On a rainy evening in June 2015, I was walking from my apartment in Wellington, New Zealand, to a cocktail bar in the central business district, on the way to a party with a Meetup group I had joined online. I had been in New Zealand for only three months, and in a city where I hardly knew anyone, I was eager to make new friends. Despite the lengthening evenings and the cold, wet wind that signaled the beginning of winter, I was determined to get out of my tiny apartment and enjoy myself. It was two-for-one dessert night at The Library Bar, and I was in the mood to celebrate, since an essay that had been difficult for me to write had just gone live and was doing well online.
Despite not having many friends in Wellington, I was keen to celebrate my success—and being so far away from home gave me an added sense of liberation. I was in New Zealand, I was in my late twenties, and I had been given a four-year visa and a full scholarship to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing at the Victoria University of Wellington. In the U.S. I had met a New Zealander at my MFA program who’d sung the praises of Victoria’s Creative Writing Institute, and I had been drawn to their PhD program because it did not require coursework, providing me with enough unfettered time to work on a novel I had been laboring over for a few years. But this wasn’t the only reason I had chosen to make New Zealand my home for the next three years of my life, which was the time it normally took to earn a PhD there. I also wanted to set myself free in the world, and give myself the chance to see it differently after having studied and lived in the Philippines and the United States. I felt that by living in an unfamiliar country like New Zealand, I was also giving myself the chance to experience those happy accidents that could reveal hidden aspects of myself and the world.
A strong downpour had eased into a drizzle by the time I set out, and I tailed a blonde in an athletic suit who jogged past me as I crossed the street near an intersection. There were no zebra crossings on this particular road, but there was a narrow “island refuge” for pedestrians where drivers were encouraged, but not required, to stop for pedestrians. In the middle of the road were two small protective islands marking the island refuge, with a narrow passageway in between where pedestrians could pass. I decided to take this route to safely cross the street, seeing that other pedestrians, like the blonde jogging in front of me, were using it too. After having lived in New Zealand for three months, it was still difficult for me to make the distinction between the different types of pedestrian lanes: in the U.S., every pedestrian lane gave similar protections to pedestrians, and I thought it would be the same in New Zealand. My experience crossing roads in the U.S., where drivers usually stopped for pedestrians even where crossings weren’t clearly marked with zebra stripes and traffic lights, made me think that drivers in New Zealand would extend me the same courtesy. By the time a black car turned into the road, I was about to reach the protective spot between the two islands, and I noticed the car turning just in time for me to hold up my hands and yell, “Stop!”
This is the one detail that has remained clear whenever I am compelled to recall the event, even as time, and my own weariness, have frayed the edges of a memory that was once achingly sharp. In those seconds that passed before this man who had stepped on his brakes decided to drive straight into me, I had decided, unconsciously, to stop in my tracks, trusting that whoever was behind the wheel had seen me, and would not hurt me. It was this simple acknowledgement of my existence that I thought would protect me from harm, and it’s the one detail from that evening to which my mind keeps returning, whenever I try to make sense of a seemingly senseless event.
If he stopped when I held my hands up and screamed, that means he saw me.
When he drove straight into me, I fell onto his hood. Pain seared through my shins as they collided against the hood’s metal surface, and pain flashed through my hands as they slammed against the car’s windshield. He stopped, then backed up, throwing me onto the ground.
As he pulled over, the woman I had been trailing, the blonde in sportswear who had just been a foot away from me, turned and came to me. She and another woman who had been standing on the sidewalk helped me up. The pain in my legs was searing and I could barely walk, but with their help, I finally reached the sidewalk.
“Are you okay?” they kept asking, as I limped between them. It was obvious that in their eyes, I was a victim, an injured girl worthy of their sympathy.
The driver was a middle-aged white man, and I noticed, as he stepped outside his car, that he wore what appeared to be an expensive pea coat. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you,” the driver said, as he approached us. Their eyes turned to him, and the more he apologized, the more I could feel their sentiments shifting over to his side.
“In an accident, both parties are at fault,” the blonde said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, disbelief shoring up, instead of tempering, the anger that welled up.
She avoided my eye as she continued to speak. “It’s fifty-fifty, you know.”
“You should have been looking,” the other woman said.
“Wasn’t he supposed to look, too?” I snapped back, as my memory of those seconds before the collision reverberated. Didn’t he stop when I yelled?
Couldn’t he have just waited for me to unfreeze, for my fear to dissipate so that my legs could finally move?
A wall was rising between me and these people who had helped me, and near them stood the man who had stepped out of his car. His car, whose metal shell had slammed into my bones. A car that could have killed me, if he had kept driving. As I hobbled towards a nearby wall and leaned against it, I could sense the suspicion in their eyes, in the uneasiness of their strained silence as I gave voice to my rage.
“I’m a pedestrian. I have rights,” I kept saying, unable to believe that these people would so swiftly place blame on me.
Though I was from the Philippines, where pedestrian rights are routinely ignored by drivers (despite laws that protect pedestrians), I had also lived in America, where pedestrian rights were sacrosanct—even in Texas, cars slowed down as soon as drivers saw me waiting to cross the road, even if I wasn’t standing at a crosswalk. New Zealand was a first world country, and I had expected my rights as a pedestrian to be respected as they were in the US. There were no zebra crossings on this road, and I had no choice but to use this island refuge whose markings supposedly encouraged drivers to be careful in watching out for pedestrians. I had done everything I could to follow the rule of law, but even this, apparently, did not protect me from blame.
A police car arrived. “Is this the person?” the constable asked bystanders, as he paused to look at me. His hesitation struck me as odd: why did he have to insist on labeling me merely as “the person,” a strange term to use for someone who had clearly been injured and was in pain?
“I have a name,” I answered. I had only been in New Zealand for three months, but I had already experienced more than a few incidents of discrimination that made me feel wary of the way bystanders and the police were beginning to treat me. I had recently extricated myself from a living situation in which my landlady constantly made snide remarks about my culture and the backwardness of my home country, casually asking me to walk her dog and treating me like her maid while charging me rent that was way beyond market value. I also had, on occasion, encountered people who assumed I couldn’t speak English because of my appearance. It was beginning to seem, as I stood before these bystanders and the police, that I was a merely a nuisance to these people. I started to wonder if there was a deeper reason behind their eagerness to dismiss my pain.
I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, and I waited for several hours in an emergency room lobby before a doctor saw me. While waiting, I called my mother’s friend, a former coworker who had immigrated to New Zealand from the Philippines with her family. She was living in Wellington, and she and her husband rushed to my aid and sat with me while I waited to be treated. Past midnight, I was finally brought into the emergency room, and my mother’s friend and her husband accompanied me as I was examined by a doctor. Despite internal bruises and external contusions, I had no internal injuries, and before I was released I was told to return if I suffered any dizziness or headaches. My mother’s friend and husband thought it was better for me to spend the night with them, and in their son’s vacated bedroom I slept fitfully, recurring nightmares of a car driving straight into me startling me awake. The next day, they dropped me back at my apartment, where I began packing my bags for a temporary move to their house.
I could not spend another evening in my apartment, alone: I was afraid of going outside and crossing the street to buy food, and I was afraid that the dreams I’d have if I went to sleep, alone in my own house, would be much worse than the dreams I had the previous night in the house of my mother’s friend. My knee and shin, which had hit the car’s bumper when I fell onto its hood, had swelled, and my left hip and thigh were swollen too, since they hit the ground first when I fell onto the street. My entire body felt tender to the touch as I moved around my apartment, figuring out what I needed to bring with me, as I waited for a call from the police, since they had told me, the previous night, that they would be calling me to gather my statement the next day.
My phone rang as I was packing. It was the constable assigned to my case. I am a strong woman, I kept telling myself. I will tell my story without faltering.
“Bystanders say you were holding up a huge umbrella when you crossed the street that night. Is this true?” he asked.
I stared at my tiny folding umbrella, which I had used to protect myself from the rain as I crossed the street the previous night. I tried to wrap my head around the question he had asked. Huge? How could this umbrella be huge in the eyes of those who saw it?
It’s fifty-fifty, you know. Both of you are at fault. Weren’t you looking when you crossed the street?
“It’s a small, folding umbrella,” I answered.
“All right. Now, bystanders say that you were just two meters away from the moving car when you stepped onto the street. Is that correct?”
I had expected to be able to tell my own version of the story when the police interrogated me, and so I was thrown off-balance by his question, because it did not belong to the story I had been hoping to tell. If I answered his question, would he allow me to tell the rest of my story? Or was my job to verify a story that others had finished telling for him?
“I don’t remember. He could have been farther away,” I said, not realizing that by saying this, I was already agreeing with him, that the moving car had been close enough for me to see when I stepped onto the street.
The rest of our conversation went on, just like this: with him supplying me with the supposed facts of the event, asking me to verify the details of a story he had already pieced together after speaking to bystanders.
“There are scientific studies that have shown that the memories of people directly involved in an incident are unreliable,” I remember him saying, when I complained that I wasn’t being given the opportunity to describe my own memories. “This is why we also depend on bystanders’ accounts, because they can be more objective.”
I remember interrupting him to say that the driver had paused for a few seconds when I held up my hands and yelled, only to drive straight into me. But he did not pause to take this in: instead, he brushed it aside, telling me to return to the narrative.
After wrapping up the conversation, he said, “This looks like a cut and dried case. Both of you appear to be at fault.”
Hadn’t he seen my injuries? I asked him. Did he think I just rammed myself into this car? I was so far away from home, I told him, and to be told that I was at fault for something I had never asked for was too much for me to bear.
To this, he did not respond. He simply hung up.
My mother’s friend came to pick me up from my apartment, and as I had dinner with her in her suburban home later that night, I received another call. This time, the man on the phone seemed gentle, even sympathetic: he asked me how I was, and how my injuries were. “I was just driving last night, and I wanted to know how you are.”
“Are you a witness?” I asked.
He paused, then said, “I was just driving.”
It took me a few seconds for me to realize who, exactly, he was.
“How are you?” he asked in a steady voice, as though he found nothing wrong in asking me this question, in calling me the very night after he had driven his car right into me.
“You’re the one who hit me,” I said.
“No, I was just driving that night.”
“Do you know how traumatized I am?” I asked, shaking, as my mother’s friend glanced up at me. “I could barely sleep last night. What you did kept playing in my head, on a loop.”
He giggled, and said, “That’s not what I mean. How about your injuries? I mean, when you went to the hospital, did they find any injuries on your body?”
I hung up immediately.
“The nerve of that man! I would’ve thrown my phone if I were in your place!” my mother’s friend said in Tagalog, as I tried to steady myself.
I felt reduced to a mere piece of meat. I wasn’t a human being with feelings, but a body that could only sustain physical damages and nothing more.
I learned, after making some calls, that the police had given my number to him thinking that it was perfectly fine to allow this man to contact me.
The next few days had me consulting with lawyers and figuring out how to stand up to a police force in a foreign country which insisted on erasing my story so as not to inconvenience a middle-aged, white New Zealander who was simply “driving” that night as I crossed the street. After consulting with a lawyer, I found the courage to go to Wellington’s central police station and insist on delivering my own statement without being interrupted. The officers at the station hesitated to entertain my request at first, because their colleague had already been assigned to the case, but eventually a female constable agreed to take down my statement. She took me into the station’s cold, drab innards, sat me down before a desk, took out a pad of paper, and asked me to begin. She allowed me to tell my story in full, asking me, every once in a while, to clarify certain details. Afterwards, she asked me, “What did this make you feel?”
Startled that she had even bothered to ask the question, I told her that it had given me much emotional distress. This, she also wrote down. I felt a deep yet unexpected sense of relief, for this was the first time that anyone had told me that my feelings mattered, and that they were, indeed, a vital part of my story.
A few hours later, I received a call from the police. Whoever was on the line wasn’t the woman who had taken down my story, or even the detective who had spoken to me on the phone the previous day: he seemed to be a senior officer, judging by the anger in his voice. I wasn’t supposed to have gone to the station to deliver my statement, he said: my case had already been assigned to the officer who had taken down my statement on the phone the previous day, and it was the only statement they would consider. I was disrupting the investigation, I was told. Both the driver I were at fault, he said, and no further actions would be taken. He also added that the police had given my number to the driver of the car because both parties at fault in an accident were supposed to swap contact information.
“Is this the way victims are treated, by having their privacy violated while they’re recovering?” I asked.
“We weren’t violating anything. It’s the law, and you’re not a victim. You are equally at fault in this incident, and so it was his right to call you.”
“But he hit me, and he injured me!”
“He did not hit you. Both of you are at fault in a traffic incident.”
“But I was injured.”
“And you should’ve been looking.”
“That sounds a lot like victim-blaming.”
“You are not the victim here!” he yelled into the phone. “Stop using that as your bargaining chip. You are not a victim. You are equally at fault for not looking while crossing the street.”
Though I am sure I did not hang up on him, I still cannot remember whether I fell silent, and whether he said anything more.
I learned that according to New Zealand law, once a police investigator makes a ruling on a case, nothing can be done to dispute their findings, no matter how faulty their investigation was. It was hard for me to accept that I had been silenced, that my testimony meant nothing in this investigation.
Nonetheless, I decided to file a complaint against the police with the Privacy Commission for giving out my number without my permission to the driver of the car. Afterwards, I had to pack quickly, since I had a scheduled trip to the Philippines in a few days. I hadn’t yet told my parents about what I had just gone through. I knew just how difficult it had been for them to let me go to a faraway place for my studies. They weren’t the kind of parents who’d prevent me from going back to New Zealand once they learned about what happened to me, but I was also their only child, and I didn’t want to give them any more cause for worry.
I flew to the Philippines about five days after the crash, still shaken from my ordeal. At airport security in Sydney, Australia, I was asked to step aside as I gathered my belongings from the conveyor trays. I asked why. A woman in uniform and gloves told me I had to be screened for bomb paraphernalia.
“Do you speak English?” she asked me. This was after I had asked her why I was being taken aside, in perfect English.
As other passengers in my line, most of whom were white, walked past us, she searched through my bags, slipped her gloved hands all over my body, and asked me to roll up my T-shirt sleeves for further scrutiny. She asked me to take off my sneakers and smoothed a search stick over them, the same stick she had used to rub my bared shoulders. I had received quick pat-downs in the past, at U.S. airports. This one had gone on for more than five minutes, and was so thorough that I began wonder if I had been singled out for any particular reason.
They never explicitly state their reasons for singling you out, for ignoring your perfect English, for erasing your story. They will never call it racism. These men and women in uniform will tell you that they’re doing their jobs, that they just want to protect you.
What they won’t admit is that they want to protect their own people from people like you.
After the screening was finished, I found a bench near the shops and cried.
When I returned to New Zealand a month later, I found a letter from the police in my mailbox. Whoever wrote my name and address on the envelope chose not to spell out my first name, preferring to address me by my first initial. They also misspelled my last name, which I only noticed when I unearthed the envelope from my files years later in preparation for the writing of this essay.
I held onto this letter for years, convincing myself that I had never looked at its contents, that its seal remained unbroken. But when I finally brought myself around to opening the letter four years later, the flap came apart easily and without resistance, making me suspect that I had read this letter before. I had held on to all the details of the crash and its aftermath, so why did I have no memory of opening this letter, or of reading it?
I now understand why my mind left a blank space, instead of a memory, in its wake when I first opened this envelope in 2015.
Dear Ms Macansentos (sic),
Re:- MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH- EVENT number —
The vehicle crash in which you were involved in at the intersection of Taranaki and Abel Smith Streets, Wellington, that occurred on Tuesday the 2nd June 2015 has now been investigated and reported.
On reviewing the evidence we have concluded that we can not determine that one party is more at fault than the other and that the actions of both contributed to the crash.
There will be no further action.
Cannot determine that one party is more at fault than the other. The actions of both contributed to the crash. A flattening of an event that involved me and a man who rammed his car into me as I crossed the street. My presence on that street, apparently, contributed to the crash.
New Zealand’s Privacy Commission refused at first to investigate my complaint against the police, citing a law that required two parties involved in a collision to swap contact details. This was a misinterpretation of the law: I was not a driver of a vehicle involved in a collision, which would have required me to swap contact details with the other party, but a pedestrian crossing the street when a car collided with me. “Being the other party in the crash,” apparently, had effectively ruled out my vulnerability as a pedestrian, and had dismissed the amount of emotional hurt I had sustained by receiving an unexpected call from a man who had physically hurt me. They had ruled out my rights as a pedestrian by misinterpreting the law, and it was when I pointed this out to them that they finally decided to pursue my complaint.
About two months after I had filed my complaint with the Privacy Commission, I learned that the police had finally been found at fault for violating my privacy. A police officer called me after the Privacy Commission had made its ruling, and said he wanted to apologize to me in person. He added that such conversations on the phone led to many misunderstandings, and said he preferred to chat with me over coffee, to get to know me better. It was a surprisingly kind gesture from someone belonging to an institution that had been so unkind to me the previous month.
He wanted to get to know me. Did this mean he was also willing to listen? When one has been completely silenced by those in power, any gesture of kindness from them seems like an opportunity to unmute oneself, to resist complete erasure.
We met at my university’s postgraduate student lounge. The barista froze when this grey-haired man in police uniform ordered two coffees for us. She then placed her hand on her chest and laughed. “Now this is quite the unexpected visit,” she said, in the joking, neighborly tone with which I’d grown familiar in the months I’d already spent in New Zealand.
We sat down after he paid our bill, and he proceeded to apologize on behalf of the officer assigned to the investigation. “He’s a good guy, and he’s sorry he made this mistake,” the constable said, as he stirred sugar into his flat white. “But unfortunately, there’s a small technicality with this privacy law,” he said, grinning, “and so we have to admit to having made a mistake.”
A small technicality. Had he come here to tell me that my victory was based on a small technicality?
“But of course it was our mistake, which was why I came here to apologize.”
He held up his hands, as if in surrender, and smiled.
“Your laws are so messed up,” I said. “In other countries, pedestrians are given the right of way. That street I was crossing had no pedestrian crossings, just a simple island refuge.”
“Yes, but that’s the law here, unfortunately. And you have the right to cross the street wherever you want, but it’s also your responsibility to look for oncoming cars.” He kept smiling, and it was difficult to tell what was on his mind.
“But shouldn’t drivers also be responsible for looking out for pedestrians?” I asked.
He smiled again and said, “It’s fifty-fifty. Both of you share responsibility.”
“But drivers obviously have much more power than pedestrians, so their responsibility as drivers should be equal to the power they have,” I said, in disbelief. “Pedestrians can’t hit cars, cars hit pedestrians.”
This was when he started interrupting me: the driver hadn’t hit me, he kept repeating, but both of us were equally at fault. Exasperated, I said that he was participating in victim-blaming. He smiled again, and said, “You are not a victim, you are both equally at fault in this incident.”
“I guess we’ll never agree on this,” I said.
“Remember that since you are both equally at fault, you are also responsible for paying the driver for damages if you dented his car,” he added, with a smile.
This is another part of the story to which my mind keeps returning. I’d wonder, afterwards, what this constable’s purpose was in meeting me, when he could have just apologized to me on the phone. Why did he have to say this in my face? Was it to remind me that despite my best efforts to resist their silencing, I was just another object that could dent a man’s car?
It seemed easier for me to fall silent, to forget it had ever happened.
“I hope this will be just another small, unpleasant event that won’t ruin your stay here,” he added.
Perhaps it was best for me to think of it that way.
Over the next three years I watched Kiwis jaywalk like nobody’s business whenever waiting for pedestrian lights to change. Jaywalking was so common in New Zealand: some people sauntered across the street as cars sped towards them, some ran right in front of moving cars. I didn’t want to risk it. This was their country, and these were their roads, but they weren’t mine.
I was once nearly sideswiped as I crossed a quiet street corner near my apartment. Startled, I stared at the car that had sped around the curve without stopping, and spotted the same driver inside the very same black car that had hit me before. Apparently he hadn’t mended his ways, but as the kind constable once reminded me, it was my responsibility to look.
I slowly started going out at night again, to meet new friends, to watch plays, to attend parties. I made friends who were native-born Kiwis who were sympathetic when I told them my story. I was beginning to live again, although sometimes my mind would return to those people who had helped me up that night after I had fallen onto the street, whose sympathies had immediately shifted as soon as the driver stepped out of his car. These people, just like my new friends, had been kind; it took so little, it seemed, to lose the sympathies of kind people.
Nonetheless, I tried to live a normal life. I spent my first Christmas in New Zealand with a Filipino family in Auckland, and there I fell in love. He was a Filipino, just like me, and had immigrated to New Zealand with his family when he was a child. He knew what it was like to be an immigrant, and while we shared a cultural background, he also wasn’t afraid to break free from its more restrictive norms. Like me, he didn’t go to church and didn’t see practicing a religion as a requirement for moral living, and neither did he believe that one’s parents should be given the final say in one’s life choices. We were critical of the deep sense of shame attached to sex in our culture, and unlike most Filipinos, both of us were pro-choice. With him, I felt more secure in a country that had seemed unwelcoming just a few months before. As I made more friends and deepened my relationship with this man, I began to feel that I was putting down roots, to the point that I could almost call New Zealand home.
Except that my trauma still trailed me whenever I crossed the street. Half a year after the accident, I was afraid that if any of these drivers, who never seemed to slow down when turning into a street, ran me over, I’d be blamed, yet again. I had spoken briefly about the accident with my new boyfriend, and had told him about how afraid I was of Kiwi drivers.
“You’re from the Philippines. Shouldn’t you be used to bad driving?” he began to say at some point, perhaps when my complaints became too much for him to handle.
Yes, I knew that drivers in the Philippines were bad—but I had been hit by a car in New Zealand, not in the Philippines, and it was in New Zealand that I had been told that I was at fault for it. I was at fault. The police had repeated this line to me over, and over, until I was nearly convinced that it was true. It was a line that stayed with me wherever I went, reminding me that if something happened to me while I was using any public space in New Zealand, it would always be my fault. I was not from there, and I’d always be an obstacle to the people who truly belonged here.
Was I being unreasonable for feeling traumatized because I was from a third world country where everything was supposedly far worse? It seemed as if my boyfriend felt that I was complaining too much, that I had no right to my trauma because of my origins, which were also his origins. That we were supposed to be more immune to trauma because of where we were from. We were lucky enough to be here, he seemed to believe, and to demand that our humanity be recognized by these people was simply too much to ask from them.
One day, I texted him from Wellington to say that I was terrified of stepping outside my apartment, that I was terrified of Kiwi drivers. In response, he told me it was unfair to blame all Kiwi drivers for a mistake that one stupid driver made. This was when I finally lost it.
I pummeled him with messages comparing Kiwi drivers to American drivers, and New Zealand laws to American laws. I once lived in America, I repeated to him, in America I never would have been held at fault for being hit by a car. Yes, I came from the Philippines where reckless drivers routinely ignored pedestrian rights, but this did not mean that I deserved to be blamed for something that had been done to me in New Zealand. This was New Zealand, I told him, and here I expected better.
In my rage, I failed to point out to him that I had been treated as a nuisance by bystanders and the police from the very beginning, and the way in which the police had prevented me from delivering my full, uninterrupted statement made me suspect that they were prejudiced against me for one unacknowledged reason. All of the police officers I had dealt with during the investigation and its aftermath were white, and their dismissal of a key portion of my testimony made no sense, unless I acknowledged the possibility of racism. If the blonde had switched places with me, would the police have dismissed her if she told them that the driver had first stepped on the brakes when he had seen her, only to drive straight into her?
It has since become clear to me how my outburst was directly related to my silencing. When my feelings of trauma were invalidated by the police, I was forced to keep my trauma hidden, and though it seemed invisible, even to myself at times, it never truly went away. It was why I saw the driver, the police, and the bystanders, who had also invalidated my victimization, in everyone I met in New Zealand. Since my victimhood was taken away from me, I was constantly primed for defense, not knowing what else would be taken away from me.
Perhaps he saw this too, for he called me from Auckland, and told me that he was willing to listen if I wanted to tell him my story. And this I did.
In the months that followed the collision, I felt as though I were drowning. Try as I might to fight my way back to the water’s surface, a weight pressing over me would force me back down.
Eventually, I learned how to live with this feeling, to submerge it until it sat with me, like an unwelcome, yet unobtrusive guest.
I took up yoga and Zumba, then started taking tango classes even if my left knee, which had sustained the greatest trauma from the collision, buckled underneath me. I made more friends, experienced heartache, and traveled around the country. I allowed myself to be moved by the astounding scenery of my adopted home. The longer I lived in New Zealand, the more I felt a kinship with these people who had such a strong sense of community and would never hesitate to help a neighbor in need.
Whenever I received rude comments about my country, contended with remarks about my ability to communicate in English, or endured racist jokes, I raged in private, but kept a straight face in public. I told myself that it was my foreignness that made me the target of racism, though Kiwis of Filipino descent often told me that they were subjected to similar racist remarks, simply because white, “Pakeha” Kiwis assumed that they weren’t New Zealanders because of the way they looked. I endured enough casual racism in my day-to-day life to keep me on guard, especially since these comments were always dropped in the course of a friendly conversation, which was when I least expected to deal with them. I learned from experience that it was no use for me to raise a fuss: when I complained about how my classmates’ comments at a workshop were tinged with racism, for instance, I was disinvited from readings that were organized by a member of my PhD cohort, effectively shutting me out from the group. It seemed, whenever I chose to call people out, that only I would suffer the consequences of my speaking out. I would just ruin good relationships, which were essential for me to survive in such a small, tight-knit country.
I returned to the Philippines when I finished my PhD, and was preparing for another trip to the US when I saw posts on social media about the massacre in Christchurch. I watched the news, and wept. What kind of monster would want to destroy such a beautiful, tight-knit community that was Aotearoa, to inflict a deep wound upon a nation that was bound together by trust?
The shooter had been living in Christchurch, in plain sight of the police, and had never been considered suspicious despite his online activities. That alt-right groups existed in Christchurch for years before the massacre, and that authorities had turned a blind eye to their proliferation.
During a memorial service at a mosque in Palmerston North, a man wearing a swastika-emblazoned singlet was found loitering near the entrance of the mosque. On Radio New Zealand, a police spokesperson was quoted as saying, “The man was approached by the police. He was advised to move on and told that obviously what he was wearing at the time, considering what’s happened on Friday, was inappropriate and yeah, basically suggesting that he moved on – he complied and that was it.”
In The Spinoff, a Muslim community leader wrote about how their pleas for protection from the government, in light of increased vitriol from alt-right groups, were met with silence and inaction. How, instead of receiving protection from the government, their communities were placed under increased police surveillance. They weren’t seen as people in need of protection, but instead, as people New Zealand had to protect itself from.
How much do our lives matter to you, when you insist on meeting our pleas, our complaints, with silence? Does our presence disturb you so much that you’d rather ram your cars into our bodies as we hold up our hands and beg you to stop, and shoot bullets into our bodies as we kneel in prayer?
The feeling of metal colliding straight into bone, of hands held up in panic before slamming into glass. My shortness of breath. My rage and grief as I slipped from that black hood that night and fell onto the ground.
I didn’t see you, the driver said, as he stepped out of his car.
Then why the hell did you stop? I want to yell at him, in 2019. You saw me, and then you refused to see me
Monica Macansantos holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow, and recently earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters. Her work has recently appeared in failbetter, Women’s Studies Quarterly, TAYO, SBS Voices, and Vice NZ, among other places, and has earned recognition from The Best American Essays 2016 and the Glimmer Train Fiction Open. She recently served as guest-editor of Aotearotica, New Zealand’s journal of erotica. She loves traveling, tango, and birds.