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A NZ podcast sheds light on immigrant parents and their children

Masooma-Mehdi and her son Aliyaan. A place to call home.

Masooma Mehdi, pictured above with her son Aliyaan Abba, lives in east Auckland but was born in Pakistan. Now Aliyaan, who’s 13, is the same age his mother was when she migrated to New Zealand in the 90s. The pair feature in a new eight-part podcast series,Conversations with my Immigrant Parents (in association with RNZ), which retraces threads of culture and identity to home countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, South America and the Pacific Islands.

Instead of interviewing the families, co-producers Saraid de Silva Cameron and Julie Zhu allow them space to speak for themselves. It’s an approach that elicits humour, intimacy and emotion, with a parent sometimes sharing a story their adult child has never before heard.

Part of the intention was to help each understand the other’s journey, says de Silva Cameron, who was born here and whose mother came as a child from Sri Lanka (Zhu came to New Zealand from China when she was four). “A lot of the kids translate for their parents. Not so much the language, but the cultural vernacular – how [as people of colour] to move in a space or communicate with Pākehā.”

Another commonality is the tension between older migrants wanting to retain the culture of the country they’d left behind and the need for their children to create a new identity of their own. “Some things you let go of, some you hold onto,” says de Silva Cameron. “And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”  

This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to our fortnightly email for more great stories.