I grew up wanting to grow up. The front lawn of our family home in Glen Innes boasted grandma’s spectacular garden, and the rest was fair game for bull rush and my uncle’s cars. I wasn’t preened to reach my early 20s and take off overseas to ‘find myself.’ Fair or not, as a young woman of colour, growing up as a teen it wasn’t unusual for people to smile when I answered pointed questions that yes – I was still in school and no, I didn’t have any children. I never found these assumptions prejudicial, I was proud to be ‘growing up’ and I was used to encountering an ongoing litany of – where are you from dear? or – are you going back to your island for christmas? comments from taxi drivers, teachers, my friend’s parents and even my partner’s family – I took those social cues as my norm, perhaps an unwarranted, unfair norm – but my norm all the same. I never complained about being asked if I spoke my ‘own language’ the people asking had genuine grounds to create new ground – they came from a different world.
When I decided to leave New Zealand and move to London it seemed like a natural progression for career development. I wasn’t looking for an OE, and I especially wasn’t looking to ‘find myself’ something only my privileged peers had been cultivated to expect. I was quite happy with what I found of myself in my family and my community. During my late teens I admired and pitied the hordes of young middle class – off to retrieve themselves offshore. They had apparently left themselves in places they had yet to venture, they were waiting in Brazilian foliage, they were ready to pounce in the shadows of New York, the rest of them lay somewhere dormant and far away in the arms of a stranger – the boss of their dreams – a professor, a mentor, an other – somewhere else was their self.
My life has been a series of collective truths, I went to a high school whose principal was married to the daughter of my grandmother’s best friend. I went to the university my mother and my aunties went to. I worked where my father worked. I published my book with good family friends. I lived a life that was more like a plait than a path – it was a conscious advance of a village, people who looked like me, who loved me, who shared the same blood and or values.
The moment I left New Zealand I left that plait behind, and unwittingly, I have found myself – in unusual places, in unimaginable situations and inside of moments where I feel most vulnerable and alone. I look back at the land where I come from and I realise that land is more love than mud, more intimacy than ocean, more closeness than mountains. I don’t see Aotearoa when I close my eyes, I see the people that have made me.
It can’t be simply financial when viewing why it really is such a rarity to meet other young Polynesians in London, I understand now – our heart’s desire, our essential collective truth, is found where we are born – inside of the familial construct. I say I have found myself, because it is a self a part from ourselves. Still my ‘self’ is generated and encouraged by the love of what is behind me and the truth of what lies ahead for us all if I can manage to create new paths for the younger ones in my family.
I have always considered myself to be explicitly independent, the reality is far from it, consider my works as an artistic being and you will uncover writings that illuminate my experiences of my culture. If you consider my career path to this moment, you will see an undeniable social slant towards creating opportunities for others. It seems, all of the nights I spent writing alone, I was writing my way into something collective, I was focused on presenting a new platform from which young brown women could stand, and share in each other’s truths.
As I venture into the private sector and I begin to create my own identity away from the pack, I am actively seeking to hone the parts of myself that I deeply respect in others. In my strength and resilience I find my grandparents, in my opinions and confidence I find my parents, in my humour and positivity I find my aunties and uncles, in my openness and kindness I find my siblings and my cousins. When I am navigating my new self, in a sea of selves, interestingly – I find the ones I love again, and again. Isn’t life a bit beautiful and funny like that.