“Our dance is a celebration of the fabric of modern New Zealand”: Identity, Community, Solidarity and Citizenship at Youth Polyfests in Aotearoa New Zealand
One feature of the growing levels of cultural diversity in Aotearoa New Zealand has been the growth of cultural festivals. These originated primarily for Pacific groups to maintain and sustain cultural performance and traditions, but increasingly such festivals reflect the growing ethnic minority groups present in most of New Zealand’s large urban centres. Specific cultural festivals for school-aged young people are attended by thousands of young New Zealanders annually, yet to date have rarely been a feature of research. This study aimed to explore the role that cultural festivals may play in contributing to the identity, belonging and citizenship experiences of ethnic minority youth growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand. The thesis draws on ethnographic data obtained at three cultural festivals (Polyfests) for school-aged young people in 2018 (ASB Auckland Polyfest, Tu Tagata, Wellington and Northern Regional Polyfest, Porirua). Employing ethnographic participant observation, coupled with approaches drawn from ethnomusicology and dance ethnography, data collection included observation of speeches, public announcements and performances, dance moves and music, as well as on-the-fly discussions with festival performers and analysis of associated media (brochures, media reports, online articles). The festivals performances and their potential to enable spaces of possibility for identity-formation were analysed through Bhabha’s (1996) notion of ‘third-space’. The study drew attention to the way young performers strategically employed fusions of traditional and contemporary music and dance genres within their performances to articulate new ways of seeing themselves. These performances also served to maintain and validate ethnic and school-based identities, as well as to gain status and recognition by creating symbolic representations of the way that performers wished their cultural group to be viewed by audiences. Festival spaces also allowed cultural groups to consolidate homogenous (ethnic) solidarities as well as articulate new ways of seeing themselves as belonging through heterogenous (inter-ethnic) and school-based solidarities. The study underscores the significance of festival spaces as ‘counter-spaces’ in New Zealand society in which ethnic minority youth could experience (and create) identity-affirming, counter-hegemonic experiences outside of the dominant discourses frequently projected on them by White New Zealand.