My Mum was the matriarch of our family. She was one of 10 children and even though she’d been through a lot she never let it show. We didn’t have much but us kids always came first.
We grew up in a Maori home but with no real established cultural identity. My sisters are Samoan, I’m Korean and my younger brother is Spanish. I was given the nickname Ling Ling by my Mum’s father. He was a tough man. He also gave nicknames to my siblings and cousins who were of mixed ethnicities. I can’t repeat them here.
Everyone used these nicknames. And even though my Mum was a wonderful lady, warm and kind, it goes to show the culture at the time. I wasn’t fazed by the nickname until I started school. As the only Asian in my family, I always felt like a bit of an outsider. An outcast. Kids would pull their eyes back and call me Ching Chong. You got good marks? You’re good with computers? Yea, it’s because you’re Asian.
I really struggled with my identity. I was never seen as Maori amongst my peers because I looked Korean with a Korean name. But then I wasn’t Asian because I knew nothing about the culture. Mum was brought up with the Maori culture, but I was only part. Part Maori. Part Korean. Never whole. I just wanted to blend in. I guess that’s why I was always after the latest and coolest gear, to impress the other kids.
I’ve always been independent and confident, largely thanks to sport. On the rugby field I felt part of something bigger than myself. I had a sense of belonging. As I got older, that came in the form of my work as Creative Director in Melbourne. Now I have an incredible wife and two awesome kids of mixed ethnicities – Korean, Maori and Croatian – and I want them to be proud of who they are.