Way back in 1991 when I was returning to Auckland after five years in London, I fretted that I was leaving a teeming, polyglot city to return to a monoculture. Happily, it turned out not to be that way. The Maori cultural and political renaissance was manifest, and second and third generation immigrant kids had flowed into the central city. It was a better, more vital place.
At the same time, of course, Pacific Island families were being steadily gentrified out of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, the way they were out of Parnell in the 1970s. I'm not making any silly post-racial claim for the place. But Vaimoana Tapaleao's story in the Herald today, covering a New Zealand Geographic story based on new census figures, says this:
More than 200 ethnic groups are recorded as living here and Auckland is considered more diverse than London or Sydney, with 40 per cent of its population made up of different ethnicities.
It's not the first time Auckland has been characterised in this way, but it's interesting to see it again. The story also quotes Massey University's Paul Spoonley, who has a more detailed commentary on the census figures and other research on the Asia New Zealand Foundation website. Of his own work for the foundation, he says:
The results indicate an ongoing positive trend in attitudes towards Asians although it does go up and down. In 2013, there was a drop in positivity (or warmth in Asia New Zealand Foundation’s terms), as negative feelings went from 23 percent to 27 percent but this was balanced out by those whose attitudes had not changed or the 14 percent whose warmth had improved.
I would suggest that there are several factors being played out here. One is the size of Asian immigrant communities. At nearly a quarter of Auckland’s population, it would be unsurprising to see some concern at the size of these populations, especially as these communities group in particular suburbs (ethnoburbs) or business areas (ethnic precincts). This is reflected in one key reason provided by those who voiced concern – the increasing size of Asian populations. This is supported by added concerns about “Asians sticking together” or “not adjusting to New Zealand culture”.
However, given the size of these Asian populations – and the rapidity with which they have grown – it might be just as relevant to ask why there is not more concern amongst non-Asian New Zealanders.
There's evidence of a generally positive national attitude towards immgrants relative to other countries. A 2011 MBIE paper included this graph on the percentage of people who agree that "it is a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different races, religions, and cultures":
Again: tolerance, welcoming and real inclusion are quite separate things. None of them mean racism doesn't exist, still less economic inequality -- although social and economic gaps in Auckland are as much to do with geography as ethnicity. But it feels like a while since someone panicking about Mandarin being spoken on the high street was considered a headline.
Diverse Auckland has been a fact for long enough that kids have grown up with each other. When I put together the Orcon Next web video series for the Herald last year, I wound up featuring Aucklanders of Maori, Pasifika, Chinese, Indian and European heritage without even trying -- they were just the interesting people. And it just felt like Auckland. Am I being too rosy in thinking that this is a significant social change we are navigating more smoothly than might ever have been expected?