Fiesty Silvia Zonoobi



Back in 2003, John Roberts – a man-aging director of McCann-Erickson NZ, had just arrived from different parts of Asia when he saw a new billboard at the top of Queen street in Auckland City feat-uring a picture of New Zealand’s First Party Leader Winston Peters which read the following in bold-face: Immigration’s Up, Treaty Costs Up, Crime’s Up. Had enough?” What it insinuated was that New Zealand was still largely racist.


I’d been living in Asia for just under six years, and whenever people asked me how migrant-friendly New Zealand was as a nation, I said we were very, very migrant friendly,” said Roberts.So I started sifting through some independent research groups that we run, some really quite distasteful racist comments were coming up,” he added.


Mr. Roberts believes comments like these were a reaction to how New Zealand has changed.Auckland is a great example,” he remarked.You walk down Queen Street now and to be honest you could be in Hong Kong or Singapore. The look of the place has changed, and I think that’s scared people.”


At the time, more than 200,000 Asian migrants have arrived in New Zealand since 1983 and it was officially estimated that Asians would make up over 15% of New Zealand’s population by 2021. Most Asian migrants choose to settle in Auckland – the city is home to an estimated two-thirds of all Asians in New Zea-land.


Joris de Bres – New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner, also observed that the rise in the Asian population was a mirror of what happened 38-years ago when large numbers of Pacific Islanders arrived in New Zealand to ease New Zealand’s labour shortages.In the 1970s there was a similar opposition to Pacific migration,” he said.In the first years of the 21st century, that op-position has moved among a percentage of the population to Asian migration. And at the same time people are saying they are perfectly happy now with the numbers of Pacific Islanders here.”




Ironically, a few months after de Bres’ had made those remarks came news about the Jewish cemetery attacks in Wellington and the bashing of several young Somalis by skinheads. The occur-rence of this event in 2004 it seems, emphasized that racism in New Zealand went far deeper than the presence of Pa-cific Islanders or Asians, and that politi-cal society and the media encouraged racist stereotypes and ethnic scapegoat-ing for the country’s perceived woes.


Then, tensions ran high. Anti-racist activists took on the New Zealand National Front – a small extreme rightwing political party who staged a protest attended by an estimated 45 persons in Parliament. The 4,000-strong counter-demons-tration organised by the Multi-Cultural Aotearoa coalition marched in strength to expose the sympathies of the National Front and to affirm diversity in New Zealand and reject racist ideology. With such numbers in tow, the National Front quickly exited parliament’s doorsteps by the time the coalition’s march was halfway up Lambton Quay.


As they arrived, a male news reporter who covered the event managed to get hold of a women leading the march (see image right, the lady with a headscarf), He asked her what the coalition’s goals were that day.Our first goal was to stop the National Front from staking any claim on this country,” she ex-plained.Whether or not they are listen-ing, we, all of us, have a responsibility to turn that bigotry around. And we who are here Pakeha, Maori, Asian, Pacific, African, Middle-Eastern, are doing it already in the stand we’ve made today for the inclusive society we all deserve. It’s not too late for New Zealand. We have the best chance of any country in the world to make this happen, and that’s why my family chose to come here. Today, we’re making a positive statement, a positive difference.”


That feisty woman was none other than Silvia Zonoobi – the first person of Filipino descent to be awarded with a prestigious New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) award in 2003 from Queen Elizabeth II for services to refugees and migrant communities.


These days, Silvia (see image below) is one of the persons who heads the Alay Community Centre for Refugees & Migrants. The Centre does advocate work for refugees and migrants; part-takers in many research and community events; a good contact for individual or group of people connecting other ethnic com-munities; and, provides information for health, education, employment and immigration.




According to the Oxford English Dictionary, racism is a belief or ideology that all members of each racial group possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, in particular to distinguish it as being either superior or in-ferior to another racial group or racial groups. Racism acts as a justification for non-equal treatment – which some regard as “discrim-ination”, of members of that race. The term is commonly used negatively and is usually asso-ciated with race-based prejudice, violence, dislike, discrimination, or oppression. Racial-ism is a related term, sometimes intended to avoid these negative meanings.


The United Nations does not define “racism” per se but it does define “racial discrimination” as being: “ … any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or pre-ference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”


One good example that makes a case for possible racial discrimination in New Zealand is this: although people’s qualifications and experience and skills have been assessed at the time before they migrate to New Zealand, when they come here they find their skills, qualifications and experience are not worth anything. That’s mainly because New Zealand employers are looking for the much bandied about ‘New Zealand Experience’ – a distinction that passes for an excuse which apparently most new migrants are said to lack.


The Human Rights Commission in New Zealand was created to provide better protection of human rights in New Zealand. It works for a fair, safe and just society, where diversity is valued, human rights are respected, and everyone is able to live free from prejudice and unlawful discrimination. Its job is to:


  • advocate and promote respect for human rights in New Zealand;
  • encourage harmonious relations between individuals and among the diverse groups in New Zealand;
  • lead, evaluate, monitor and advise on equal employment opportunities; and,
  • provide information to the public about discrimination and to help resolve complaints about discrimination.

The Human Rights Commission in New Zealand offers a free, confidential service for members of the public with human rights enquiries and complaints of un-lawful discrimination.




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