When I was a kid we would sometimes have a boil up for tea on a Sunday night. This would inevitably mean that there were sometimes cold pork bones in our lunchbox on a Monday morning. Now I actually love cold pork bones however I would dread opening my lunchbox on a Monday. Why? Well despite my love of cold pork bones, I didn't love the confused stares and muffled 'eeewww's' from my classmates. So, I learned to check my lunchbox on a Monday morning on the way to school and eat my beautiful cold pork bones as I skipped and sang my way to school with my siblings. I was happy, the pork bones were eaten and no one was any the wiser. No harm, no foul right?
As an adult when I think back on this memory I feel sad but mostly I feel a little mad at myself. I wish I had been the kinda kid that was more confident and secure in my identity. I wish I had eaten that pork bone loud and proud! But I wasn't. I was the kinda kid that just wanted to fit in and be liked. I didn't want to stand out or be different. Those 'eeewww's' were drawing far too much attention to me for my liking!
There are thousands of kids in Aotearoa classrooms today who have cold pork bones in their lunch boxes sitting amongst a sea of marmite sandwiches. We also have kids with roti and taro and sushi and even the odd cucumber sandwich makes an appearance! We have a much more diverse cultural population in our communities and classrooms these days and in my opinion, we are all the better for it!
Still there will be many who are like I was as a child. Who consider themselves not quite 'brown' enough to fit in with the Māori kids and not quite 'white' enough to fit in with everyone else. All the while desperately just wanting to fit in somewhere they can be themselves. The solution I came up with early in life? Train myself to be a chameleon - to just change what I said, how I acted, even what I ate according to those around me. JUST FIT IN.
It worked for me for some time actually. The problem with that solution? It's really hard to turn it off. You are so used to being a chameleon that it actually starts to become your identity. Then later in life when you are in touch with who you are and finally begin to feel secure in your identity, the challenge then becomes how do I be who I am with those around me without looking like a fraud!
What I wishMy most sincerest hope for all tamariki in our classrooms today is that they don't find refuge and security in a 'chameleon identity'. I wish for them to be strong and secure in their identity and to feel valued, respected and celebrated at home AND at school. I wish for Aotearoa to be a truely bicultural society. A society that values and breathes life into Māori cultural practices, art form, history and most importantly, our precious language. I wish that every Māori parent could walk into any school and immediately feel that this school is going to treasure and celebrate who we are, this is a school where my child will succeed, as Māori.
Stand by for more blog posts about how we can achieve this together.