Paulo Garcia, MP

It may be a sign of the times that the newest member of the New Zealand Parliament began his maiden speech in the House last week using three languages. In highlighting the sanctity of life, the family, religious tolerance and free speech he made it clear that he would not dodge other key issues of our time.

Paulo Garcia, who joined the National Party benches after a member retired, began, as is usual here, by greeting in Maori the customary tribal authorities of the land. He proceeded in Tagalog, identifying himself with the rest of the migrant community from the Philippines, and then began again, delivering his speech in English. At the end, Filipino supporters — strongly represented in a packed gallery — responded, Maori style, with a “Pinoy” waiata (song).

New Zealand is as multicultural as anywhere in the West. Filipinos, as Garcia pointed out, have boosted the workforce in many sectors: in nursing homes and hospitals, on construction sites, in IT and engineering, in hospitality – and, surprisingly, dairy farming.

And now, for the first time, in Parliament.

Garcia, married to Maria Lourdes, and the father of four girls, lost no time in identifying himself as a Catholic. The opening of his speech took the form of a prayer, thanking “our loving God that he has given his children the opportunity to serve New Zealand” and asking for “a steady heart, mind, and body that we may help bring your will for us in New Zealand to fruition”.

The Almighty’s will might even include, he joked, Filipino All Blacks from the farming sector, which has supplied many rugby stars over the years.

In the following excerpts the new MP addresses the issues he sees as important for the country.

Religious tolerance

“It is a privilege and an honour to work with all of you, and it is a testament to this great nation that migrants can become New Zealanders and represent this nation in our House of Parliament—a greatness that was sorely tested earlier this year when a man determined to drive division and intolerance into our midst entered two mosques and killed 51 people, 51 people who had chosen to make this great nation of ours home, 51 people of faith, of Islam, who were expressing the convictions of their beliefs. The evil man who aimed to drive religious intolerance into our midst must not be allowed to succeed. Equally, those who aimed to do the same in Sri Lanka when they attacked and killed hundreds of Catholic worshipers sought too to drive religious intolerance. Equally, they must not be allowed to succeed.

“They will not succeed, because this nation allows migrants of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds to succeed and to be represented within this hallowed Chamber. … There is not a day that I wake up without giving thanks for being in New Zealand. To be sure, not everything has been simple and rose coloured. I have also experienced hatred. I have been slandered and have been ostracised. Yet, I do not have a monopoly on this experience. In reality, many of us do experience this as well in various forms on a daily basis, not just migrants but many of our displaced youth, who seek connection from gangs; emotionally isolated people who seek refuge in drugs, alcohol, and gambling; the old who live alone and die without seeing their family and friends and who may soon be encouraged to die without seeing family and friends.

Sanctity of life issues

“All of us have the seeds of prejudice within us, but it is a question of which seeds we water and grow. There have been people who say my views are intolerant. Why? Because I am pro-life? Because I believe in the sanctity of life? Because I take the great Māori proverb literally and to its logical conclusion? He aha te mea nui o te ao? (What is the most important thing in the world?) He tangata, he tangata, he tangata (It is people, it is people, it is people.) … When it comes to human beings, we cannot pick and choose which ones are protected and which ones are not, and we cannot say some vulnerable lives must be protected but others not.

“I am thankful for and proud of the wonderful response to the Christchurch attacks that were made by many in politics and the media, who were open and understanding to the Muslim community in New Zealand, my fellow travellers in faith, and just as we should be aware of the underbelly of ethnic intolerance in this country, we need to be equally aware of the prejudice of religious intolerance often used as a handy tool in debates. It is insulting for some in this Chamber to suggest that the sole motive [for opposing] retrograde policies such as euthanasia are religious ones, which is akin to saying that people of faith do not have intellect and shouldn't also take their place here and contribute to society. We live in a day when we have put our own interests ahead of our children, and this modern society will continue to do so to its own detriment.

A call to men

“Men are particularly to blame. Women are often left abandoned, uncertain, and pressured to get rid of unexpected children or to raise them on their own. I salute in absolute praise all single mothers. I can honestly say that if either my wife or I had had to raise our daughters alone, we would have struggled severely as well. Despite the due importance we all attach to this task in our hands—that of governing this country—parenting is the most important job we really have. As mothers and fathers and, collectively, as a Parliament and as a nation, we need to support parents, we need to support our families, and we need to support our children, but I highlight that the men of this country need to do more. We as men need to stand strong in our relationships. We must be reliable providers and protectors. We must show tamariki [children) the way to respect and honour women.

Free speech and the pro-life voice

“Whatever laws we might pass in this Chamber, the pro-life voice must no longer be despised and discounted as offensive. … While we need to stay vigilant and investigate people who post offensive material online, we need to be equally concerned about any move in this House to restrict freedom of speech, a move which has all too often been used by those in power to silence those with differing opinions or ideas. This doctrine, peddled by those who pretend to be progressive, asserts that the mere expression of ideas itself is a limitation on the rights of others. This is preposterous. We must always run the risk of being offended in the effort to afford each citizen their freedom of expression, their freedom to be wrong, and, yes, unfortunately, even nasty. We must let the punishment of those with hateful messages be their own undoing.

Why are we here? The role of MPs

“As representatives of our people, it is important to be able to faithfully fulfil at each moment the duties of love and justice we owe to all of New Zealand despite the difficulty of applying such principles to this contingent world. Keeping this sense of loyalty constantly active is the best defence against an ageing of the spirit, a hardening of the heart, and a stiffening of the mind that threatens us all. We need to be truly aware of our real motivation as to why we are here. Are we here just to promote self and self-interest, or are our actions ultimately driven by what will benefit our in group only? Our answers may reveal that we may then not truly be representative of all people in New Zealand, and we must and may rectify our intentions.

In his concluding thanks and tributes Paulo Garcia turned finally to his family:

“The love of my life, Malu, and my beloved daughters, who inspire me to give myself to others more and more every day, leaving nothing for myself. Fourteen years ago, I was a struggling student at University of Auckland law, taking papers and the bar exam. Those were tough times. We were a single income household of six, but now here I stand as a Member of Parliament of this great nation.

“Many will say that I am living a dream. I disagree. This is not a dream; this is a Kiwi reality.

“May I end with the words of inspiration that drive me and give me hope for all New Zealand lives, words written by my daughter Mariana in her poem entitled “Identity”:

A migrant house is built tall on foundations filled with sky, stacked with the hopes of generations into storeyed bastions that testify to us.

We were made to hold together.

I stand proud in the shade of a roof made for me to raise high by proclaiming I have a Spanish name, an American accent, and an Asian face.

And I have been welcomed in Aotearoa.

“Thank you, Mr Speaker. Mabuhay.”

Read the Hon. Paulo Garcia’s complete speech (or watch on video) at the NZ Parliamentary website.