By Anita Divers
AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): "New Zealand is a Pacific nation, but everywhere we look it seems like it is still in the 1950s. How can we make a future that will allow a very different NZ to occur?"
This was one question asked at "becoming more Pacific by the hour," a talk given by Dr Damon Salesa, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Pacific) of the University of Auckland.
Held in central Auckland as part of a series of free public lectures by UOA academics, the talk covered the growing importance and influence of Pasifika culture in New Zealand and across the world.
An Associate Professor of Pacific Studies at UOA, Dr Salesa said that the business sector was becoming more invested in Pasifika culture and Pacific businesses themselves were proving their value by withstanding and outlasting their multinational competitors.
“About four years ago, a major multinational chain moved into Otahuhu and spent millions on marketing and advertising,” Salesa said.
“They lasted about 11 months before shutting up and leaving. That was Carls Jr.”
“About the same time, a far less major Samoan franchise, Pinati’s, moved into Otahuhu. Fast forward four years, there’s a line at Pinati’s and there’s an empty Carls Jnr sitting on Atkinson Ave."
He also spoke about the growing Pacific influence in New Zealand government with 13 Pacific and Maori Ministers now in parliament and the crucial Pacific contribution to New Zealand sporting success.
“Without Pacific rugby players, the current All Black team could be compared to Italy's.”
One of the most striking signs of growing Pasifka influence he said, was the increasing prominence of Pacific culture in global creative industries and big-budget films.
“The Disney film Moana grossed close to USD700 million US dollars,” he said.
“And that’s before you get to the merchandising.”
"Disney made the film mostly using NZ talent, so most of the actors, the chief musician and Pacific people were connected to or from NZ."
However, he said that Pacific talent and creativity was also driving the domestic arts and creative industries.
“Most of the highest grossing NZ films are either by or about Maori and Pacific people,” he said.
"The question is not ‘why would we make a Maori or Pacific film,’ the question is ‘why would you make any other?’"
Dr Salesa also spoke about some of New Zealand’s most enduring art and music, which had been created and immortalised by the likes of Pasifika artist Fatu Feu'u and the Pacific musicians who had helped make hip-hop a contemporary New Zealand genre.
These examples, he said, perfectly illustrated the Pacific contribution to the sustainable industries that New Zealand needed to thrive in a changing world.
"If you match it against the economy that we are currently saddled with, which is driven by two very carbon heavy industries, the dairy industry and tourism, we can imagine that both of those industries simply don't have a thirty year outlook, not as they are, and then we have Pacific people who have crafted a sustainable future."
In response to a question about the increased shooting and violence in South Auckland, a predominately Pacific area, Dr Salesa conceded that it was a problem that urgently needed to be addressed.
"The methamphetamine gang profile has changed, so you have new gangs operating in New Zealand and many of them are trying to move into established territory.”
He said that with their money and resources, gangs were attractive to young people who lived in an environment of constrained economic and social choice.
“The biggest meth bust we've seen was a quarter of a billion dollars worth of meth. So these are guys riding around in half a million dollar choppers, and driving around in one million dollar Rolls Royces.”
“Now if you put that money in a place where this is literally unthinkable, it becomes enormously difficult to challenge by saying "hey, go to school, get a good job."
He also said that poor housing, health, education outcomes and other structural reasons could be causing the violence.
Anita Divers is a writer from South Auckland, New Zealand who has a Post Graduate Diploma in Communication Studies from AUT