Friday, July 25, 2008

Profile of a Classmate: Flight of the Kiwi

Aneeta Young is not your ordinary kiwi, the endangered bird and national symbol of her birth country, New Zealand. Her name has been changed to protect the identity of the person and her age will not be revealed since she fears living in an ageist society that defines the western world.

Aneeta is soft-spoken in manner yet her ideas are exuberant and thought provoking. That combination of novel politic and buoyancy makes her current role as a Public Relations Strategist for the New Zealand First, a niche political party, a realistic match. She is currently spending the summer away from home, taking Graduate Journalism Proseminar class at Harvard Extension School in the elusive pursuit of delving into the mind of a Journalist. Aneeta says, “I do want to know how Journalists think because they are on the other side. I also want to understanding how the ‘spin doctors’ craft news articles from the press releases I send them.”

Aneeta’s speech is eloquent and polished, her New Zealand accent forged with the infusion of Briticisms and the native Maori language, yet I noticed a few Americanisms in her speech. Her high-minded thoughts and ability to discern the intricate field of Journalism and the role it plays with influencing politics is quite poignant. Her academic background is evident of that. Educated at the University of Victoria, Aneeta completed her both her undergraduate and graduate studies, completing dual degrees in Politics. Her academic interests and research rests in political issues dealing with race, in particular, how demographics and immigration shape policy making. She is particularly interested in African-American politics and is studying the grassroots movement of the Barack Obama campaign as a case study. She wants to find ways for the political party she is working for to gets five percent of votes cast in order to gain a seat in their high-turnout, proportional electoral system. Aneeta says of the New Zealand First, “The platform is socially conservative. They have a xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynist stance that appeals to white senior citizens.” The party is currently polling slightly below the minimum requirement at 4.5 percent.

So I ask Aneeta, a third generation New Zealander from Chinese descent, who grandparents emigrated to the island country, in the 1890’s as indentured labor, if she feels conflicted about representing this party given her pre-ordained race and gender. She tells me that she initially pursued the job with the intention of using the experience as a stepping stone to reach her goal: working as a Political Advisor in the New Zealand parliament. When asked how a minority could be hired into her role, Aneeta replies, “New Zealand is one of the most politically correct countries, probably more so then the United States.” She feels that her sterling writing abilities made her a qualified choice. Though she also thinks employers in New Zealand would be “scared not to hire you” since the laws make discrimination intolerable. Interestingly enough, now that Aneeta has served in her current role, she finds this work meaningful and thinks it is more interesting working in an opposition party. Aneeta says, “The work is fun and a great challenge for me. Our representational system of government allows me to indulge in fringe politics.”

So like the “kiwi” bird Aneeta is both high- and also free- spirited. After becoming an empty nester and gaining the financial security to retire early, she convinced her husband and children of her desire to become a political writer nine months out of the year and spend the remaining summer months traveling abroad and studying at various academic institutions. Last summer, Aneeta attended New York University where she took a course in American foreign policy.

When asked about New Zealand’s standing in global affairs or perceived geographic isolation, Aneeta tells me that small size of the country with the highest per capita “overseas travelers” from any of the highly-industrialized Western countries has fomented a stalwart global-orientation. She just visited her ancestral homeland of China last year and tells me that her family like most New Zealanders are seasoned travelers and universally aware. Aneeta says, “For four million people, we ‘box above our weight’ in international affairs and our outlook is incredibly international.”

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