Newspaper article about Race Unity Day 2011
No-one a stranger at Race Unity Day
What a marvellous, colourful, cheerful, cultural celebration Race Unity Day is.
On Sunday, Victory Square was decked out in carnival regalia with a large stage, tents, gazebos and hundreds of people enjoying the autumn sunshine and the endless international entertainment on stage, from kapa haka to Zumba to three lads from the Indian state of Punjab dancing around the stage in their pure-white outfits, and everything in between.
There was a fascinating variety of food, the aromas wafting around the nearby streets, surely attracting passers-by. There was a vast enough range of food to satisfy even the most picky gourmand. There were Cambodian, Thai, Sri Lankan, Malaysian and Indonesian dishes. You could have sated your appetite with a taco from Mexico, a Brazilian hot dog, a German sausage, a delicacy from Argentina, some French pastries or a brew of strong Irish tea with a slice of soda bread.
But it was the old yellow bus, its owner selling real-fruit icecream, that was doing the best trade in the scorching afternoon, with a queue stretching a good way back.
As well as the entertainment and food, many community groups had stalls and there were a number of stalls selling arts and crafts, with some of the proceeds going to the Red Cross’s Christchurch earthquake appeal.
If none of that appealed, there was great satisfaction to be had by simply sitting on the grass and watching the passing parade of punters. There were those wandering about in their national costumes. There were those sporting hippie chic, and there were others in a goth-emo sort of style, and the full range of casual wear.
Had there been an equivalent of a fashion in the field award (and thank goodness there wasn’t), say a Vogue in Victory prize, a woman clad in a peachy lemon ensemble, with matching hat and shoes, pearls and a beautiful contrasting silver bag would surely have won hands down.
There was an array of cuties in kimonos at the Japanz Kidz stall and a five-year-old vision in a frothy pink confection riding her candy pink bike with trainer wheels and shiny tassles around the park.
And the day seemed to me a positive counterpoint to the tragic and traumatic events in Christchurch and Japan. As well as the delicious food and the delightful entertainment, Race Unity Day has a serious message. It is a celebration of Nelson’s diverse ethnic makeup and, as race relations commissioner Joris de Bres said, a way of giving smaller communities a chance to be visible.
Nelson can be a conservative and conformist city, insular and, for those from “away” – whatever that might mean – sometimes not particularly welcoming. There have been numerous publicised incidents of racism towards international students and new New Zealanders. Many more will have occurred under the radar and remain unreported. So Race Unity Day is also about trying to overcome the fear of difference, which too often fuels racism.
It is an acknowledgement that each and every culture and ethnic group that makes Nelson their home has a rich contribution to make to the life of our city – and we, as Nelsonians, should welcome, respect and be grateful for all those contributions. It is also a celebration of the collective heritage of humanity. While our lived experiences may be vastly different, as human beings living in this city, we have a good deal in common.
Speakout, the reporting system for racist incidents in the Nelson region, was one of the many community organisations with a stall at Race Unity Day. Its co-ordinator, Alistair Webber, is passionate about raising the profile of the project, which was born at a hui at Whakatu Marae.
The project arose from research conducted in Nelson in 2009 with 184 individuals from 48 ethnicities, which revealed that 80 per cent had suffered some form of racist harassment, some on a repeated basis. Only 21 per cent had reported the racism they had experienced, but over 80 per cent said they would report racism if there was an easy way of doing so.
Mr Webber said even if people did not want anything done about the racism they had been subjected to, it was still important to report it. He was keen to do more community education about Speakout (speakout.org.nz) and saw schools as a crucial audience for the Speakout message. “There are no strangers here.”
Joris de Bres said events such as Race Unity Day were very important. “It is a chance for communities to show themselves to themselves. It was important for smaller communities to be visible – to be seen and appreciated – and it was a chance for people to see a whole lot of communities in Nelson they wouldn’t normally see.”
Nelson’s Race Unity Day was one of the first such events in the country and there were now similar days in a range of cities and towns around the country. “These events show how the face of New Zealand is changing, and it is best when the old faces and the new faces meet. They give me hope for the future of race relations in New Zealand,” Mr de Bres said.
The co-ordinator of the Nelson Multi Ethnic Council, Evey McAuliffe, and her large band of volunteers, deserve huge thanks and congratulations for ensuring this vital cultural festival is a significant event in Nelson’s calendar.
Let’s hope its influence continues to spread throughout our city, breaking down fear and building up understanding.
I rounded off the day with a swim off Rocks Rd, followed by our own cultural hakari of food purchased from some of the stalls – perfect!
Joris de Bres, the Race Relations Commissioner, took some great photos at Race Unity Day which can be seen by clicking the link.