Talking Tiriti with ‘Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga’ ( an interview with MZ on politics and solidarity )

It is Waitangi Day at Waitangi – the usual banners are flying supporting various Tino Rangatiratanga aligned kaupapa. Among them a banner with ‘Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiranga’ is attracting attention. We sat down with MZ to talk about the group, activism and building solidarity between communities.
Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga with Marama Davidson at Waitangi 2016

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you into activism?

Ko Panshan te maunga
Ko Haihe te awa
Ko Tianjin tōku rohe
Nō Haina ahau
Ko MZ tōku ingoa

Da jia hao, I was born in northern China, migrated to Tāmaki Makaurau with my family in the mid 1990s. My grandparents are from Southwest China and central East, they were also migrants who left their hometowns for the big city to be factory workers and teachers. I’d say my grandparents are an indirect inspiration for my activism, learning from them about contemporary Chinese history – the famines, violence and poverty they survived from Japanese imperialism to civil war/revolution and then a state communist dictatorship.

In Aotearoa, I got involved in activism around 2005, first through anti-war, environmental and animal rights movements. I was in 5th form at the time and I also had a really good history teacher who talked about her involvement in the Springbok Tour and we were learning about Black Civil Rights, so understanding some of that history made me see that change through collective direct action is not only possible, but necessary.

How did Asians supporting Tino Rangatiratanga form?

This is a bit of a long story and I can only tell part of the story. I want to start by acknowledging the older generations because we are not the first Asians to be supporting tino rangatiratanga in Aotearoa. There were Asian treaty workers, people in Asian communities pushing for treaty education for migrants since the 1990s. Farida Sultana of Shakti was one of the people to challenge Pākehā treaty workers to make this education more accessible for migrants and incorporate this into migrant settlement projects. This history is still something we haven’t fully learnt about, and I’m not sure if it’s even written down, but luckily these people are still around and we’ve been fortunate enough to have met them now.

Then there were people like Mai Chen, Tze Ming Mok and Wai Ho, Ruth DeSouza, Manying Ip who have written about the treaty and colonisation or Māori-Chinese relationships in Aotearoa that encourages more Asian engagement and support for indigenous rights.

Tze Ming Mok one of the organisers of an anti-racist march organised in response to racist attacks in Wellington. (2004) “Do you know why some of us dread election year? Māori, Pacific and Asian people, refugees, people of the middle East and Africa, we’ll all undergo a miraculous transformation – from human beings, into political footballs. “
The march coincided with a New Zealand National Front demonstration against Asian immigration.

I had been exposed to the struggle for tino rangatiratanga through Māori activists I met from being involved in social justice, union and environmental movements.

When I was involved in activism in the early years, it was super rare to see another Chinese face around. So when I read Wai’s writing in the first Mellow Yellow zine talking about being Chinese on colonised land, I really connected with that and later connected with him. He used to do stuff with ARC (not sure if it’s Anti-Racist Crew or Aotearoa Reality Check), which was a mostly Pākehā group and they were mobilised around the Foreshore and Seabed Bill in 2004.  In 2007, he was part of organising a conference called “Sweet As?: Ethnic and Pākehā NZers talk identity and dominance on colonised land” and asked me to speak about activism and being Chinese on colonised land. I made some really important connections from that conference including Moana Jackson who has been really supportive of our rōpū.

Space, Race, Bodies II Conference, Ōtepoti, May 2016

After that conference, in 2007, the “anti-terror” raids happened. That was real in-your-face in terms of demonstrating that colonialism never ended.

I think in 2008, I went up to Waitangi just after the October 15th “Anti-Terror” raids with my Pākehā friends as we were doing solidarity stuff around that. They had a banner that said “Pākehā stand with Tūhoe” and asked if I wanted to hold it. I think I didn’t, but stood with them at the end but it just felt really lonely, like “where are my people at?”

Waitangi 2008
Waitangi 2008

Then in 2009, I went for a visit to see my family in China and brought this book that my friend gave me Jade Taniwha: Māori-Chinese Identity and Schooling in Aotearoa. That book gave me a better understanding of the relationships between Māori and Chinese in Aotearoa and how colonialism operated in Aotearoa. When I was in China, I contacted Wai about going up to Waitangi in 2010, ‘what do you think about going up with an “Asians supporting tino rangatiratanga” banner?’ He was keen, and he drafted a leaflet about why Asians should support tino rangatiratanga. We got in touch with the two other Asian people we met through activism, Shasha and Tania and we went up together. The response was mixed at that time, a few Pākehās being like, “good on you.”

We persisted in the groups and movements we were part of, mainly Asian feminist spaces to connect up people of Asian backgrounds interested in social justice activism, to examine the ways that we are also complicit in colonisation as settlers despite experiencing other forms of oppression. Thinking back, we spent a lot of time on building relationships and connections, organising hui, events and supporting in actions.

Fast forward to 2015. This is a kind of comical meeting story. I was at Waitangi on Waitangi day, on the hīkoi with my flatmate and her family who weren’t Asian, and I had the Asian Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga banner but nobody to hold it with. So I literally went up to the first person in the crowd that looked Asian and said, “um, I don’t mean to be presumptive, but would you wanna hold this banner with me?” and I showed her what it said. She then called over a friend who was also Asian and it turned out they were going to the Network Waitangi hui as well and were feeling weird about being asked to hold a “Pākehā against raupatu” banner. So this all started because of the Pākehā banners lol. Then we started talking and had a wee caucus at the Network Waitangi hui about how our backgrounds differ from Pākehā when it comes to treaty work and relationship to tangata whenua.

It wasn’t until this year that we became an actual group rather than an informal network. This year, about six of us Asians, including Amenda and Julie who I met in 2015, went up to Waitangi to be part of the Network Waitangi hui. Each person has their own story of how they got to this kaupapa. Most of us already knew each other before and had conversations about the limitations of Pākehā treaty work for migrants of colour but we connected up again up there. But another catalyst was when Marama Davidson made a post about us that went viral. It was encouraging to see that we’re on the right track with the amount of support from Māori. We suddenly started getting people contacting us for interviews and we were like, “okay, let’s get together and form a group.” There is still a lot of work to do in our communities and we never had the capacity or this many people together to work on this kaupapa before and felt like it was time to get more organised. So that’s how the group started.

In Aotearoa, “Asian” is often used to mean East Asian, but we use it more broadly to cover all of Asia from parts of Turkey to Indonesia. It’s a hugely diverse continent and Asian peoples cannot be homogenised. We all have very different histories of colonialism as colonised and coloniser countries. We really encourage all migrants from Asia to join us, or start your own group for supporting tino rangatiratanga.

Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga Panel at Social Movements, Resistance and Social Change conference, Wellington, September 2016

How are our struggles connected? How do we build solidarity?

I guess we’ve been connected through already existing relationships between communities. The struggles of Asian migrants especially around discrimination, marginalisation and scapegoating in Aotearoa needs to be understood in a context of colonial capitalist white supremacy locally and globally. Our struggles are connected through the structures created by colonial capitalism and our lived understandings of racism and white supremacy. But I think it’s really important for people of colour settlers to understand that systemic racism affects tangata whenua differently to migrants and we are still complicit in colonisation living on colonised land.

The dominant culture loves to play indigenous peoples and migrants of colour off against each other so they can maintain their system of power. An example is when Pākehā talk about “Asian invasion” and more recently, “Chinese colonisation” of Aotearoa and thinking like they know what it feels like to be Māori, appropriating indigeneity to spread xenophobia. This conveniently distracts from the systemic and structural problems that create conditions of inequality and divisions, so we’re too busy fighting each other and inscribing blame on the bodies of visible migrants for all the problems of colonial capitalism than uniting to dismantle their system that oppresses the majority of the world. On the other hand, for Asian migrants learning anti-Māori racism and anti-Pasifika racism is a huge part of assimilating to whiteness/the colonial culture and accepting the model minority myth. We are often by default entrenching settler colonialism.

If we look at the history of immigration policies and the history of prisons in Aotearoa, the colonial state was simultaneously trying to keep Asians “out” through the poll tax and other discriminatory policies and keep Māori “in” through the prison system.

Another way our struggles are connected is through global colonialism because many of the places we have come from has been under colonial and imperialist occupations or been colonial occupiers as well. For example, my hometown was occupied by the Eight-Nation-Alliance. British imperialism through the Opium Wars in the 1800s led to the Qing Dynasty being forced to sign unequal treaties that included concessions to imperialist powers such as Britain, US, Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Germany and Japan. The concessions were between 1860 – 1947, around the same time Britain was confiscating Māori land in Aotearoa.

In terms of solidarity, I’ve been really grateful to learn from Māori activists about the importance of relationships and whanaungatanga in building solidarity. I think this is really important for long-term sustained solidarity.

As a practical strategy, I think one of the ways we can support is by taking responsibility to engage and mobilise our own communities to stand with tangata whenua against ongoing colonisation. We’re also open to suggestions on what else we could do to contribute.

Can you tell us about a moment of solidarity (between communities of colour in Aotearoa) that inspires you?

After the Albert Park attacks on Asian international students earlier this year, some of the members of UoA Feminists of Colour organised a public forum that brought together Asian, Pasifika and Māori speakers and communities to hear an alternative analysis of what’s going on and tackle the issues of racism, policing, education exploitation and safety.

This was organised after another forum where politicians, police and head of education institutions spoke about the importance of Asian international students safety (with the undertone that they need protection because they are good for the economy), but did not address racism at all. In fact, some of them made racist remarks about the offenders, blaming their family for their violence, proposed harsher penalties looking to prison and more police solutions.

In an effort to bring communities together in solidarity to address this, there were speakers that addressed the lateral violence happening between Asian and Pasifika communities. It was inspiring to see Asian, Māori and Pasifika communities bridging that social distance and having a dialogue. This event was also translated live in Mandarin.

I have heard many other stories of and seen visible Māori support for migrant and refugee rights in Aotearoa, and it’s really heartwarming to see that kind of generosity and solidarity.

We need more people from migrant backgrounds standing up for indigenous rights too. We wrote an open letter to Don Brash about his little Hobson’s Pledge project, hopefully to nip his leveraging of multiculturalism for anti-Māori racism in the bud. This is like the visible political support, but the relationships built through being involved in movements – the friendships – are ultimately what has the power to shift things.

I am really optimistic that recently groups/networks like Pacific Panther Network and Racial Equity Aotearoa have come together and have been doing amazing work on mobilising communities of colour to stand in solidarity against injustices happening in the Pacific and worldwide. These groups and how they do solidarity really inspire me, the cross-cultural and intergenerational respect, sharing and care is really beautiful to be part of. #PolyAsianUnity2k17 lol

Pacific Panthers 2016

How can people connect with the group?

We have a Facebook page, Twitter and an email list where we send out irregular newsletters. You can sign up by emailing asians4tinorangatiratanga@gmail.com

We are always looking for people who can translate to non-English languages so we can communicate better with Asian migrant communities.

Most of us are based in Tāmaki Makaurau, but there are a few people in Pōneke and Te Wai Pounamu part of the wider network. Please feel free to get in touch!

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