10 Apr 2023

Conversations with My Immigrant Parents | Season 3 | Episode 2: Representation Matters

From Conversations with My Immigrant Parents, 6:00 am on 10 April 2023

Palestine is where the heart is for father Sameer and his daughters Wajd and Shahd. The family discuss the difficulties returning home, sisterhood, and what they learnt from Shortland Street.

This episode contains discussion of the white supremacist terror attack of March 15th, 2019.

Sisters Wajd and Shahd sit down with their father Sameer to talk about their pride in and longing for Palestine, the surprising way Shortland Street helped them understand their mother, and their hopes for the future.

Leaving Kuwait after the invasion was a decision that felt very clear for the family. Namely because, as Sameer says, “When an invasion happens in any country, everybody’s affected.”

Sameer, who is Palestinian, and his wife Amal, who is Palestinian and Indian, arrived in Aotearoa when their children were very young, and seven months before Wajd was born.

The siblings undertook the majority of their education in Pōneke, though Wajd moved away when she left high school to study in Ōtautahi. Her decision to undertake her study in another city had repercussions, especially for her older sister Shahd, who had to take on much more of a caregiver role for their mother Amal.

Shahd describes it in practical terms: “In terms of helping Mum and stuff like that, I also had to be a bit more independent, like, plan a bit more. I guess that’s why I’m so obsessed with lists and what’s happening in three hours, and what we are having for dinner…”

(L-R) Sameer and Wajd stand on the street with the Palestinian flag

(L-R) Sameer and Wajd stand on the street with the Palestinian flag Photo: Saraid de Silva & Julie Zhu

Amal was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Wajd and Shahd were still in their early teens. It took some time to be able to fully understand the implications of the diagnosis, and the impact it would have for them as a family in the long run, so Sameer and Amal held off on telling their children exactly what Amal’s condition was.

In their conversation on the podcast, Wajd reflects on the moment things were clarified: “In Dubai, we were visiting Uncle Fady. What I remember her saying to him in the front seat was that she had multiple sclerosis, and I remember being so shocked because at the time there was a character on Shortland Street called Sarah, who had multiple sclerosis.

Wajd and Shahd talk about being avid viewers of Shortland Street at the time, and how that helped them have an understanding of what the progression of their mother’s condition might be like.

Amal declined being a part of the podcast, due in part to her health, but her family's love for her brought her story into the room, regardless. Sameer talks about missing having Amal in the house when she had to go to hospital for a few days, saying that “life is not the same” without her.

Wajd and her partner are looking forward to travelling in the future, although, as a Palestinian, Wajd has to consider things that her partner does not. “It’s this constant battle of do I stand up and speak when my voice needs to be heard, or do I stay quiet in the hopes that I’ll be able to go home and visit and get through the border without this complication.”

In this episode the whānau discuss fighting for the liberation of their home and their right to return to it, and finding common ground in their love for both their family and for Palestine.

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Julie Zhu and Saraid de Silva

Julie Zhu and Saraid de Silva Photo: UHZ Ltd

Conversations with My Immigrant Parents is a podcast and video series hosted, produced, and directed by Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu.

Saraid de Silva is a Sri Lankan/Pākehā actor and writer. Her work deals with contemporary feminism and the realities of being a first-generation South Asian New Zealander.

Born in China, Julie Zhu is a filmmaker, photographer, and storyteller focused on championing the stories and voices of marginalised identities.

| Twitter: @saraiddesilva@juliezhuu | Instagram: @convoswithmy | Facebook: whereareyoufromreally |

NZ On Air

NZ On Air Photo: NZOA