by Greta Yeoman
When Mai Ho took her citizenship oath earlier this month, she did so in te reo Māori.
“It is a beautiful language.”
The Taiwan-born Timaru resident decided to get New Zealand citizenship in early April to confirm her commitment to living in the town, after moving here from Japan nine years ago.
“I didn’t want to live like a stranger.”
As the number of South Canterbury residents becoming New Zealand citizens continues to increase, The Courier asked the mayors of the Waimate, Mackenzie and Timaru districts for their thoughts.
WAIMATE MAYOR CRAIG ROWLEY
“It’s wonderful to see people choosing New Zealand, in particular Waimate, as their new home. As we’ve seen over the last few years, people from around the world are choosing to live here and become New Zealand citizens. It demonstrates the commitment they’re making and the affection they feel for our district, bringing a vibrancy and cultural diversity that enriches the lives of all of us. It’s great to welcome them here and help them establish connections to the small and friendly Waimate district.”
MACKENZIE MAYOR GRAHAM SMITH
“[There are] more citizenship ceremonies as we now have more migrant employees in our district.
“Also, people are realising the benefits of living in the Mackenzie country . . . and have come to stay.”
TIMARU MAYOR DAMON ODEY
“It is so great to see so many people from all over the world, with such diversity and a mix of vibrant cultures, doing their citizenship ceremony, this adds so much to our district and our community’s tapestry of cultural diversity.
“Nearly every full council meeting is preceded by a citizenship ceremony and it is so good that the Timaru District Council can host this special day for our new citizens.
“We love to bring in different school choirs to join in with us and sing the national anthem at the conclusion of the ceremony and I would like to personally thank the schools that fit this into their schedules, it is really appreciated.
“I look forward to welcoming more new and sometimes not so new people from across our great district into the Council Chambers to do their citizenship, because from that day forward New Zealand is not only just their home, it becomes their country.”
Ms Ho lives with her 6-year-old son Daniel and says despite other people’s critiques of the town being small or rural, she loves Timaru.
“It is a great place for raising children.”
She says she feels New Zealand is a safe country – despite the attack in Christchurch on March 15.
Since arriving in Timaru, she has taken up several paths of study, including social work and te reo Māori classes.
Her love of Māori language and culture is evident throughout the interview.
She points out that it is important to “embrace” the culture and language of tangata whenua (the indigenous people), particularly remembering that the Treaty of Waitangi is “a living document”.
Ms Ho also appreciates Timaru’s proximity to places like Aoraki/Mt Cook, pointing out that while people travel thousands of kilometres to visit the landmark, it is only two hours down the road for South Canterbury residents.
She has also joined an outdoor playgroup with her son, allowing the pair to visit a range of scenic locations including Caroline Bay, Patiti Point, Dashing Rocks and the Scenic Reserve.
She said her church connections and the community found through her son’s school, Timaru Christian School, had also been very important to helping her find her place in the community.
“I have a sense of belonging.”
Ms Ho is part of a growing number of South Canterbury residents gaining New Zealand citizenship.
Figures from Department of Internal Affairs show that 165 people were made citizens in Timaru last year, up from 128 in 2014.
By comparison, Waimate District Council took oaths from 20 new citizens last year, up from 3 in 2014, and 19 Mackenzie residents became citizens in 2018, up from 5 in 2014.
Katy Houston, from the Aoraki Migrant Centre, said the growth in people seeking citizenship was “very positive” for the region – both economically and culturally.
“Our growing migrant population will continue to make South Canterbury an exciting place to live with people from diverse cultures contributing language skills, new ways of thinking, new knowledge, and different experiences.”
South Canterbury Filipino Association chairwoman Belinda Dewe said many Filipinos moved to New Zealand to work in a range of fields, including construction, health services – particularly as nurses – electronics and IT, and agriculture – particularly on dairy farms.
“New Zealand has a great reputation in the Philippines.
“The friendliness of the Kiwi people is also an easy marketable factor that entices Filipinos to come over here to work.”
COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN
In the five years from 2014-18, the top five countries of birth for new New Zealand citizens living in the Mackenzie, Waimate and Timaru were:
1) United Kingdom – 245
2) Philippines – 113
3) South Africa – 109
4) India – 38
5) Samoa – 27