Thursday, 7 November 2013

Accepting Friend Requests

As far as I can remember, generations of Samoan migrants to Aotearoa have had mixed experiences about acceptance.  Waves of migrants arrived (no pun intended, as a few arrived here on boats), beginning with political prisoners exiled here during the New Zealand Administration of Samoa, fast forward through the decades to scholarship students arriving in the 1930s 1940s and 1950s to study (including trainee nurses and doctors who then returned to Samoa) and even, keen-as-mustard factory workers arriving in the 1970s to meet the labour boom. 

Growing up it was instilled in me from an early age that language fluency in my mother tongue was critically important. We were raised to believe that we were not Samoan unless we were able to speak our language fluently in the home, at church and more importantly to our church elders and older family members who we were taught to respect.  

Making friends growing up, I wasn't aware that I was of a different ethnic group (to most of my friends) until I attended a friend's birthday party.  

As birthday parties for primary school students go in the 1980s it was a festive affair, with balloons, sparkles and glitter all over the place, even cocktail sausages with Wattie's tomato sauce (ah nothing like processed meat on a toothpick), with a medley of A-ha/Madonna and Tiffany recorded carefully onto cassette tape, blaring from the gigantic stereo. 

It was time to open the gifts and my friend marvelled at each one she opened, followed by shrieks of delight with each gift revealed until she was covered in a mountain of wrapping paper.  By the time she reached my gift, it was the last one to be opened.  I had carefully wrapped up a shell necklace that my grandmother had brought from Samoa when she had come for a visit.  It was smooth and polished, made from tiny white and brown shells, and she immediately put it on.  She called out to her mother who had come into the room to see the gift.  She stopped in her tracks and asked my friend to take it off and put it away.  Her daughter refused and being 6 years old and having something pretty to wear around her neck, danced around the room and kept showing off the necklace to her mother, waving it in front of her cheekily as if in a dance of defiance.

The necklace to me represented a treasure that I wanted to give to my friend.
The look on her mother's face told me that she did not want her daughter to receive it.
I mean, the little dance of defiance didn't necessarily help the situation either, but hey I didn't teach her the dance.

The next day at school, I didn't see my friend at the playground.
After school, her mother came to collect her from school and I saw that same look in her eyes.  English was my second language, but her eyes told me to stay away, like I wasn't allowed to be friends with her daughter.

My grandmother had explained to me the significance of the necklace and the importance of giving gifts to people as tokens of love and respect and we expect nothing in return.

A memory for a 5 year old that replays in my mind when I think about accepting friend requests.