Why on earth I launched The Newest Zealander

My husband and I often recall that, when we first landed in New Zealand in 2015, we only had our working holiday visas, a three-day Airbnb booking, a couple of thousand bucks in our bank account, and two full-to-the-brim suitcases that had seen better days. It wasn’t much. Certainly, it wasn’t enough to put our friends and family at ease.

I remember how scarily vague we must have sounded, every time someone asked what we would do once here, right on the opposite side of the world. “We shall see,” we kept responding, with a cryptic grin.

But there was something else we brought with us, something that kept us motivated all along – and that was our goal to make New Zealand home. With hindsight, it was nothing short of wishful thinking. There was no guarantee. And yet, I don’t remember having the shadow of a doubt that, in the end, things would work out somehow.

We cheered, we applauded… we yelled in outrage.

Fast-forward to 2020, countless video-calls with our parents later, some milestones achieved and a nice house out in West Auckland, we sat on the couch to watch the electoral debates on TV. By that day, we had already ticked off many of our goals – finding jobs in our industries, residency, and so forth – and the 2020 election was to be our first as New Zealand voters.

I was excited, to say the least. New Zealand had welcomed us, to the point that we regularly had chats about how smooth the process had seemed. We felt wanted, valued, respected, and we looked forward (as we still do) to making a positive contribution to our new ‘home away from home’.

Voting was a symbolic step, the beginning of a new, bright chapter. And it couldn’t have happened at a more significant time, with Covid-19 ravaging the economies and the lives of so many overseas, including our native country of Italy.

So we sat on the couch, turned on the TV, and watched each one of the debates. Not that we expected our vote would shift; we had already made up our minds. Nonetheless, it was a deeply emotional experience. We cheered, we applauded, we yelled in outrage. And then, at the back of my mind, as I was listening intently to the Q&A, a thought started to form.

Something was off.

I wasn’t sure what that was, exactly – I can only describe it as a subconscious feeling of something being amiss. All the questions asked were relevant (though delivered with various degrees of partisanship). But night after night, debate after debate, that initial feeling of unease only grew louder and stronger. When the lights went off on the last debate, I switched channels and kept looking at the screen without uttering a word. Finally, I knew that what I had been waiting for, in vain, was actually one question and one only.

“What are you going to do about immigrants, now that the pandemic has turned their lives upside down?”

Of course, this question could have been worded differently – that’s how I’d have worded it, anyway – but the reality is, no one worded the question at all.

A choice we make every single day – for life

According to the 2018 Census, one in four people in New Zealand were born overseas. They pay their taxes, and work jobs that New Zealand-born Kiwis often don’t want to do, or are not qualified for. They speak multiple languages. They spend thousands of dollars on temporary and permanent visas. At the best of times, they are thousands of miles away from their families and friends; at the worst of times, like during Covid, they are stranded with no possibility to travel back and return easily. And they do all this because, just like me and my husband, they chose New Zealand as their new home. They weren’t born into it, and they would never take it for granted: They chose it, and they choose it every single day, for life.

And yet, New Zealand migrants were not part of the conversation – not even as a topic. More often than not, they are but numbers, scapegoats to blame for rising house prices, congested traffic, and rental wars. And even then, when the future of the country was so fiercely debated, such significant part of the societal fabric was just painfully pushed to the wayside, like an afterthought.

The Newest Zealander was born out of that epiphany. I wanted NZ migrants to have a voice. Not a hundred subdued voices speaking different languages, but one, loud and clear. I wanted NZ migrants to have a unified place to talk about their stories as humans, their wins and challenges, their regrets and aspirations. A neutral territory for them to find common grounds and shared experiences. And finally, a medium to remind themselves and show others – NZ-born and not – how fascinating, unique and special they are.

One day in the future, we will look at each other cherishing our differences, rather than fearing them or hiding them for the sake of integration. And if this little magazine helps us move in that direction, even just one tiny step at a time, I will be the happiest of the Newest Zealanders.

To wildly misquote the late John Lennon,

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And New Zealand will be as one.

Rossella Quaranta
Editor – The Newest Zealander