I’m Melino Maka. I am originally from Tonga and I’ve lived in New Zealand for just over 40 years.

Back in the Pacific, people looked at New Zealand as the land of milk and honey. And there were plenty of opportunities, either for education or jobs. I was 19 years old when I came here for school. But there were challenges and so I just focused on trying to get a job so that I could help family back home.

I remember struggling to adapt to a city after living in a village. Even today, I can see some of our people from Tonga struggling to adapt. And somehow some of us tend to fluke it. Some of us struggle from day one and tend to go in a different direction or go back to Tonga. It is a challenge for new migrants who come here and try to navigate their way through a new environment in New Zealand.

I hope what I’m sharing with you will help people know some of the challenges migrants from the Pacific and other parts of the world face. What are our expectations of New Zealand and New Zealand’s expectation of us? There is stereotyping and there is racism. It’s subtle racism and it’s about who holds the power.

I found gardening has helped me refocus. My garden reminds me of Tonga. A lot of people think Tonga is small and that I must have been a fisherman. But my family grew crops. I grew up with my uncle. He used to grow kumara, taro and watermelon. I remember the sea of kumara and watermelon on the farm. He had people working for him on the farm.

Growing crop just grew on me. I have a bit of Tonga in my garden. When I started, I used to grow traditional vegetables like cabbage but there was a lot of waste. So I had a rethink. A lot of vegetables are quite expensive in the winter so I grow vegetables all year around. I grow kumara all year round. There is a type of taro, a variety that grows in Tonga, that I planted here. I grow cucumber, watermelon, strawberries, capsicum, chilies, celery, and lettuce, virtually anything that you can think of. This is harvested and preserved. We make tomato relish or cucumber chutney to share.

Often I bring some people from my community here so that they can try their hand at gardening. Some members of our community have limited income but you know, if you can use the resources and skills you already have, you can survive.

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I’ve lived more of my life in New Zealand than in Tonga, so New Zealand is my home. But there’s something about the place that I grew up in, where I was born, that I can’t shake off. So I always look out for opportunities for economic development and knowledge that I can take to Tonga and duplicate. Tongan politics and politicians sadden me. The government and officials tend to slow the process and that really tires me and frustrates the hell out of me.

Here in New Zealand, I want to create a life for my children and my grandchildren. I’m married and we had three sons but our oldest son passed away 25 years ago. So we have two sons, one grandson and two grand-daughters. I worry about their future and what it will bring. It’s hard enough growing up as a person from the Pacific in New Zealand.

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