by Greta Yeoman
First-hand experiences of racism and calls for racial unity were shared at the Aoraki heats of the Race Unity Speech Awards last week.
There were 11 secondary school pupils from the Aoraki region who took part in the annual competition, held at Te Aitarakihi Multicultural Centre.
The young speakers came from as far afield as Twizel Area School and Ashburton College to compete and were joined by pupils from Craighead Diocesan and Timaru Girls’.
While some spoke about supporting diversity after seeing what effect racism had had on their friends, other pupils spoke of their first-hand experiences of racism.
Ashburton College pupils Barbara Nabeka spoke about her experience of being “different”.
“I knew about racism . . . but I didn’t know how it felt until I came to New Zealand.”
Timaru Girls’ pupil Reremaia Unahi told those gathered about being called the N-word at her old intermediate school because she was Māori.
However, despite the heavy nature of the speech, she managed to interject several moments of humour into her talk.
This included quipping “that’s from Janet Jackson” at the conclusion of her speech, preceded by quoting the American singer’s “in complete darkness, we are all the same”.
Twizel Area School’s Jan Campomanes, who was one of the two Aoraki winners, used the metaphor of a choir in his talk.
He talked about how the members’ different voices combined to make a beautiful piece of music, as an example of how racial diversity should be.
“Embrace our differences.”
Jan, along with Craighead Diocesan’s Eve Hyslop (16), will attend the Race Unity Speech Awards semifinals in Auckland on May 10.
The finals will be held the following day.
Afsaneh Howey, who is the Aoraki regional competition co-ordinator, said the Aoraki event was a “great evening”.
She said the 11 entries made it the largest event in the competition’s 18-year history in South Canterbury.
The Race Unity Speech Awards were initiated by the New Zealand Baha’i community in 2001 in support of Race Relations Day.
Mrs Howey said the discussions following the terror attack in Christchurch on March 15 were important and needed to continue.
This had been one way of continuing the conversation, she said.
“None of us are born with racism. Babies aren’t racist.”