Manurewa in South Auckland, known to locals as the 267. Artwork by Kelvilyon Tufuga
I have lived in the same house on the same street in Manurewa for almost 20 years. South Auckland is my home - physically and emotionally. There is no place that brings me more peace, or freedom.
I always knew people looked down on SA, but didn't know how bad it was until I started going to a majority-white, affluent, all-girls high school in Ponsonby. Before this, I’d spent all my time in South Auckland, sheltered from assumptions and ill-informed criticisms about my home. Suddenly, the attacks were personal. Among countless comments, I had friends who didn't want to come over to my house because of my physical proximity to crime. I also had people telling me they'd driven through Manurewa once (on their way to more affluent parts of South Auckland, no doubt) and their mum had fearfully locked the car doors.
I quickly realised that people really didn't like where I was proudly from. However, as quickly as I realised that, it took me much longer to understand their disgust towards South Auckland was built on archaic, racist ideas about Māori and Pasifika people. You know, how we’re all benefit bludgers, indebted to the system, gang members ready to rob your house and take your jobs. Ideas like these about the people of SA aren’t new, fresh or exciting and they continue to linger in the periphery of every conversation I have with someone about where I’m from.
This is why, to me, the coverage of the recent Covid-19 outbreak, stemming from a family in South Auckland, is nothing short of upsetting. The constant emphasis on the family being Pasifika, and from South Auckland feels like two articles or news stories away from my biggest fear: South Auckland and Pasifika people being used as a scapegoat in the media. Looking back at New Zealand’s history of demonising SA and marginalised ethnic groups, the loose use of ‘South Auckland’ and ‘Pasifika’ sits disturbingly well in the lips of predominately white reporters, for me.
It emphasises to me the swift way mainstream media eat up stories that can frame South Auckland in a negative light. However, if anything good happens in South Auckland, the media refuse to give it any airtime. On the rare occasion they are there for something objectively good, it’s ‘unusual’ or 'miraculous'.
In times like these, I am reminded that such obsolete and irrelevant commentary proves that most people will never see the value in South Auckland like I do. In my mind, South Auckland is the pinnacle of greatness, forming and fostering creativity, confidence, a sense of community and belonging – but most of all, brown excellence.
I know this, because I am here before, and I’ll be here after people breeze through our streets with their redundant reviews of the area. I can only hope I’m allowed the pleasure of living here for 20 years more.
Allyssa Verner-Pula is from Manurewa in South Auckland, known to locals as the 267. Her blog @mayorofmanurewa addresses a range of topics from David Dallas’ Hood Country Club, to loss, Glee and her personal experiences with mental health. She featured in YWCA’s 18x18 photo exhibition, which shared a snippet of young women on the brink of adulthood and their world. Allyssa is a proud Afakasi Sāmoan and is currently completing a degree in Drama and Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland.