The most visible expression of Latin American identity in New Zealand was the political activism of refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. Chileans in particular dominated the groups who were concerned about political prisoners in their home country. Their activities led to further refugees arriving from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia and Peru. Later, the Auckland Latin American Committee built on the experiences of Chileans to provide support for refugees from other regions.
Many Latin Americans found New Zealand dull and its people reserved. One Mexican thought Wellington was a ‘ghost town’. 1 Others believed there was no real dancing in New Zealand. Their response was to socialise with other Latin Americans and to stage cultural events.
Latin American dances such as the samba and rumba were taught in New Zealand before there was a large ethnic community. These dances became more popular as the community grew, and today, tango, salsa and ceroc are widely enjoyed. Musical groups which brightened New Zealand’s cultural life included Kantuta in Auckland and Pachamama in Christchurch. Carnivals brought colour and energy to Wellington’s streets.
Language and sport
There is a growing interest in Spanish language classes. By 2002, 4,823 high-school students were learning Spanish; up from 256 in 1991. Access Radio (community-run stations) grew out of a Spanish–English programme in the early 1980s. Later, such radio shows became the main means of communication among Latin Americans in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Even in these cities, there were not enough people in any one Latin American group to establish national clubs, though general Spanish language and Latin American groups flourished.
Football brought some Latin Americans together and fostered connections with other New Zealanders.
In the early 21st century some Brazilians, who speak Portuguese, took steps to form an association of Brazilian residents. The Brazilian Culture Education Centre opened in Auckland to teach Portuguese to both children and adults and to promote Brazilian music, folklore and literature.
Most Latin American refugees have become New Zealand citizens. But in 1983, five years after arriving as a refugee, one Chilean observed:
‘I doubt there will be a day when I’ll wake up and say “I am a Kiwi”. It doesn’t work like that. … I am different from the Kiwi. … [My national identity] is something I will never lose – and don’t want to lose.’
This persistent sense of difference has underpinned the contribution of Latin Americans to New Zealand life.
Diplomatic and trading ties
The emergence of a Latin American community was matched by the development of closer diplomatic and trading ties between New Zealand and Latin America, especially Chile. A working holiday agreement between New Zealand and Chile fostered people-to-people contacts.