Second-generation migration: An exploration of New Zealand born Tongan experiences as secondary school students in Tonga
Tevi, Mele Vaimoana 'Ofa
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This study explores the experiences of New Zealand born Tongan, young adults, who studied in a Tongan high school in their youthful years. This study was spurred on by my brother’s experience of being sent to Tonga by my parents for exhibiting behavioural issues during his high school years. From his experience I wondered, was sending New Zealand born youth to Tonga (their parent’s homeland) for behavioural reasons a common practice? I found little research on this subject although Schoone’s (2008, 2010) study on ‘youth-at-risk suggested that the sending back of youth exhibiting behaviour issues to Tonga “was a cultural strategy utilized to facilitate a more preferable future for their children” (p. 9, 2010). I found the term second generation migrants a useful one to describe this group of New Zealand born youth returning to the birth country of their parents. Starter questions for this exploratory study were: How would you describe this experience of living in Tonga during your secondary school years, looking back, do you think this experience shaped your life journey in the past ten years, and, would you recommend this as a practice for Tongan youth today? Participant criteria were that they self-identified as Tongan and had attended a high school in Tonga at least ten years earlier, adding a reflective element to this study. Individual talanoa were carried out with 12 participants - five females and seven males - were recruited through advertising on Facebook, followed by the use of a snowball technique. Although aims were that talanoa be face-to-face, four were conducted over the phone due to participants’ commitments. Findings were that there were a variety of reasons why this group had done some high schooling in Tonga and three only had been sent back for exhibiting behavioural issues. Other reasons were parents’ commitments in Tonga, parents return to Tonga after study, and in two cases the youth desired to go. All but four had earlier been on short visits to Tonga but all experienced an instant culture shock on arrival to Tonga, facing challenges in terms of the heat, lack of resources, the hard life of discipline, physical labour, and at times not having much to eat. Overtime it was clear they had come to terms with these challenges. Most participants came to realise that they not been quite ready for this experience especially with respect to language competence and practical knowledge of the way the anga fakatonga was practiced – this was especially so for the female participants. There were clear feelings of ambivalence and hurt in being classified as palangi, and in most cases perceived to be wealthy, spoilt, and not real Tongans. However, over time, each navigated their own pathways with some preferring to mainly socialise with other New Zealand born afakasi and expatriate youth. This group found schooling challenging, especially the harsh discipline, the regimented day, the strict regulations and the facilities: each of these aspects of schooling were vastly different from what they had experienced in New Zealand. Looking back, their second generation migration experience had had a lasting impact on each of these participants. The lessons they learned had helped connect them more firmly to the Tongan language and culture as lived in Tonga, reinforced and fostered their identity as New Zealand born Tongans, and increased their understanding of their parents and the challenges their parents had faced in making their homes in New Zealand. Finally, participants believed such an experience would be invaluable for their own children - except that their children must be much better supported than they had been.