The Department of Internal Affairs

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Services › Citizenship › New Zealand Citizenship Secondary School Essay Competition

2009 marked the 60th anniversary of New Zealand citizenship. To help celebrate this anniversary, the Department of Internal Affairs ran a secondary school essay competition for Year 11-13 students on the topic “What New Zealand citizenship means to me”. Entries closed at the end of term three, 2009 and the Department was very pleased by the interest and enthusiasm shown by all those students who took the time to participate in the competition.

The winning essay was written by Maria English from Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Wellington. Maria’s essay can be read below. The judges also identified five other entries they considered worthy of special commendation. These special commendation entries were written by: Enakshi Chakravorty, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School; Lydia Hoby-Sharpe, Diocesan School for Girls; Ben Jones, St Bede’s College; Rayhan Langdana, Wellington College; and Uddaka Wijesinghe, Christs College.

Winning Entry:

What New Zealand Citizenship Means to Me

Another day, another hundred thousand people across the world depart their homelands by ship, by plane and by foot in the hope of becoming citizens of another. Sixty years ago, my Great-Grandparents made such a journey, arriving on New Zealand shores from Italy. They underwent the arduous citizenship process: the integration into a new and unfamiliar culture, the struggle with language barriers, the filling out of forms, and the official oath of allegiance to the Queen. For them, becoming citizens of New Zealand meant a life of greater opportunity, a chance to forge a new and brighter future in a new society.

Three generations later, I let out my first wailing scream in a white-walled room in Lumsden hospital, and in that very moment attained my own New Zealand citizenship. No daring journey across the sea, no action, no effort, just an entitlement handed to me because of where I and my parents were born. For me, citizenship is not a brighter future, but the common mundanity of the present. It’s a stamp on a passport, a shorter queue at the airport, a box to be ticked on an application form.

And yet, my Great-Grandparents were New Zealanders just as much as I am, absolutely equally a part of this nation. And therein lies the profound and simple fact about citizenship: no matter where we come from or what our differences are, whether they be of age, religion or race, to be a citizen of New Zealand is to belong.

In its black-and-white form, citizenship means belonging in a legal sense. Citizens have the full protection of the law, and all the political, social and civil rights that that entails. We have the right to vote, can fully access education, and can freely move across New Zealand borders whenever we want to. As legally recognized citizens, we can protect our political liberties when they are under threat from other individuals and importantly, from the state itself.

But it also gives us something else that is far less tangible, and yet just as valuable: a home.

In today’s world of endless flux where people and information are moving faster and faster, ‘new’ is the tantalising catch-phrase of every advertising campaign and flights to Melbourne are cheaper than flights to Dunedin, the concept of ‘home’ is becoming a foreign one. Those places you feel entirely connected to and to which you can always return are much rarer and therefore all the more precious. New Zealand citizenship is the official recognition that you have that place.

Not only do you have a place, you have a community. Though ‘national identity’ can at times seem a rather nebulous term that’s hard to pin down and not really worth the effort of doing so, it remains true that isolation fosters ignorance and ignorance fosters division. If we want to avoid that kind of isolation between peoples and their beliefs, it is absolutely crucial that we have a sense of shared identity as a nation. This is crystallized in the requirement that all NZ citizens must ‘not act in a way that is against the interests of New Zealand’. Being a citizen requires us to see our own individual needs and desires in conjunction with everyone else’s, not separate from them.

In an increasingly multi-cultural society, it is a real challenge to find the balance between celebrating diversity and fostering unity. I think New Zealand is proof to the rest of the world that you can do both. While there is equality amongst all citizens, there is also recognition of the valuable contribution that each individual can make when they draw from their own background, experiences and culture. A good example of this is the way in which Pacific Island culture has become an important part of New Zealand identity not just for those with Pacific ancestry but for all New Zealanders. Integration is not the imposition of a ‘majority’ culture on everyone else, but nor is it a fractured patchwork of vastly divergent groups and beliefs. Rather, it is recognition that being a citizen means having the right to be accepted by others, but also the responsibility to adapt.

As citizens of New Zealand we have freedom, we have a home and we have a community to call our own. We also have a responsibility to protect those things. The very legitimacy of democracy itself is derived from the consent of the people. So not only are all the freedoms of speech, of movement and of participation that citizenship grants us worthless if we do not exercise them, but democracy itself becomes worthless. That’s why it is so important that all New Zealanders to wear their citizenship proudly and actively, to respect the rights of others, to defend our own rights and to exercise our rights in order to make democracy work better. This means participating in our democratic process and using the qualities we have as individuals to enhance our communities .

Just like for my Great-Grandparents, citizenship for me is an opportunity to forge a new and brighter future. It will be a future that’s brighter because I will be enriched by the cultures of others, and encouraged by the knowledge that no matter how many stamps I get on my passport I’ll always have a place to return to. The challenge for me, and for all New Zealanders, is to recognize that opportunity, and take hold of it.

Maria English, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School