When Liliani Waigth migrated to Aotearoa from Tonga as a 21 year old in the 1970s, she had no idea it would be another 15 years before she went back.
“I hop out of the plane and it was freezing cold. Coming from a country that’s so warm, coming over to New Zealand, it was foggy and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing over in this country over here.’
Staying initially in Auckland where she had family, Liliani soon met her Pālagi husband and moved to the East Coast. She was one of the first Tongan migrants to settle in Gisborne where there were only a handful of other Tongan families that she knew of at the time.
Liliani had two daughters and two sons, however her first daughter passed away as a baby. Her daughter Kesaia now lives in Wellington and works as a principal research analyst of the Waitangi Tribunal for the Ministry of Justice. In her 60s now and retired, Liliani talks with Kesaia on the phone every day and has done so for the last 17 years.
Kesaia’s dad passed away when she was 13 and Liliani raised her three kids largely as a single mother. Despite this, she had strong reservations when Kesaia fell pregnant with her first child while unmarried. Through this conversation, mother and daughter discuss how different expectations in the countries they were raised in have influenced their approaches to marriage and motherhood.
“My mother, she always talked to me about those kinds of things, you know? If I go with a boy or have a boyfriend, and you go and have… you know, have a baby or something like that. That is really–,” starts Liliani.
Kesaia finishes her sentence, “Really bad. I don’t think anybody here really cares that much. For me - because I left home at 17, there was no culture, there was no community to really disappoint. So I didn’t sort of worry about that.”
This episode covers expectations of Tongan women, grief, and how different generations perceive the notion of sacrifice, all with Kesaia’s five month old Raita gurgling in the background.
Click here to listen to the full conversation between Liliani and her daughter Kesaia