Being NZ born Pacific Islander : dealing with two cultures

Post by Llat010

“Fie Palangi” (wanting to be like a European) is something I always heard my Mum say to my siblings and I growing up. I am one of seven girls and four boys and majority of us were all born and raised here in New Zealand. Both my parents were born and raised in the small island of Tonga, and migrated to New Zealand in the 1960’s. We grew up in between two different cultures, the New Zealand culture and the Tongan culture.  Growing up it was difficult living in two separate worlds that contradicted each other.

One world that is very holistic and collective while the other one is individualistic. At home and church it was expected of us to speak the Tongan language and live according to the traditional Tongan values and principles. While in New Zealand schools and in society these traditional Tongan values and principles were not a priority. It was speaking Tongan at home then speaking English at school. It was “do what you’re told and do not answer back” at home to “what are your thoughts about this issue?” at school. For many New Zealand born Pacific Island people we go through a period of identity confusion followed by a time out period. We would act out our confusion by exploring other life styles, leaving the church and for some engaging in risky behaviors (Manuela & Sibley, 2013). For my siblings and I, we left our parents traditional Tongan church after the death of our Father. We did get ridiculed by church members who would say, “you guys are just “Fie Palangi” (wanting to be like a European). Much of our support during this time came from close friends and family members. There were no support services we knew of that we could go to at school or in general at the time. We were never aware of any, but are thankful for support we did receive from close friends and family. Sadly many Pacific people go through similar situations but do not get the support or appropriate help needed.

New Zealand born Pacific young people have higher rates of suicide ideation and attempts than Pacific young people who were born in the islands and migrated to New Zealand. Yet Pacific young people in New Zealand are less likely to use mental health services compared to other ethnic groups. As New Zealand born Pacific people we face the challenge of having to deal with two worlds, which at times can leave us vulnerable to suicidal behaviour. The barriers that exist for Pacific people to use mental health services are cost, transport, language barriers, lack of knowledge, stigma, fear, shame and a lack of cultural competency among health practitioners (Faalogo-Lilo, 2012). As Pacific people our view and understanding of life and the world is very holistic, we do not separate health, culture, family, and our spirituality but we see it all connected together. If one part of our wellbeing is impacted it automatically affects the other parts.

However, the mental health services are embedded in Western psychology and culture, which fails to acknowledge Pacific views and way of life. This has been an issue because mental health practitioners and services fail to help Pacific people who are the most vulnerable due to lack of cultural competency (McClure, 2017). Mental health services and practitioners need to be more culturally appropriate for Pacific people and understand the challenges we face such as dealing with two different worldviews and cultures. Taking a one-way approach in dealing with mental health issues with Pacific people does not work.

Pacific young people need to be given the opportunity to understand and have an appreciation of their culture to gain a sense of their identity and belonging. However, traditional Pacific values have been diluted by mainstream ideals and this has left Pacific young people vulnerable. Pacific people need to be given the opportunity to contribute to mental health policies, services and initiatives. Bicultural practice needs to be applied in our mental health services to enable and empower more Pacific people to feel like they can access and utilize services with out feeling discriminated (Tiatia-Seath, 2017).


Fa’alogo Lilo, C. (2012). Barriers and Supports Pacific People Experience In Using Mental Health Services (Doctoral dissertation, ResearchSpace@Auckland). Retrieved from

 Manuela, S., & Sibley, C. G. (2013). The Pacific Identity and Wellbeing Scale (PIWBS): A culturally-appropriate self-report measure for Pacific peoples in New ZealandSocial indicators research112(1), 83-103. Retrieved from Report_Measure_for_Pacific_Peoples_in_New_Zealand/links/555504dd08ae6943a871b274.pdf

 McClure. (2017). Why is New Zealand’s mental health system failing Maori and Pacific communities?. Retrieved from

 Tiatia-Seath. (2017). Tackling the silence around Pacific youth suicide. Retrieved from




Author: socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand

2 thoughts on “Being NZ born Pacific Islander : dealing with two cultures”

  1. Thank you, Llat010, for this really insightful post. I think about this a lot more now that I work closely alongside a Pasifika team in community mental health services. There does seem to be a big (and generally unacknowledged) divide between what we (mental health services) say people should do (how they should ask for help, who they should speak to, etc) and what that person’s culture dictates as acceptable and appropriate behaviours. The individual Pasifika social workers I know working with pasifika tangata whaiora are wonderful, but I know what you mean – it seems ‘optional’ for other, mainly pakeha practitioners to work differently -to say nothing of the completely western policies in mental health!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Appreciate your blog. Its difficult living in two worlds as you stated, and I agree that Pacific people would benefit from being more involved in mental health policies as it makes sense that Pacific people would be the best people to develop and implement these to help our people. Awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

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