this because I am a parent. I think of all those parents who send their children to study in other countries, the sacrifice and anxiety this must take. If we think humanely, all we need is to apply the attitude as if we are welcoming them as guests to our home, meaning New Zealand. How would you treat your guests when you invite them to your home? It is not rocket science. I try to be a bridge to help bring people together so that their parents will feel their children are safe and being well cared for. Do what you want others to do to you, I believe in this. If I was sending my child overseas I would worry about them being safe, this is human nature. And I don’t believe it is just the Government’s responsibility or the school’s responsibility, it’s all our responsibility. We are all the host parents of NZ.

I want this story of mine to let New Zealanders know that I am so grateful, ever so grateful to be a Kiwi now. I love this country so much and I want to give back more. Let me tell you why.

I arrived in New Zealand in 1988 and a Maori person, Fred Parsons and his family were the first to welcome us here. I didn’t even know him before I arrived, I just got his phone number through the SGINZ Buddhist organisation. In Asia we would call Fred, my New Zealand Papa. It is because of their support that we were able to settle in and learn Kiwi culture. They met us at the motel, helped us find a room to rent and even recommended me to a restaurant owner to give me a job. I had no money and they offered to care for my daughter who was only 7 years old then while I worked. I offered to pay them but they refused to take any money from me. I can never forget their kindness to me and my family as in our Chinese saying, “Never forget the source of the water you drink from”.

Many Asian families who arrive in NZ have no family members here, so imagine when they are faced with challenges, they will have to deal with it themselves. We learn to survive in the midst of having language difficulties and cultural differences. But when New Zealanders embrace us, we will never forget them because we are grateful people.

I was born in Singapore but brought up in Malaysia, back there, people will say they do respect women but you really need to fight to get that status. Here I have to say I am so grateful because New Zealand has accepted me for what I am and given me the opportunity to do what I am passionate about. Often in our countries we do not have the chance to talk to the Government but New Zealand has opened the options so we can engage and have free dialogue: I find the politicians here are open and free to talk. There are many things I am so thankful for as a New Zealander.

So I am a community person and volunteer a lot. My destiny has drawn me to work for other people and this is what I have done for the past 28 years. It starts off with talking with people, they share their problems with me, we talk some more and we discuss more options so that they can find a solution.

I really think talking with each other, intercultural dialogue is the answer to a lot of problems we see in our communities. We don’t want our own groups just talking to each other: we need the forums to include everybody. So sometimes I will go to an Asian event and if there are only Asians there I think, where is everyone else? Sometimes I will be at a meeting that is supposed to help provide solutions for problems being faced by Asians but I am the only Asian there. We cannot solve the problems on our own we need everybody especially those affected.  For example, my daughter died young. If a meeting was called to work out ways to help grieving parents – but failed to include or consult grieving parents – then I don’t think the meeting will achieve the required outcomes.

Sometimes, talking with different kinds of people, will take you out of your comfort zone but you know what, you don’t always have to be comfortable. Sometimes being uncomfortable makes us better at working in harmony as humans. This is how you get to know each other, to get on with each other. This should be our goal.