Celebrate the fact that we are all Kiwis: Melisaa Lee, National’s List MP based in Mt Albert, and also the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Ethnic Communities
(caption for the above picture: Melisaa Lee, withmMinister supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration Nicky Wagner, addressing a public meeting in Christchurch on April 26)
Born in Korea, and brought up in Malaysia, Melissa Lee moved to New Zealand as a young adult in 1988. What followed was over two decades of journalism in both print and television, including fifteen years as the presenter and producer on TVNZ’s Asia Dynamic and Asia Down Under with 600 episodes to her credit. In 2008, she entered Parliament as a National list MP, making her New Zealand’s first Korean MP. Alongside, she held positions as a Vice President of the Korean Society, Vice-President of the Korean Womens’ Association, Board member of the Asia-Pacific Producers’ Network, advisor to the National Unification Council of Korea, and an Asian advisor to the Auckland Police.
So how does she feel when sometimes her parliamentary colleagues tell her to go back to Korea.
“I don’t give much importance to such things actually. I believe racism comes from ignorance. With spread of diversity around New Zealand, I am sure other places will also become more accepting much like Auckland,” she says.
Spending all her New Zealand life in Auckland has definitely helped Lee. “I have never felt or experienced any racism in Auckland during the last three decades. But I still remember one of my visits to Christchurch during my reporting days. I was staying in the central city and feel threatened walking on the streets due to the presence of Skinheads. Now that I am here again, and I keep coming to Christchurch often, I am very glad to see that things have improved considerably,” she noted.
“See the contributions of migrants in making New Zealand what it is today are immense. Masses need to know that. That’s why I encourage all successful migrants to talk about their stories. Whether it was exporting butter to the UK, or growing kumara, migrants have played a significant role in our nation building. Even as we are marking the ANZAC Day this week, who can forget the contributions of Indians and Chinese troops at Gallipoli.”
“No matter what our ethnicities are, we must all celebrate the fact that we are all Kiwis.”
Lee also talks about the role media plays in depicting some particular communities. “I am glad that NZ Herald did a story this week, which indicated that Asians are not the main source of the rise in work visas since 2004. In fact, the top five countries are United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, South Africa and the United States of America. I hope this will clear some misconceptions.”
One of Lee’s role is assisting the Minister for Ethnic Communities as the Parliamentary Private Secretary.
“One of the criticisms we face is not having enough presence on ground, especially in the South Island. But I would prefer to spend money on the community rather than hiring someone. We operate a lean but efficient office, I believe,” she explains.
Having developed close relationships with Korean, African and Filipino communities in Auckland, and a strong advocate of increasing employment of ethnic people in public services, Lee believes that ethnic communities themselves need to stand up and start talking about issues concerning them.
“We have a tendency among communities to shrug off talking about sensitive issues. Be it domestic violence, co-ethnic exploitation, teenage pregnancies, or drug addiction. This needs to change. Start a conversation and bring these issues to our notice. Authorities, on their part, also need to develop culturally appropriate solutions for these issues,” she concluded.