chapter  4
19 Pages

An Irishman, a Samoan and a Korean walk into a church: three encounters and New Zealand’s struggle for its national identity


Introduction Paul Spoonley and Richard Bedford note that ‘New Zealand has a tradition of significantly transforming itself at particular historical moments’, including through recent changes to the project of building a modern, democratic and liberal society. Immigration, they add, has always been a key contributor to this change. They go on to identify three simultaneous and significant changes that occurred in the period from the 1960s to the 1980s. First, Māori were given more consideration as tangata whenua (the indigenous population; literally, ‘the people of the land’); second, Pacific peoples engaged in large-scale post-war labour immigration; and third, the ‘white’ New Zealand immigration policy was abandoned for a skillsbased, and therefore more culturally diverse, policy in the mid-1980s. 1

This chapter builds on the notion that immigration is a major contributor to New Zealand’s nation-building project, in particular through the resistance and adaptation of three migrant groups (the Irish, Samoans and Koreans) in relationship to the church, a social institution that over time went from being influential and formative to being diminished but more diverse. However, to draw again on Spoonley and Bedford, we also note that ‘the nation has been narrowly defined in both who has been approved as an immigrant and therefore who can be considered an appropriate member of the country that came to be called New Zealand by its early European colonists’. 2 Even among the narrow range of immigrants that made up New Zealand until well into the twentieth century, and certainly when a greater diversity of immigrants arrived thereafter, there were strong social and political attitudes about which type of immigrant was welcome and which was not.