How can nurses truly celebrate cultural diversity?

Editorial published in Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand 13.4 (May 2007): p2(1).

American feminist psychologist and theorist Carol Gilligan once said that without voice there cannot be relationship, and without relationship there cannot be voice. (1) How do we have relationships with people who are different from us? How do we and the other person have a voice in the relationship, if we don’t know what our common ground is?

The 2006 Census reveals European New Zealanders make up 67.6 percent of the population, 14.6 percent of people self-identify as Maori, Pacific peoples make up 6.9 percent of the population, Asians 9.2 percent and Middle Eastern, Latin American and African people, 0.9 percent. (2) The Census also revealed that nearly 23 per cent of New Zealand’s population was born overseas, compared with 19.5 per cent in 2001. In terms of religious affiliation, 55 per cent said they were Christian, down from 60.6 per cent in 2001. And 1.3 million New Zealanders said they had no religion. The number of Hindus increased by 61.8 percent to 64,392, Muslims went up 52.6 percent to 36,072 people and the number of Sikhs was 9507, up 83 percent. (2)

This religious and cultural diversity has implications for nurses and those we care for. How do we have relationships with people of different cultures and religions? How can we, as nurses, cultivate relationships and ensure we have a voice, and ensure our colleagues and clients who are “diverse”, have a voice too? What does celebrating cultural diversity actually mean for nurses, other than taking part in a cultural festival or having friends from diverse backgrounds? What does it mean for systems that are primarily monocultural and are striving to be bicultural? And what does that mean for the increasing number of people from diverse ethno-religious communities?

New Zealand has a long history of migration, but the range and number of migrants in New Zealand has been on an unparalleled scale since 1987. With that have come demographic changes. I recently gave a two-hour talk about diversity, and afterwards a nurse asked “What about our (Pakeha) identity? What is going to happen to it?” She is not the only person worded about the loss of identity, as witnessed by the cry “What has happened to my country?” in letters to the editor and heard on talkback radio. For those of us who have migrated here, it is hard to understand why people from the dominant culture feel marginalised, when we are surrounded by Pakeha/white New Zealand culture, in terms of all the institutions and power bearers.

Interaction rather than co-existence

These concerns highlight a need for dialogue and I am reminded of the work of Lebanese-Australian anthropology professor, Ghassan Hage, who suggests the way forward is through interaction, rather than co-existence. (3) When we co-exist, we can idealise or demonise the other, but never really get to know them. But when we interact, it requires us to move forward in relationship, even when it is tough and frustrating. There are potential gifts of working from a place of interaction and these occur when we can say “Let’s take the best of both/many cultures and see what new and wonderful things we can create”.

Richard Florida has written about the creative class where new ideas and technologies have been developed in the United States as a result of attracting the best and the brightest from around the world and harnessing the creativity inherent in diversity. (4) This is where interaction comes in–we have to rub up against one another, experience conflict and find a way forward for creativity to kick in.

To harness such potential in health in New Zealand we need to address the political and policy Landscape of health. Nursing Council statistics show that migrant nurses made up 51 percent of new registrations in 2005-2006. (5) This percentage raises many questions: What do we have in place to assist the effective integration of new migrant nurses? What is good practice for those who employ migrant nurses? Who is responsible for ensuring that this happens well? What support mechanisms need to be in place to create innovation in health? How do receiving nurses create new spaces and places for cultural diversity?

Migration has always had an element of economic necessity, a tap which could be turned on and off, as and when we needed more labour. But, increasingly, receiving countries are beginning to realise people don’t just migrate for a job. They migrate for a life and for their dreams and aspirations. This means they put down roots and settle and want a home and a voice in their new country. In the short-term period of settlement, it is about such things as getting a job, financial independence, establishing a social network and adapting to various aspects of lifestyle. In the long-term period of integration, it is about career advancement, income parity, accessing institutions, redefining cultural identity, adapting or reassessing values, and participating in political parties and socio-political movements.

I have a number of suggestions about how we move forward with diversity: use it for our creative endeavours; see newcomers as a source of innovation; along with maintaining our obligations to Maori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, ensure all who live in Aotearoa/New Zealand enjoy equitable access to services and enjoy equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities to participate in, contribute to and benefit from all aspects of life. Finally, recognise that we all share responsibility for the continuing development of Aotearoa New Zealand as a cohesive and harmonious society. Contributing to our own communities and venturing outside them, would be a great start.

References

(1) Gilligan, C. (1982) In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

(2) New Zealand’s 2006 Census of Populatino and Dwellings. (2006) 2006 Census Date. Statistics New Zealand. http://www.stats.govt.nz.ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/census/default/htm. Retrieved 20/04/07.

(3) Hage, G. (2002) Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for Hope in a Shrinking Society. Australia: Pluto Press.

(4) Florida, R. (2002) The Rise of the Creative Class and How it’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Creative-Class-Transforming-Community/dp/ 0465024769. Retrieved 20/04/07.

(5) Clark, M. and Ayling, B. (2006) Workforce Statistics 2006 Update. Presentation to Nursing Council Forums. http://www.nursingcouncil.org.nz/forum.html. Retrieved 20/04/07.

“How can nurses truly celebrate cultural diversity?” Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand 13.4 (2007): 2.

The ultimate engagement of life: Being mentally healthy

Published in (2007) Asian Magazine, 4.

I came across a wonderful definition of health by Jesse Williams in 1928 the other day in a book that I was reading. Williams defines health as being “the optimal condition of being that allows for the ultimate engagement of life.” To me this is what being healthy is about, being in the best condition to fully take part in life. I have had a long passion in the issue of migration and settlement and in particular the impact on health and specifically mental health. We know that migration is a risky business that also has the potential to transform, so how can we maintain our mental health and go beyond maintenance to optimal health and engaging fully with life? What are the factors that help or hinder being ultimately engaged with life and what can we do about them? In this article I’d like to share my professional, personal and research findings with you from work I did with Goan women living in Auckland some years ago [1].

Migration offers the potential of a new and better life, otherwise why would anyone migrate for a worse life? Yet sometimes this is what unexpectedly happens. We are so focussed on the wonderful future and the leaving, but not so much on the arrival. Without our usual “soft places to fall” as Dr Phil terms it, our support networks, our fulfilling work, migrants can end up with migrant’s remorse!

It was the first time we had been on our own before, in Bombay you’ve always got family to help you and you’ve got everything ready made, so you never know what hardship is until you come here (Flora).

When there is a big gap between our hopes and expectations and the reality the disillusionment can be too much to bear. When the job that is going to be the foundation of the new life doesn’t materialise and the income doesn’t match the sacrifices, it can seem like things are going down hill fast. There is a cumulative impact of all these disappointments that can result in feeling overwhelmed and worn out. So when do ups and downs become something you should pay attention to? In my experience, it is best to ask for help from those around you when you feel like you are not coping and managing as well as you would like to be or know that you usually can. Help-seeking is something that many of us find difficult to do. Whether it is pride or the shame of admitting we cannot manage on our own. What I know for sure though is that when we have exhausted our own resources we should ask for help because things don’t tend to get better by themselves and sometimes they get worse when we do nothing. So start by talking to people that you trust, family or friends and keep talking and asking until you get what you need. If you have a faith community tap into its resources. Talk to your General Practitioner and ask for referral to a counsellor or mental health service. I remember talking to a man with a gambling problem that had become depressed, he said “what is the point of going to talk about my problems, I need financial help!” The answer is that there are a range of things that have contributed to how you feel and equally there are a range of things that will help, from going for a walk to talking to someone to getting budgetary advice. There is not going to be just one magical solution.

So what if you are reading this and thinking, I am fine, I just get down sometimes. Here are four strategies that Goan women used to help them maintain their mental health.

Developing a new support network New Zealand researchers [2] have found that support is one of four important factors for successful settlement. Support makes coping with daily living, acquiring language and employment (the three other factors) easier to acquire. Support also helps you manage stress by reducing how big you see the stress and helping to reduce the severity of your reaction to it [3]. Participants in my research study found that having contact with family, friends and other migrants was crucial and that by volunteering, joining their faith community and having access to support through e-mail the stresses of migration and settlement were minimised. It is important to make sure that you connect with people outside your faith or ethnic group too.

Having a “can do” attitude The term ‘pioneer spirit’ is often used to refer to migrants. The attitude of coping with things in the present because they will get better in the future if you make it work is part of the migrant dream. T some degree pragmatism and philosophical acceptance are necessary for survival and essential:

You just couldn’t pick a flight and go, you’ve resigned your job, you’ve spent half your savings to come here and you know there’s no turning back so you have to make the most of this. So it’s like there’s no turning back, but you think, ‘God what have I done’ (Flora).

As Arisaka says [4] “This almost non-negotiable drive for upward mobility requires diligent assimilation. Self-pity, victim consciousness, and separationist self-consciousness are deadly to the process towards success. Not only are they excessively self-indulgent, but they are also a waste of time and energy, and therefore not allowed”. I think that this can also be a trap and that again it is important to ask for help when you need it. You don’t get extra points at the end of your life for having done it the hard way!

Learning There are two ways of learning that assist with settlement one is the  ‘culture learning approach’ where you adapt  by overcoming every day cross-cultural problems by learning new culture specific skills that assist you to navigate the new cultural environment [5]and the other is by inoculation or anticipatory preparation [6, 7] which helps the transition experience , where a previous visit or some similar kind of preparation where you gain culturally specific knowledge and skills prior to migration can be a great help.

Lastly, maintaining cultural links was used to make sense of the migration and settlement experience and maintaining wellbeing. The loss and separation that can occur with migration can be lessened to some degree by holding on to familiar and trusted values and keeping ties [8]. Keeping a connection with ‘the familiar’ helps lessen the dislocation and challenges that resulted from being in ‘the unfamiliar”. This can be done by attending community events or even going back to the place of origin, for the benefit of children as well:

It’s important not to get carried away by the western thing, to keep taking them back to their roots if you can afford it because I think that priority has really made the difference for us (Sheila).

There are many ways to manage a new life in a new country. Each one of us has to find a combination of ways that are going to work for us. I hope this has give you some ideas about how you can not only survive the transition to life in a new country but thrive as well so that you can be in optimal condition to enjoy your new life fully.

References

  1. DeSouza, R., Walking upright here: Countering prevailing discourses through reflexivity and methodological pluralism. 2006, Auckland, NZ: Muddy Creek Press.
  2. Ho, E., et al., Settlement assistance needs of recent migrants. 2000, University of Waikato: Waikato.
  3. Kearns, R.A., et al., Social support and psychological distress before and after childbirth. Health and Social Care in the Community, 1997. 5(5): p. 296-308.
  4. Arisaka, Y., Asian women: Invisibility, locations, and claims to philosophy, in Women of color and philosophy: A critical reader, N. Zack, Editor. 2000, Blackwell Publishers: Malden, Mas. p. 219-223.
  5. Ward, C., S. Bochner, and A. Furnham, The psychology of culture shock. Second edition ed. 2001, Hove, East Sussex: Routledge.
  6. Meleis, A.I., et al., Experiencing transitions: an emerging middle-range theory. Advances in Nursing Science, 2000. 23(1): p. 12-28.
  7. Weaver, G., Understanding and coping with cross-cultural adjustment stress, in Culture, communication and conflict: readings in intercultural relations, G. Weaver, Editor. 1994, Gin Press: USA. p. 169-191.
  8. Vasta, E., Gender, class and ethnic relations: the domestic and work experiences of Italian migrant women in Australia, in Intersexions; gender, class, culture, ethnicity, G. Bottomley, M.D. Lepervanche, and J. Martin, Editors. 1991, Allen and Unwin: Sydney.

Gambling: Causing more harm than good

First published in the Goanet Reader Tue, 26 Sep 2006
I read with dismay about the establishment of ten new offshore casinos in Goa in an item in the latest Goan Voice UK and thought I would share my thoughts. I’ve just spent the entire week facilitating an annual International Gambling Think Tank and a follow up International Conference on Gambling examining the impacts of gambling in particular perspectives from practice, policy and research.

The Think Tank saw the world’s leading authorities on problem gambling examining current international developments in gambling research and practice. It was co-hosted by the New Zealand’s Gambling Helpline and AUT University where I work.

The helpline has 18,000 contacts each year and is a world leading resource for problem gamblers. While the conference was hosted by AUT University and the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand.

Have a look at this statistic, about 50,000 New Zealanders or 1.2% of the population have a gambling problem (defined as patterns of gambling that disrupt personal, family, or vocational pursuits) and research shows that the poor, Maori and Pacific Island people are hardest hit.

Quite often gambling and social inequality are linked and with many migrants and indigenous communities being found in the lower social strata of communities, they are at risk.

Maori experience high rates of problem gambling and are more likely than NZ Europeans to be worried about their gambling behaviour and more likely to want immediate help. There are sub-groups at risk for problem gambling such as youth, women, elderly Maori and those with mental illnesses or other addictions.

Pacific peoples living in New Zealand experience socio-demographic risk factors that are associated with developing problem gambling, such as low socio-economic status, being young, living in in urban areas and having low educational and low occupational status.

Studies show that adult Pacific peoples were most at-risk of all ethnic groups for developing problem or pathological gambling behaviour. They are thought to be six times greater at risk of problem gambling than New Zealand Europeans.

Increasingly high rates of gambling have been noted among Chinese communities, particularly new migrants and restaurant workers. It is thought that this is precipitated by loneliness, isolation, cultural and language barriers.

International Asian students are also vulnerable groups as in addition to the factors mentioned earlier they can also have access to considerable amounts of cash. Migrants are thought to be at risk of gambling problems because of acculturation which makes them more likely to be conditioned to the dominant practices of the receiving community or because they are struggling with the acculturation process.

The historical gender imbalance in men being the key users of problem gambling services has changed since the introduction of electronic gaming machines which have made gambling more accessible and acceptable, leading to an equal if not greater number of women presenting to problem gambling services for help.

Not only is the gambler affected but Australian research has found that each problem gambler is likely to directly affect at least seven other people including children through family dysfunction, problems at work or crime. Problem gambling also has economic and social costs to families and communities.

Problem gamblers are more likely to experience other problems as a result or in combination with issues such as relationship issues, isolation, poor physical and psychological health, and be hazardous drinkers.

So what are communities doing about gambling? Responses are mixed. Some view gambling as criminal, while others view it as a social activity and for some governments and communities it is a source of funding.

In New Zealand the Gambling Act of 2003, includes a focus on preventing and minimising of harm caused by gambling, including problem gambling. The Act has an integrated public health approach and sets out a number of obligations for gambling operators in prevention and minimisation of harm.

Under the Act, gambling venues are penalised if they allow people who have self-excluded into their venues and the notion of host responsibility and duty of care are paramount.

The government views gambling as a source of economic development, revenue generation and a source of funding for community initiatives and programmes. The industry view is that gambling is entertainment and that people are free to choose. However, in 2004/05 gamblers lost more than $2.02 billion on gambling activity in New Zealand and that this was derived disproportionately from those living in high deprivation communities.

Psychological aspects: Though many participate in gambling as a form of recreation or even as a means to gain an income, gambling, like any behavior which involves variation in brain chemistry, can become a psychologically addictive and harmful behavior in some people. Reinforcement phenomena may also make gamblers persist in gambling even after repeated losses. Because of the negative connotations of the word “gambling”, casinos and race tracks often use the euphemism “gaming” to describe the recreational gambling activities they offer.

The harms that gambling causes are not incidental harms, they are grave harms that result in domestic violence, crime, incapacity, and children going without food. Industry operators rely on harm causing losses and are casual agents of harm

So I conclude this diatribe with some questions: Can Goa afford to have ten new offshore casinos? Does it need to be a “gambler’s paradise”? Will these casinos create wealth for Goans and Indians or will they cause more harm? Can industry operators provide a safe product? If not is it better to not have casinos at all? Will more casinos lead the way to the installation of electronic gaming machines?

These are issues that need healthy debate; it is hard to put the genie in the bottle when it has already been unleashed. As James Doughney said in his presentation today: “The harm is more unjust, more unconscionable because governments have a duty to protect.”

Mutual sustenance: Goan women and the Catholic church in New Zealand

First published in Goanet Reader Sun, 30 Apr 2006 and also published in the Indian Catholic May 21,2006

On December 3 2005, Catholic Goans in Auckland, New Zealand celebrated the Feast of St Francis Xavier with a mass in Konkani, the first time such an event had been held in New Zealand. For those who don’t know, Francis Xavier was actually born in the Spanish kingdom of Navarre. He arrived in Goa in May 1542 and went on from there to Cape Comorin in the south of India, spending three years working among the pearl-fishers, or Paravas, of the Fishery Coast. His journey took him to the East Indies, to Malacca and the Moluccas, and, finally, in 1549 to Japan. He died on December 3rd, 1552, as he attempted to enter China and was buried. Within a few weeks his body was recovered and found to be perfectly preserved. It was brought to Goa and received there with devotion and enthusiasm leading to his beatification by Pope Paul V in 1619 and later his canonization by Pope Gregory XV, on March 12th, 1622. He is now the patron Saint of Goa. This event led me to wonder about the significance of religion and faith among Goans and how this sustained them during their migration and settlement in other countries.

In terms of  the New Zealand population, there is growing cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. Three trends are apparent: first, that religious participation by White or Pakeha New Zealanders is declining while changes in immigration policy have resulted in the introduction and growth of both diasporic religious traditions (such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and so on) and an invigoration of Christian denominations. The 2001 Census noted that more than half the New Zealand population identified with a Christian religion (Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian dominating) and the largest non-Christian religions were Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Spiritualism and New Age religions.

In my research among Goan women in New Zealand, what became apparent to me is that while Goan women have become detached from their homeland (all participants were born outside of Goa) they continue to have a link with the homeland while surviving in, and engaging, a foreign culture. Also religion and cultural identity are tightly inter-connected. There is academic debate about whether religion is a core attribute of culture or whether it functions within it, is more prominent than culture or in the background. I found many women in describing their identity, forgot that there are Hindu and Muslim Goans.

My description would be Goan Roman Catholic. Primarily being Goan is being Catholic because all the Catholics normally came from Goa, which was one of the Catholic states of India (Lorna).

As I grew up you grow out of church and praying and you go the other way kind of thing, but that was very strong, I think the Catholic faith, which stayed throughout. I mean even now you just link up being Goan and Catholic together (Rowena).

Crossing borders as migrants do involves not only physical borders but also emotional and behavioural boundaries. Becoming a member of a new society stretches the boundaries of what is possible because one’s life and roles change, and with them, identities change as well. This involves trauma and then incorporating new identities and roles becomes necessary for survival.

For many Goans in Auckland, the Catholic religion and church provided a mechanism for coming to grips with a new environment and assisted the transition to living in New Zealand. They could mix with other ethnic communities while at the same time maintain their culture and faith, that is it provided a bridge connects Goans to other Catholics while who shared similar religious beliefs and values even if they were culturally different.

Thus Churches provide a vehicle for helping Goans participate in New Zealand life rather than isolating them. In the case of the Catholic Church Goan migrants were already familiar with the rituals and structure and the church provided a supportive and welcoming space for them as immigrants. As someone who grew up in New Zealand, our youth group provided a wonderful source of friendship and fellowship for me and my two sisters.

Churches provide not only institutional spiritual comfort but also practical support. For example when we first came to New Zealand, our family was able to buy what is now called ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ through the recycling process of the mini-market where you could buy other parishioners unwanted clothes.

Churches have also responded to new migrants by attending to and incorporating religious practices that are culturally significant for immigrants; for Goans this includes celebration of the Feast of St Francis Xavier, the patron Saint of Goa. Thus immigrants have infused change and a rich range of experiences in the churches they have joined within their receiving communities. I also remember with delight the Samoan choir who would sing in Samoan and English elevating our services to celestial heights once a month.

Integration into New Zealand is made so much easier by belonging to a ‘mainstream’ faith, providing entry into New Zealand society and enhancing integration and acceptance for participants into the dominant society in a way that people from minority faiths don’t have access to. Because Catholicism can be accessed within mainstream society, it can mean that not as much energy is required to maintain the faith. I remember at a Muslim women’s Hui I attended last year the major efforts Muslims went through to obtain halal food, such as going to farms and butchering their own animals.

Furthermore, faith, prayer and networks from the church also provide the support to aspire and do well in New Zealand. Flora felt strongly that her transition and survival in New Zealand was due to her faith and the help of the church.

You know the help came from God, you know through the Church (Flora).

There is a risk of complacency in extending ourselves beyond our own faith and ethnic communities once we grow in size as a community. As ethnic communities increase in size they move from being multi-ethnic religious communities and later establish themselves into ethnically-specific religious institutions. Rowena developed a new network of support through her church, which went beyond Goans and was a lifeline:

I started going to a mothers group there and I met a lot of other Malaysian and Indonesian and Filipino women and we would go and have coffee together and that kind of thing and my social life. I got quite involved with the Parish and doing work for the Church because I mean I really didn’t know many other people. I did meet a lot of elderly parishioners they were wonderful they would come and give me flowers, chocolates and really spoil me because they knew I was on my own and they were wonderful (Rowena).

For many early Goan migrants the lack of a community meant that her faith took on great importance and in particular prayer:

Like prayer did help me it honestly did, because you are alone, you are alone a lot of the time. Even though there are lots of people, you can still be alone you know (Sheila).

Therefore it can be seen that religious institutions provide spiritual resources that offer sustenance through the tasks of adjusting to living in a new country. The recognition of faith is well recognised in the United Kingdom where it is recognised that “faith groups are part of the ‘glue’ that binds strong communities and we value the experience, skills and diversity they bring to wider society.”

In considering the New Zealand Immigration Settlement Strategy for migrants, refugees and their families it can be seen that Churches often provide many of the settlement resources and are linked with the strategy’s six goals for migrants and refugees. They are for migrants and refugees to:

  • Obtain employment appropriate to their qualifications and skills;
  • Are confident using English in a New Zealand setting, or can access appropriate language support to bridge the gap;
  • Are able to access appropriate information and responsive services that are available to the wider community (for example housing, education, and services for children);
  • Form supportive social networks and establish a sustainable community identity; Feel safe expressing their ethnic identity and are accepted by, and are part of, the wider host community.

This brief piece paper provides some new information about the place of religion among Goans in the diaspora by focussing on Goans who have settled in Auckland, New Zealand.

The Catholic Church has been a mechanism of integration, offering a two way exchange of support and energy through social support, spiritual and secular activities. The Church provides a mechanism for facilitating cultural continuity while simultaneously easing immigrants’ transitions into New Zealand. The Church has supported Goan migrants and in turn the presence of Goans has I am sure enriched the church itself (certainly in numbers, if not energy and dynamism. This paper demonstrates the enduring nature of religion as a social institution which plays a part in sustaining Goans through the settlement process, providing both spiritual resources (such as prayer, connections with other migrants and receiving community members) and practical help for managing both the psychological effects of migration and enduring the hardship of migration and settlement in a new country.

What does it mean to be Goan?

This piece was previously published in the Goanet Reader: July 29th 2005

Issues of celebration and connection, reflected in food and song

Food is one of the many things that make life not only pleasurable but memorable. I recently met a young Goan man who is completing a degree who asked me if I could come to his birthday party and share some sorpotel and vindaloo recipes as the celebration wouldn’t be a celebration with them, especially with him being so far away from home. This led me to reflect on the importance of food and consider writing something for Goanet Reader.

As you all know Goans have been a highly mobile population and are scattered all over the globe as a result of colonisation, and in a bid for a better life and education for their children. At the beginning of the millennium I undertook a research project to explore how Goan women in Auckland New Zealand coped with the dual transitions of migration and motherhood as becoming a parent in a new county is a common aspect of migration which is also under-researched.

It is well known that migrants draw on cultural resources and links such as the notion of homeland, language, religion, everyday social rituals such as food, drink, dance and song, family, morals, community, landscape, histories and occupations.

Researchers of migrant communities have found that connection with one’s ethnic community is vital for collective cultural maintenance. This takes the forms of being involved in community-type social networks in order to maintain their culture, taking part in ethnic institutions, making trips “home” and marrying within the community. These were all identified in my research as significant, but for this piece I have chosen to focus on the importance of traditional food in maintaining Goan culture and in relation to the perinatal period. I have also incorporated words from the Goan women that participated in the research (with deep and heartfelt thanks).

Food has a symbolic and social significance that is deeply embedded in a culture and is used to express many things such as love, friendship, solidarity and the maintenance of social ties.  The significance of food is heightened with migration, where it is the most resistant aspect to the acculturation process for migrant communities. Frequently, food is integrated into the host culture, as those Goans living in the United Kingdom or from Africa will attest to as seen by the incorporation of Indian foods into African and British communities.

Traditional food and celebration are pivotal to the construction of Goan identity and an important part of ‘everyday’ food, religious festivals, weddings and special events. Food also has historical significance as seen by the impact of Portuguese, Muslim and Indian cultures apparent in Goan cuisine. Conversion to Catholicism by the Portuguese meant that foods moved from being taboo to consumable and differentiated Goans from other Indians, making them more Western.

The special foods that go with events during the year are very traditionally Goan, for example we have Christmas sweets. Besides Christmas sweets, I associate eating Pilao on a Sunday and not just any other thing, very Goan. and having your fish curry and rice as well (Lorna).

 

Fish curries and coconut curries and I had learn to cook when I was quite young and I had wanted to get into the kitchen and dad would go to the marketplace and buy all this yummy fish and come home and cook it up and basically you’d eat Goan and things like that (Rowena).

Goan fish curry is ubiquitous in most households in Goa, eaten regularly and served with rice. Pilao is possibly from Muslim times prior to Portuguese rule, made with basmati rice and flavoured with whole spices like cardamom and stock. The Goan sweets that are mentioned by Lorna originate from Portugal and the Konkan region and they are produced and exchanged with friends and neighbours at Christmas time. Every sweet has coconut in it in milk form or thinly sliced. In Rowena’s quote below, food is a way of acknowledging the family and social ties:

We often had picnics, which had all the favourite dishes like sorpotel, xacuti, food were very important in terms of being social and the family (Rowena).

Xacuti is a complicated and painstaking Goan dish made with chicken or lamb that involves the roasting of all the seasonings before they are ground to a paste. Sorpotel is a ceremonial dish made from pork that is prepared for feast days, Christmas, weddings and other special occasions. The following anonymous poem does more to illustrate the place of sorpotel in the connections of Goans to ‘home’.

SORPOTEL

For the hotch potch known as Haggis, let the Scotsman yearn or yell For the taste of Yorkshire pudding, let the English family dwell. For the famed Tandoori Chicken, that Punjabis praise like hell But for us who hail from Goa, there’s nothing like SORPOTEL!

From the big wigs in Colaba, to the small fry in Cavel From the growing tribes in Bandra, to the remnants in Parel. From the lovely girls in Glaxo, to the boys in Burma Shell There’s no Goan whose mouth won’t water, when you talk of SORPOTEL!

And Oh! for Christmas dinner don’t you think it would be swell If by some freak of fortune or by some magic spell We could, as they have in Goa a bottle of the cajel And toddy leavened sannas to go with SORPOTEL!

In this poem, sorpotel becomes a metaphor for migration and connection to home. The names of the Mumbai (Bombay) suburbs, with their differing social capital, in the second verse illustrates that no matter where in the world a Goan is, sorpotel is the social leveller. Cajel refers to a distilled liquor made of cashew and toddy is fermented coconut or palm juice, which is frequently used like yeast to make sannas, a type of rice cakes made in moulds with a batter of ground rice, toddy, coconut and sugar and then steamed. The predilection for sorpotel has been influenced by the historical context of Goans being a colonised people and as such it is an apt metaphor for the richness of the culture located in a small geographic area.

Food plays a significant part in weddings as well, as seen by these words by Flora:

The day after the wedding, It was in my mother-in-law’s house they made that plain white rice with samarachi curry with dried prawns that is supposed to be a typical dish for second day wedding lunch, then third day at my mums place, it was the three days festivities. You must be knowing about that (Flora).

The samarachi codi refers to a curry made with coconut milk. Food is significant from the most private and everyday to the ritualised public celebrations like weddings. Such events and networking with other Goans or Christian Indians were another strategy for cultural maintenance.

Perinatal Rituals

Having a child is one of the most culturally and spiritually significant events for women and their families and the significance of this transition is validated through ritual. It is thought that cultures that have supportive rituals for new mothers have lower rates of postnatal distress (PND) and that women in Western countries are at high risk of developing PND Rituals reflect the vulnerability and special status of the new mother and include being restricted to the home, being given assistance, being given special foods and massage.

In Indian communities the experience of pregnancy and birth is traditionally marked by nurturing and celebration of the status of women who are to become mothers. This nurturing is highlighted through the giving of special foods and assistance. Movements of new mothers are restricted to the home for forty days due to their perceived vulnerability postpartum. During this forty day period, assistance is given with personal care and the physical body is taken care of through massage and ensuring the mother has an opportunity to relax. Parturition is thought to generate a state of hotness and therefore weakness. Grandmothers can play an active part in the preparation of special food and ensuring a nourishing diet that includes foods such as ghee, nuts, milk and jaggery1 which are given to return the body to balance.

This attentiveness and “endless care” that is received from the extended family (Shin & Shin, 1999, p.611) can be lost in the process of migrating. This celebration of the status of the new mother in ‘developing countries’ subverts the notion of ‘West is best’ and the backwardness of the East, that was taken for granted in my post-colonial upbringing. A recent article in NEXT magazine in New Zealand have suggested that rituals need to be re-instated to celebrate the status of motherhood (Sarney, 1999). Greta found that the shift from a social process of pregnancy to an individualised one a painful loss:

Everyone else does things for you and you know in that way you are just pampered. You get all these supposedly nourishing treats and foods and things you know. Like all these pulses and the sweets that you normally have. I’m not very sweet tooth, but I think they do help in a way you know. The nourishing factors. You know things like that. At the same time being here makes you think of all these things that you take for granted back home (Greta).

Focused individual care is given to new mothers, and family members take on roles in relation to food preparation and hospitality as in Lorna’s story:

You know you get your massages and things. Mum looks after the cooking because that takes away a lot of time and then you don’t have to worry about that. Goan things like moong, godshem and other lentils millet, tizan, and things like that, you know what that is. I guess you would have had that if you were coming from the traditional villages I’m sure, but ahh we have lost a lot of culture on the way. Yeah yeah I guess you also have many more people around you in India so that if you are busy with doing something someone else can entertain make the tea or conversation (Lorna).

Migrating reminded Lorna of the loss of traditions that began with the move from traditional villages to urban settings prior to the migration to New Zealand. The drive for upward mobility (in the Western sense) in Goa and the concomitant loss of traditional ‘old fashioned’ rituals has resulted in loss of forms of nurturance from many cultures.

Being separated from family and culture meant were impediments to conducting traditional rituals. For some Goan women it meant not having anyone to consult who was bicultural and could see the importance of special food. Migration can lead to separation from family and trusteed advisers leading to a ‘vacuum of knowledge’ . Rowena was anxious about the appropriate food to be eating and struggled to create a new frame of reference and develop a sense of what she ‘should’ be doing. Rowena sought guidance but ultimately was unable to cook any of the things that she thought might be useful because her husband worked long hours and there were no extended family members available to help her enact traditional rituals:

No, in fact I didn’t know what to eat, but the hospital kept saying eat a normal diet. Do I have to have spicy food? They said since you’ve been eating it all your life and during pregnancy, you don’t have to drink milk to get milk, just eat well. Because being alone I had to cook my own stuff, so I just continued eating my normal things (Rowena).

This example again highlights the tensions of attempting to fulfil cultural expectations but also fit into what was appropriate in the new culture.

Bringing family in to support rituals

Several participants brought mothers and mothers-in law to New Zealand because it was unusual to have a baby ‘by yourself’, to help with tradition, food preparation, care of the baby and allow the new mother to rest. Lorna, Greta and Flora chose to bring family members over where possible to provide both support and assistance with rituals. Lorna was fortunate in being able to bring her mother over to help out, and points out the alien notion of the individualising of a major life event like birth:

Then you come to a place with no-one around you, you don’t really know if you can make it alone. You know you are not very independent in a way, so it is unfamiliar to have a baby on your own. Yeah, so that’s why, so you just sort of have Mum over everybody has Mum over, it’s a Goan thing to do, it’s an Indian thing to do (Lorna).

Greta was supported by both her mother and mother-in-law who came to New Zealand to assist with care of the baby and other household tasks which included food preparation and advice. Greta’s example illuminates the richness and significance of cultural rituals in the postpartum period:

Fenugreek seeds and jaggery and coconut milk and she kept giving me that and I found that quite nourishing. I don’t know whether that would generate just the milk and also a sort of porridge made from semolina. So I would bake that and a drink that would help me clear up my stomach too much of gas so those things helped me a lot (Greta).

The importance of food to many Goan rituals and special occasions is emphasised in Flora’s recount of her child’s christening which emphasised the symbolic significance of the Goan connection to the earth through the serving to guests of chickpeas and coconut: Flora’s example highlights how she feels she needs to justify the significance or legitimacy of particular types of food to ‘Kiwis’ or have it legitimated by them. This perhaps represents a sign of her wanting to ‘fit in’. This could also be a way of justifying to white New Zealanders the attachment to things Goan:

Even for a normal party you see all Goan tradition, you must make this food you know, like for an auspicious occasion, like a Christening. Coconut in it, that is a must, you know a christening can’t go without that. The Kiwis, you know wonder what are we serving boiled grams (chickpeas) for on an occasion like this. My aunt was going around to all the Kiwi guests saying you know I’m serving coconut. I didn’t know what was the meaning behind it, but she was explaining you know chickpeas are the food of the soil, and coconut is also a food of the soil (Flora).

Therefore it can be seen that food plays an important role both in the private lives of Goans and the celebrations and life transitions such as parenthood.  One of the many strengths that Goans have is the capacity for celebration and connection with each other through food and song.  The internet and increased numbers in our global communities mean that we can more easily access whatever it means for us to be Goan.