Michael Turgeon University of Auckland, New Zealand


November 18, 2017

In the Maori world, your identity is understood in terms of your Pepeha, a formulation of self that places you in the context of your genealogy and your geography. Who you are is a product of who came before you and your place on the land. Putting together my own Pepeha was a struggle; I never even met all my grandparents, and any details about my forefathers that came from a handful of countries are hazy at best. I come from a grey suburb of Sacramento, and I’ve spent more of my life trying to get out rather than getting to know my roots. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this disconnect; globalization, urban sprawl, the internet, cheap plane tickets- all obvious scapegoats for why the modern world has lost a bit of its magic and why we focus more on travelling and “finding ourselves.” The magic that used to permeate the air isn’t gone, but it is harder to find. We understand our surroundings so well and we demand such consistency in our daily lives that mystery is tough to come by. In years past, people constantly lived in a state of mystery, and the simple fact that you existed in such a beautifully ambiguous world was so obviously remarkable. We still understand this, subconsciously, but the grand mystery just isn’t as readily available during the morning commute.

I’ve spent the last 5 months chasing mystery in New Zealand, and I am beyond glad that I did, but as I take my last exams and get ready to graduate I am keenly aware that I will soon be planting my roots. I’ve been applying for jobs back home, and slowly adding events to an iPhone calendar that was entirely vacant for the next 70 years. I’ve made plans with old friends, said goodbye to new friends, and turned my sights towards where I want to live, who I want to be, and where I’ll fit in the grand myth of my forefathers. Still, I am so appreciative of the time I’ve spent with those whose roots would not otherwise have ever crossed with mine, and pieces of Aotearoa have inextricably woven their way into my psyche. The Maori and their mana over the land have definitely made an impression, as did following the New Zealand election and watching a country at a vital crossroads in its history take a step in a bold direction. At the same time, from afar I watched California burning and America hurting, and I’m returning at a tumultuous time for my own country and my own people. On a lighter note, I performed my music for 600 cheering Kiwis, and I spent many late nights writing songs in my room that will forever both bring me back here and bring some of New Zealand back home. I’m also bringing back sneakers that will forever be stained with mud from the Karangahake Gorge, and a slideshow of photos that will be a hit at Christmastime.

Exams have wrapped up, I will soon move out of my flat, and I have one more adventure lined up before I take off across the Pacific. Paradoxically, living in New Zealand has made me both want to fill my passport with stamps and has given me an acute appreciation of where I’m from. Maybe home is a fluid thing, identity is an accumulation of experience, and your Pepeha is malleable. Either way, even though my roots will probably not be in New Zealand, this place will always pulse through my veins.


New Zealand Semester