Tuesday, 25 October 2016

To strike or not to strike: The repercussions of being a 'big mouth' who cares.

So today I participated in a New Zealand Tertiary Education Union protest around seeking a better deal for Professional Staff at my place of work - notably for those who are paid lower than the current living wage for the incredible amount of work that they do.

Because I participated in this protest, I and other colleagues will have an hours worth of our salary deducted from our next pay round to reflect what I am being made to feel is considered civil disobedience lol.

I just laughed at that but really I am baffled. Working in the tertiary sector is not what I imagined it to be. It's not a 9 -5 job. You can't just leave work at work. I bring work home every day. I miss out on so many family/friend moments because I'm constantly doing work. It's not a 9-5 job because my students also work full time. They send me work at 11.00pm. In my bid to build and maintain an international profile (one of the requirements) I am up skyping and emailing at ungodly hours. I know for other people in other sectors this is also true.

The tertiary sector is in a constant state of endless change. Although public investment in tertiary education in NZ is high (in comparison to the OECD average) much of that goes to students as loans and grants than as direct funding to institutions which means Universities have to act more and more like businesses to stay afloat - at least that's what I'm told. One of the benefits of today's protest was the opportunity to talk to other union members about the ever increasing workloads, the lack of appreciation for the over-and-beyond (what we get paid) service to further the character, aims, goals, aspirations and public profile of the institution. Not to mention the collective sense of surprise and disappointment at the uncalled for reaction of the employer - given the incredible amount of unpaid work we all contribute in our various roles.

The last time this protest happened, the reaction was the same. I beamed with pride as other colleagues collectively noted their dissatisfaction with the response from the ivory tower, coupled with anecdotes of the over-and-beyond service this place so much depends on in order for it to be the best it can be - for our students.

Although I don't earn as much as my other colleagues :'( I was happy to sacrifice what little I had in support of this cause. I then went back to my office and finished late again because at the end of the day - the work still has to be done. Four Universities were engaged in some form of collective action today I was told.

And here I am at home, on my laptop, about to respond to emails and work on other projects I have due. And the fight continues. #TEU

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Emancipation of Pati & the Validation of Me.

On finishing my copy of "Out of the Vaipe", I felt a strange sense of completeness. A bewildering peace took over, and I suddenly realised this is the first time I have felt like this in a long time. The first time, I, as a Samoan, living in NZ felt validated, felt I was finally visible within a piece of literature! I felt real. I wanted to write and profusely thank the professor. I wanted to give him a gift of thanks. But what could I give? And what words could I draw upon that would rightfully acknowledge my whole hearted appreciation of this latest piece of work, and of him, and the impact it has had on me?

I begin humming. 'Butterfly'. Most people who know me know I worship at the temple of Ms Carey. I know what you're thinking. Mariah Carey and Albert Wendt - how absurd. I did worry how the Professor would take being compared to Mariah - on the surface level - to many a pop star, but an artist in her own right.

There are however some connections that can be made. The two of them represent the best in their fields.  Mariah, the number 1 selling solo/female artist of all time, and Pati - the Pacific's greatest literary hero - of all time. Sure the thematic focus of their work is markedly different - however those of you who are able to look beyond the glitz and glamour of the 'Touch My Body' - Mariah will appreciate the depth of her work, and understand how her pain and life experiences feature ever so melodically and soberly in works like 1991's 'Vision of love', 1995's 'I am free', 'Looking In', 1998's 'Outside', 'Butterfly', 1999's 'Petals', 'Can't take that away', 2001's 'Reflections' 2002's 'Through the Rain', and 'My Saving Grace', 2005's 'Fly Like a Bird'2008's 'I wish you well'.

These to me were/are more than mere pop singles - they are anthems that a lot of people have connected to in different ways. Music is an art form that is able to express and understand that which social conversation often shuns and ridicules. The power of validation can thus take shape in many different forms. 

It's true what they say about indigenous people who struggle in education systems that rob them of their cultural identity, glossing over indigenous stories as Wendt highlight's in 'Vaipe'. I had similar experiences in the NZ education system, gripped with the same anxiety, self doubt and hopelessness as a result and what I suspect was the purpose of the entire system at the time. I too had no stories that I could connect to. I learnt about the American Wild West - how settlers begun their lives in their new lands, constantly plagued by the Natives who lived there. We learnt about Australian ore mining in geography (zzzzzz), Shakespearean literature in English, and very little about Aotearoa's history - history from the perspective of it's indigenous peoples. 

At the same time, mainstream media and society were promulgating extremely negative perceptions of what it meant to be a Pacific islander in NZ. The forever present and growing gaps in academic achievement, the predominant focus of high rates of crime and poverty in low socio economic areas where most of us lived. There was no escape. And although I loved learning and gaining insights from different aspects of the Western World, I struggled as a younger version of myself, to balance a strong cultural identity and way of living at home, with an education system and society that basically whitewashed and sought to exterminate everything we knew, and everything we were.

I immediately drew upon Carey's extensive catalogue for solace, comfort, and hope. At the time, she was the only person I felt who was speaking clearly to those who did not conform to mainstream social stereotypes of gender/race. Mariah, through her art spoke of the struggles of being Bi Racial in a largely racist America, the identity crisis brought on by the obsession of other's and their need to feel superior and constantly question difference (Outside). I connected quite easily to messages of hope, serenity and the drive to break through and to break free (Butterfly). I dreamed of a future where Pacific people in NZ would no longer have to be treated and viewed in this way (Vision Of love/ Heavenly). It was Mariah and Me. She was my 'hero' from afar. 

My parents were my local heroes, but their lived experiences and journeys were markedly different from mine. Complaining about how unfair the world was thanks to capitalism and how western education systems diminish indigenous identities and cultures appeared pretty rich for someone who schooled in the land of 'milk and honey' and did not have to 'walk miles barefoot on rocks in the sweltering sun and monsoon-like rain with no lunch to get to school'! Got it every time :) They did what any good Samoan parent would do, which was to 'encourage' (in the broadest sense, sometimes by force) their children to get on with it :)

Having finished 'Vaipe', I felt a strong connection to Professor Wendt's life and story. Another not so far away hero. Although we are not connected by blood, I felt connected to him as a fellow son of Samoa - spending much of his life outside of the homeland. At the book launch  I felt at ease knowing that even at this stage in his prolific career, he still get's nervous about things like public speaking. I felt a strong connection to the reality of this great man, stripped bare for all to see. I connected to his love for family and friends, his passion for learning, and an ever present feeling of self-doubt and nervousness. I too eagerly awaited 'fagogo' from grandma Mele, smiled in acknowledgement of his scholarship. I also felt his dread and fear as he departed Samoa for Taranaki. I cried when he received that fateful letter about his mother. 

I entitled this piece 'The Emancipation of Pati' because of the sense I got from both the book launch and from reading this book, that it's production and completion represented a sense of emancipation. A great achievement of sorts which captures ever so poetically different moments of the Professor's life. A life which he said he 'carefully sifted through' in order to produce for public consumption. He alluded to other stories remaining untold, and the potential for those stories to hurt those he loved. Initially I was curious to know what those stories are. I then continued to read and that curiosity vanished. I respect his answer. The Professor makes it rather clear that he and his experiences are only part of the puzzle that is life. His wonderfully articulate and clear conceptualisation of the 'va', and the significance of relational space(s) to him affirms this.

I am not sure what else an Emeritus Professor and Great Chief would have left on his list of things to do/achieve at this point in his life - but I hope he can lay to rest all those anxieties and fears he felt over the years, and enjoy his emancipation; and join in the celebration of his legacy. I am certainly enjoying my validation :)

You can get your copy of 'Out of the Vaipe' right here!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Yes this was the most exciting thing to take place on a Tuesday night! And the most important! The first of the #TPPADontSign tours/public meetings took place in the Auckland Town Hall tonight. 

I wanted to learn more about what other great atrocities this government continues to commit, and so I watched enthusiastically tonight to listen and learn from the voices and insights of the experts, Professor Jane Kelsey from the University of Auckland and fellow International TPPA expert Lori Wallach followed by commentary from political party representatives in NZ opposed to the TPPA.

If you don't know by now, the TPPA stands for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Background information on the TPPA, who it involves, and what it means for ordinary citizens like you and I, is nicely summarised here http://itsourfuture.org.nz/what-is-the-tppa/

Essentially, the gist is that our rights as citizens, our democracy and freedom of choice are being undermined. Sold off to Multi National Corporations (MNC's). In addition, the process to which NZ has signed up and 'consulted' on this agreement has been terribly flawed. The National Government have all but lied, and kept in secret the true intentions of such an agreement. Professor Kelsey highlighted how the recent National Interest Analysis (NIA) (a document required ahead of parliamentary selection committee inquiry) is yet another set of lies, 'devoid of independent insight', by a government desperate to sell the TPPA as a winner.

Marama Fox of the Maori Party put it bluntly when she declared that the audience (country) was now experiencing what Maori had experienced (and continue to experience) over 175 years ago, having their sovereignty ripped away! The Maori Party came out quite clear and strong outlining where they stood on the issue! Anything that jeopardizes the the Treaty will be opposed by them! Marama also rightly asserted that what work's for Maori - works for the rest of us.

The Green's Meitiria Turei was the only political party (leader present) representative who boldly claimed that if in Government, the Greens would work to pull NZ out of the agreement and that any such future agreement would require a fair and transparent process that considered the impacts on both the people and the environment. Labour's Grant Robertson spent the first half of his 8 allocated minutes romanticizing over Labour's legacy and impact on trade historically, also attempting to promote Labour's housing policy. While it was clear from Robertson that Labour were firmly against the process this government has taken on the TPPA, it was not all clear that the Labour party would vote against it. Robertson then finished by unconvincingly stating that the Agreement did have some economic benefit, before running out of time.

NZ First's Fletcher Tabuteau agreed that there would be some increase in GDP, 1% to be exact and that it would only benefit MNC's already trading in NZ. NZ First was quite clear in it's stance against the agreement.

Expert papers have been drafted which consider the impact of the TPPA over 5 broad key areas which you can access here including: 

  • democracy and the rule of law (sovereignty)
  • Investment
  • Maori Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • Enviornment
  • Economy
All is however not all lost. Once the agreement is signed on 4th February in Auckland, it will still need to be ratified in Parliament. And it will not go ahead until each of the 12 partner members to the TPPA ratify this on the ground level. We have an opportunity to continue fighting this and stopping it in it's tracks!

If you're free come along to the Public Protest Feb 4th 12.00pm on Queen Street

If you're based outside of Auckland check out the other public meetings scheduled here: