As racist and unfounded rumours swirl, how is the family at the centre of New Zealand’s newest Covid cluster and the wider South Auckland community responding? Justin Latif reports.
A week after the announcement that members of a south Auckland household had tested positive for Covid-19, the family is getting the support it needs, according to Aupito William Sio, the minister of Pacific peoples.
“Their focus is on keeping themselves safe, and maintaining quarantine isolation to keep everyone in the community safe,” he told the Spinoff.
Among the family’s worries, he said, was that their pet dog hasn’t been able to go for regular walks.
“My office is maintaining close contact with a family member, to make sure they are receiving all the support they require to get through this. The latest report I have received is that they are coping, and following medical advice, and are resilient. There was concern for a pet dog at home and I understand a relative is looking after the dog now,” he said.
Along with the false and racist conspiracy theories that have debunked from on high, there has been a spate of bigotry and fear mongering emerging on social media pages and comment threads about the fact this family were Pasifika and residents of South Auckland.
A handful of artists have hit back, however, and their work has gone viral.
Award-winning Samoan poet Grace Iwashita-Taylor penned a love letter to South Auckland which has now been viewed and shared close to 15,000 times on Facebook.
She begins by condemning the vile insinuations of the news site comment sections and media who fuel the stereotypes, before extolling the virtues of a community she’s spent the majority of her life in.
Iwashita-Taylor used her art to reinforce what makes her home so great, she said.
“When your community gets attacked the surface emotion is anger and frustration. But I really felt like our community needed a lot of love put on them … and what I didn’t realise is how many people also needed to hear it.”
Grace says it’s disappointing to see racism rear its head at a time like this but it’s no a surprise.
“A lot of people are living in fear right now because of Covid, and emotions and judgement is out of whack for a lot of people, but it’s just highlighting that racism is very much alive and real in our country. The most disturbing thing is that it is a genuinely held thought or mindset for a lot of people in this country.”
Wellington-based illustrator Daniel Vernon was also moved to put pen to paper after seeing the way people were vilifying South Auckland.
“As I followed the news cycle, I was seeing the comments and the opinion pieces from media outlets, and I started thinking how this was a bit off,” he said.
“I’m from Paeroa, which is a predominantly Māori and Pasifika town – so in some ways Paeroa is my South Auckland and I see the same [stereotyping] problem there.”
These particular illustrations have received close to 30,000 likes on Instagram and he sees art as having a lot of power to get deeper conversations going during periods of crisis.
“Since it went viral, I see it’s been a way to open dialogue, so I think art is very important at times like this.”
Fa’anana Efeso Collins, Auckland Councillor for the Manukau ward, says he’s been grieved by the racist backlash following news of the family’s ethnicity and is calling on community leaders across the country to stand up to it.
“Nationally we need everyone standing up together against this issue,” he said.
“This isn’t a South Auckland issue, South Auckland is a part of New Zealand, and while it is a part that feels alienated at times, and this has given an opportunity for some to come out and say their rubbish about South Auckland. This means the onus is really on leaders all over our country to come out and say that South Aucklanders are just as much a part of our country as everyone else.”
He says existing issues like overcrowding and a creaking health system pose real challenges for South Auckland, but these are issues all New Zealand must grapple with.
“Covid is the issue here – not where the outbreak occurred. So I hope leaders from across the nation can band together, denounce this behaviour and encourage us to be a better team of five million.”