From Immigrant to New Zealander
Yvonne Wong's account of her families immigrantion to New Zealand. The story was submitted to the NZCA Short Story Writing competition.
From Immigrant to New Zealander
This story will recount how I became a New Zealand born Chinese through the immigration of my father and the subsequent arrival of my mother to New Zealand. This is retold in the context of the restrictions placed upon Chinese immigrants by the New Zealand Government between 1900 and the 1950s.
Loo Shick Lung left his homeland in Guangzhou, China in 1918 to seek a better life in New Zealand. At this time, Guangzhou was not only suffering from overcrowding but there was also famine and flooding. My father’s passage was paid for by a relative and repaid later. I believe my father was chosen from his village as he could read and write Chinese. My father was 15 years old. Before he was permitted to enter New Zealand he had to pay the £100 poll tax imposed on Chinese and also pass an English Literacy Test. This required him to read to the satisfaction of customs officials one hundred words of English picked at random. Chinese were classified as Aliens – the Yellow Race – and, as such, were thumb-printed on arrival in Auckland, like common criminals. After a short stint at the Waihi Gold Mine, Loo Shick Lung returns to Auckland to work as a cook in Chan Dar Chee’s fruit shop at No. 1 Queen Street. Chan Dar Chee was a major supplier to the shipping lines and hotels. My father’s accommodation was in a room above the shop. In 1929 he returned home to marry my mother. I do not know whether the marriage was already arranged before his return to China. After the birth of a son in 1931, Loo Shick Lung returned to New Zealand alone as New Zealand did not allow Chinese women to enter the country at this time.
My Mother and eldest brother
In 1937 Japan invaded China. My mother and eldest brother fled from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. They walked the route of the railway line until it reached the sea. This took around seven days and a lot of the time my mother piggybacked my six year old brother. When the railway line ended and the sea commenced a person who met them [and] put them on a boat to Hong Kong. In 1939 my mother and brother were part of a group of 249 Chinese wives and 244 dependant children allowed to enter New Zealand as temporary war refugee permits on humanitarian grounds. Entrance to New Zealand required a £500 deposit and a £200 bond per family.
When my mother and brother arrived in 1939 on the boat Niagara, my father was already market gardening on leased land in Onehunga. Their home was a railway carriage with electric lighting as was their only amenity. A cold tap in the garden provided water. There was a bomb shelter at the back of the garden. My brother started school in 1940 and recounts how he was teased as he spoke no English. My mother was “stateless” since Chinese women were not granted residency by the New Zealand Government until July 1947. Chinese immigrants were unable to become naturalised as New Zealand citizens until 1952. Our family grew by four during this time. In 1949, my eldest brother together with a relative started a fruit shop in Mt Eden which he still runs to this day.
Myself – a Chinese child in the 1950s
In 1952, our family moved to our own home and garden in Mangere Bridge. This same year my father bought a fruit shop in Karangahape Road. He was thinking of future jobs for his children. I started school and would walk there daily - rain, hail or shine. While I was occasionally called Ching Chong Chinaman, this was a milder form of racial discrimination compared to that my parents had experienced. My job after school was to go to the dairy to buy ½ loaf of brown bread for the next day’s school lunches. On Saturdays, we would chop wood for boiling the copper for our weekly baths and washing of clothes. We were loved, well fed, clean and proud to be Chinese.
Our family life reflected New Zealand values. Chinese New Year was a regular working day. We ate special food and children received red packets which contained money, which was banked. The only Chinese holiday celebrated by Chinese immigrants was 10 October – Double Tenth Festival – the Chinese Nationalist Day. Chinese businesses closed, market gardeners ceased working and children had a day off school. We would go to Mission Bay for a picnic and play games with other Chinese families.
Our lives became a comfortable blend of the two cultures, as wedding celebrations of the 1950s demonstrate. Whole families were invited. The bride and groom wore traditional European clothing, were married in a European church and the wedding reception consisting of European foods such as a ham salad followed by fruit salad and ice cream was held at the Farmers Tea Rooms, Hobson Street. Before eating, we would sing both ‘God Save the Queen’ and the Nationalist Chinese Anthem. The next day there would be a traditional Chinese banquet dinner for around 500 held in a marquee at the family residence. The food was all home prepared.
In the late 1950s, the first Auckland Chinese Community Centre was purchased in Symonds Street from donations from the Chinese community. It was the old State Theatre. On Sunday evenings there would be Chinese pictures and my parents would often attend.
By the 1950s we had assimilated well into the New Zealand society, and with my parents gaining citizenship, the transition from immigrant to Kiwi New Zealander was made. We were known as hard-working, law-abiding citizens. We dressed like everyone else, spoke English and at school we ate marmite sandwiches.