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Cultural identity, relationships and success

“You walk into some rooms, and you know you’re just another brown dude … we have heard what you’re probably gonna say before.”

Cultural identity, relationships and success

“You walk into some rooms, and you know you’re just another brown dude … we have heard what you’re probably gonna say before.”

This Fijian and Māori man shares his journey of feeling out of place after returning to Aotearoa. He delves into the complexities of cultural identity, confronting stereotypes, and how these experiences shaped his mental health. Through therapy, humour and his podcast, he finds a voice to express and navigate the challenges he faces, offering a message of resilience and self-discovery.

Um I am of Fijian descent um hailing from the village of Navicula just in the Tailevu district um in Fiji, and um am also of Māori descent hailing from Te Ātiawa both from Taranaki and Te Whanganui-a-Tara, so um that’s kinda me.

So I grew up – it was really funny, so like my upbringing was really diverse, and kind of the consistent through line in my life was um, not in like a sad way, but I was always sort of the odd one out. So going to, um growing up and going to international schools, um the only Kiwi pretty much, you know. These international schools, they’re usually predominantly British American, um so there’s always massive communities of them and then as, you know, usually being the lone Kiwi, um it’s really hard to sort of find where you sit.

Coming back to New Zealand was a really tough transition because, ah you know, the people I’d sort of grown up around, which was predominantly Asian, and amongst a lot of others, and Pākehā. Like, those are the groups that I feel most comfortable around, but then back in New Zealand, you know, I'm a Pacific Islander, I'm a Māori, and so that’s kind of what they’re putting on me but then those aren’t cultures that I necessarily feel any association to and so when when I first moved back. So that’s kind of been the through line of my life is um not really knowing where I can place myself, and for a long time, I figured that was probably just a feeling that I alone have um because you see, you know, all of these groups and they feel like they’re really comfortable and confident in where they sit and, you know, the circle of things.

But as I’ve gotten older and been a lot more vocal about, you know, my displacement in in where I am and who I am. Like I know who I am and um I’m really proud of who I am, but when it came to speaking on my displacement, the more I spoke about that, the more I actually started to hear that most people, even people that have grown up, you know, entrenched in their culture, actually feel the same way. So that’s kind of the theme of like my upbringing, that’s been the theme of my life really.

For a long time, you’re, you’re really … you feel like you’re on an island on your own. And so that, that feeling of, kind of, not knowing where to put yourself – um not knowing where you belong. That’s one that sits with you even after, you know, I guess the benefits of that have, have come to fruition. So that’s something that I feel constantly, and that really plays into like my mental health in both positive and negative ways.

So, nah, I think the impact of societal norms also had a really big um effect on me especially coming back to New Zealand. I think I was the only person that didn’t realise that I was being viewed a certain way. So, you know, I have this amazing upbringing um growing up overseas. I have all these really sort of deep interests in fashion and design, and these aren’t things I just picked up just out of nowhere. They came from like these rich experiences that I was able to have.

But then, you know, in New Zealand especially, you walk into some rooms and, you know, you’re just a, you’re just another brown dude. You’re just another young sort of, you know, probably stupid, probably naive, um brown man who, you know, we don’t really need to look to you for what you have to say because I’m sure you’re probably just going to say what everyone else has to say. Or we have heard what you’ve, what you’re probably gonna say before.

So um I think that’s one thing that really informed like a lot of the challenges in my life was beating those. But I think that goes back to like my upbringing is that the stereotypes and the expectations that they tried to put on me, I never ever felt aligned to those anyways.

When I was younger, I didn’t feel aligned to it, and it had a negative effect on me cause was like, man, I want to be like those things. And then as I got older, I was like, nah I’ve never been like that and, to be honest, that’s, that’s my power because I get to walk into a lot of places where there aren’t many people that look like me. But because I am an authentic version of myself, they get to see that, you know, as brown people in general, we are not a monolith, and even though I've had this crazy sort of upbringing that’s different to a lot of people – not just brown people – um I’m just as brown as the people that, you know, I’m just as brown as everybody else. This is what brown people are, like not what we can be, but this is what we are. We are, we are just as broad and just as versatile as everyone else and actually more than likely even more.

There is nothing I take personally because I … but I’ve always ah, I always kind of experienced that um, and so for me, what a massive transition to the community was was actually in voicing like my experience with that. Because for a long time like, genuinely when I started my comedy career, um I thought brown people are never going to find me funny, because for so long my experience had been that brown people didn’t find me funny. But – from when I was younger – but what I didn’t realise is that like how we express, you know, our enjoyment and our liking for something is so different to what I like have become accustomed to.

Because, you know, like if you make like Pākehā laugh, they will laugh hard out and be like, "Oh, ya so funny mate, you’re a bloody cracker aren’t ya."

But um, you know, I even remember like moving back over, and like if you um, if Māori think you’re really funny, they’re not gonna laugh, they gonna be like uhhhh owww. (laughs)

And if you don’t know those like, you know, those like subtle differences like, those nuances like, um you know, it can really, it could really impact you. And so for me, that was my view of myself for so long was like, okay, maybe I’m not going to connect to like my own people cause … it was funny, like, I felt more comfortable connecting with Pākehā, and I was able to connect with them earlier in my comedy career and they got what I was trying to do. And for me, it was like, like honestly the brown community was kind of this big like bogeyman for me that I felt like they weren’t gonna um be open to the kind of person I was.

And then I … and then once I just started voicing that insecurity, um my first outlet for it was my podcasts. I started a podcast in 2017 and I would talk about a lot of these things, and, you know, podcasting back then, like I, you know, it was, it was white man city, and it kind of still is like in a way. And so there was, like there was no expectation that it was going to be anything that like brown people who I really wanted to talk to would listen to. And then when I started doing this podcast, all the people that were listening and coming in were brown people going like, bro, like I really, I really get what you, yeah, I get what you were saying, you know, with not feeling like, you know, a part of the culture or like not feeling like you’re, not feeling like you’re authentic. That was, that was a massive one always of not feeling like a real brown person. I’d get people telling me that all the time.

One really scary thing for a lot of like brown men is sitting in a circle with your mates and being the one that like speaks up on something different. And I’m not talking about anything serious. Like you could all be talking about music, and if you say like, you know, if they’re all talking about like, you know, Katchafire, talking about Sons of Zion, like yeah, I want to go to One Love. If you’re the one dude that speaks up and like, far out, that new Dua Lipa song is mean, eh. All you’re hearing forever is Dua Lipa. Like your name is Dua Lipa for the next 2 years.

You know like, we're expecting them to talk about the … like to be open to talk in the most vulnerable periods of their life whereas we can’t even like talk to our mates about what kind of food we like if it’s any different to like, you know, what they all like.

So for me, that was the first time I ever actually broke out of that. Because I was very much like one that, I would either take the piss so that, if people made fun of what I was saying, then I could like paint it off as joking. Or I just wouldn’t like say anything at all. But then when I started my podcast, it was the first time that I was just like nah this is the kind of shit I like. This is the kind of stuff I like talking about.

I like, you know, like I saw Virgil Abloh like release some new shoes. And I could say it like uninhibited and just like really with my chest. And that’s the kind of shit that if I’m sitting around my mates, and I was like oh, you know, they’re all talking about rugby or talking about, you know, whatever the fuck the All Blacks were up to on the weekend, and I was like did you guys see those new Virgil Abloh shoes? And I’m hearing like what the … Virgil Abloh? Who the fuck is that? Is he from Spain? Um so yeah, my podcast was um, it's such like a small part of my career I guess in most people's eyes, but it’s the um thing that changed my life because it was that first time.

You know, what a really crazy thing was? Was um I became really accustomed to being around my friend group and just feeling like shit all the time. And that sounds really like drastic, but it’s kind of like any relationship like that. Like it just becomes your normal. And um for me, like, and it was, it was just little things. Like I, like I just knew, okay, like we are going to go have fun and, you know, we are probably all going to drink and head to town and we will talk about girls and, you know, talk about you know like crack up stories that happened um, but they’re probably going to make fun of my height or they’re probably going to make fun of the songs I try and put on. And it would really like, for me, the physical feeling that I’ve described to my therapist is that I, my chest gets really hot. And I remember every time I would um be leaving – going in, I’d kind of be fine, but leaving my chest would be really hot. And then it wasn’t something that I really started to pay attention to until I got older, and I started to notice like, oh, like this feeling like, I feel it in these situations where I um, where I’m really scared of this idea of being exposed or this idea of being um the light shone on me and everyone can laugh at me. This is um, this is a feeling that I’ve been feeling all through my whole life, and ah, and so what I started to do, I started, once I figured that out, I started to circle all the things that were making me feel that way.

And it was really hard cause my one was a lot of my closest friends, my own parents, like it was um my job. It was everything. And so for me and like, this guy will probably remember it was like a massive period in my life that I was like fuck that – all of that’s going. And I’m not going to have anything but at least, at the very least, and how I kind of describe like my way of dealing with a lot of these things – and it’s not a good or bad way – but I just needed to get to zero.

So I wasn’t trying to um, you know, solve all my problems, but I at least knew what wasn’t good for me. And I was like, ok, I’ll just get rid of those, and cause now I’m at negative 100 right now with all these people kind of in all these situations making me feel this way. I just need to get back to zero and then I could just build myself up from that.

And that’s pretty much what I did – was once I really figured out. For me it was starting to … the start of it was figuring out what that feeling is. And then it was figuring out where's that feeling coming from and then cutting those things that were really contributing to that.

I’m a big um, like, reflector and um, and I guess the other word for that is like big overthinker. So I’ll like think on like everything and even just like little shit, and it helps at times because I don’t really like miss a lot of things, but then that obviously hurts because like I remember everything.

So for me, yeah for me like ah a really big thing was just… cause what I used to do was I used to overthink and reflect on everything around me. You know, what people were saying. You know like, I said this joke, this one little … this person made like a little like rolled their eyes and smirked – like I’ll remember that. You know, all the things around me. And then what I changed was like okay, nah, I’m just gonna focus on like what I’m feeling okay. I’m noticing every time this person talks – not necessarily even towards me – like I get this like feeling in my head of like, oh fuck, I hope he doesn’t say anything to me.

And um, and that’s not the end of the journey for me. On my own, I was able to figure out where they were coming from, how to then deal with them, and the big thing, how to move on was something that I learnt through going to therapy and then also through like talking about it just over and over and over again. Those were the two things for me.

I’m big on like retaining, you know, like retaining your power and so, and what … what that looks like is in the things that may affect me in a certain way or have like a … or have like a hold on me. I’m like a big proponent of like not running away from it and actually like, figuring out why I feel like that or why it has that effect, and then not trying to change it but at least just trying to figure out what my relationship with it is.

Comedy is like a good example, but the example I’ll actually use is with my parents. So my parents, we have like a very complicated relationship and one big thing, one big … they had a lot of like effects on me in my life that I still really struggle with, um but one really big one was they played a really big part in like my self-esteem and my view of myself. And so I didn’t talk to my parents for quite a long time, and that was just me getting back to zero with that relationship and then trying … and trying to build it up basically was me then having to go back and figure out why they had that effect and then redefine like what that meant to me.

And so I was actually talking to my younger brother about this the other day. And one of the big things for me was that I’m like a big word of affirmations dude. Like I think, I don’t really need much, but if you just tell me that I’m doing a good job, like it makes me feel good. And um, my Dad in particular, like he’ll never, like he’ll never do it, and, and I don’t know if it’s a mental block for him or if there’s like trauma in there like, but he just … he can’t, he can’t do it. He can’t give that to you. And so how I then changed that was, rather than my relationship with my Dad being like why can’t you give that to me, like why can’t you do that for me?, it then changed to, well Dad, like, I’m gonna do it for you. And he doesn’t receive it well, but in changing that power dynamic of well, oh you can’t give me what I need, but I’m gonna give you like what I would’ve, what I wanted when I was, when I was growing up.