2 Dec 2019

Episode 1: A Dress and a Cardigan for Mele - Conversations With My Immigrant Parents

From Conversations With My Immigrant Parents, 6:00 am on 2 December 2019
  • The views expressed in this episode are personal and do not reflect the opinions of the participants' employers.

| By Saraid de Silva & Julie Zhu | Twitter: @saraiddesilva@juliezhuu | Instagram: @convoswithmy | Facebook: whereareyoufromreally

A Dress and a Cardigan for Mele

Liliani Waigth outside her garden, named Kolokakala.

Liliani Waigth outside her garden, named Kolokakala. Photo: Saraid de Silva / Julie Zhu

When Liliani Waigth migrated to Aotearoa from Tonga as a 21 year old in the 1970s, she had no idea it would be another 15 years before she went back.

“I hop out of the plane and it was freezing cold.  Coming from a country that’s so warm, coming over to New Zealand, it was foggy and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing over in this country over here.’”

Staying initially in Auckland where she had family, Liliani soon met her Pālagi husband and moved to the East Coast.  She was one of the first Tongan migrants to settle in Gisborne where there were only a handful of other Tongan families that she knew of at the time.

Liliani had two daughters and two sons, however her first daughter passed away as a baby.  Her daughter Kesaia now lives in Wellington and works as a principal research analyst of the Waitangi Tribunal for the Ministry of Justice.  In her 60s now and retired, Liliani talks with Kesaia on the phone every day and has done so for the last 17 years.

Kesaia Walker holding her baby Raita.

Kesaia Walker holding her baby Raita. Photo: Saraid de Silva / Julie Zhu

Kesaia’s dad passed away when she was 13 and Liliani raised her three kids largely as a single mother.  Despite this, she had strong reservations when Kesaia fell pregnant with her first child while unmarried.  Through this conversation, mother and daughter discuss how different expectations in the countries they were raised in have influenced their approaches to marriage and motherhood.

“My mother, she always talked to me about those kinds of things, you know?  If I go with a boy or have a boyfriend, and you go and have… you know, have a baby or something like that.  That is really–,” starts Liliani.

Kesaia finishes her sentence, “Really bad.  I don’t think anybody here really cares that much.  For me - because I left home at 17, there was no culture, there was no community to really disappoint.  So I didn’t sort of worry about that.”

This episode covers expectations of Tongan women, grief, and how different generations perceive the notion of sacrifice, all with Kesaia’s five month old Raita gurgling in the background.

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

[click here for more episodes]

Conversations With My Immigrant Parents is a podcast and video series hosted, produced, and directed by Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu.

Saraid de Silva is a Sri Lankan/Pākehā actor and writer.  Her work deals with contemporary feminism and the realities of being a first generation South Asian New Zealander.

Born in China, Julie Zhu is a filmmaker, photographer, and storyteller focused on championing the stories and voices of marginalised identities.

(L-R) Podcast hosts Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu.

(L-R) Podcast hosts Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu. Photo: Saraid de Silva / Julie Zhu

RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund logos

Photo: RNZ/NZ On Air

Recent stories from Conversations With My Immigrant Parents

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Conversations With My Immigrant Parents

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)