This conversation is with Marie Ysabel Landingin was born in Manila, raised in Auckland and currently works on major infrastructure projects at Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. Marie is a 'third culture kid' dreaming of equitable and inclusive cities for all. She is a part of the Multi-Ethnic Young Leaders Network and Authenticity Aotearoa. This podcast kicks off by Marie sharing with us what urban planning is and her passion for putting an ethnic lens on it. We talk about identity, her feelings of not doing enough when it comes to being an activist and migrant relationships with tāngata whenua.
Elina: I'm really excited to dive into your story. But I thought we should start with urban planning, because I'm super curious about it!
Marie: So I studied a Bachelor of Urban Planning (Honours) at the University of Auckland. I had this vague interest in helping people. I didn't know who I wanted to help, and I didn't know how, but I always thought that planning had a good mix of all of the different interests I had - being creative, learning about stories, people, and leaving some sort of impact.
As I studied my degree, I started to realise that there's a lot of social justice involved with urban planning. But the way that people planned was very Eurocentric. In terms of studying planning in New Zealand, we didn't really learn much about Te Ao Māori. We had maybe a few papers, but it wasn't embedded in how we did things. You kind of had to learn more about it yourself to be able to fully understand.
On the side, I also became really interested in learning more about my identity. I always struggled a bit with my identity, because I'm Filipino, but I'm also not Filipino enough, and I'm a New Zealander, but I'm not New Zealander enough. Then I started having this question, “I'm learning all about European ways of planning, Te Ao Māori ways of planning, and planning in different countries here and there. But what about Asian, African, or other parts of America?” There were definitely certain voices that you didn't hear in your academic studies.
Elina: Could you expand a little bit on what urban planning actually means?
Marie: Oh, that's a good one! I always end up talking about planning, and then I realise that people don't actually know what it is. Urban planning is about the process of creating cities and communities. It dabbles between law, creative arts, environmental studies, economics, all of the processes that make the cities that we live in. Urban planning is one type; there's different types of planning out there, like social planning, community planning, economics planning. But my interest is more in dense urban cities. I've always been interested in cities.
Elina: It's tied so much into social impact, justice, equity issues, all of the things! I would love to hear what you were saying before about your cultural identity, and how that comes through in work.
Because I didn't see many minority perspectives in planning, I started to be more interested in them. The thing with planning is that it’s very oriented around what the public sector does. So I started to be quite interested in government processes. From that perspective, it's like, “who are we marginalising from a public government perspective?”. That led to this big question, “is planning really going to deliver social justice if you don't have these voices involved?”
Also, there weren't that many minorities at my school studying planning.
Elina: Why do you think there are not many people from minority groups in planning?
Marie: I suspect that it might be because it's quite a niche discipline. It must be something about opportunities to access it. I was lucky because I knew what planning was. My dad is a planner, so that's a big advantage. But not everyone knows someone, or knows that it exists. I remember being one of those people who toured prospective students around university, and every single year, someone would ask, “What's planning?”. People don’t always have access to the knowledge about planning.
Elina: So much of what we do was influenced by our parents and our early years, which shows the intergenerational complexities. If we deny access to particular fields for particular groups, that will need so much active intervention later on to break down those barriers. Do you have any practical examples of how an absence of diverse voices impacts outcomes?
Marie: We do have this consultation process. If we want to build something, like a road or an important building somewhere, we are legally required to notify and consult with people. But that process has a time period, and there's a lot of logistics behind it. Sometimes you go to consultation events, and it’s only a certain group of people who show up that is definitely not representative of everyone who could be impacted. There's multiple reasons for that - the event could be held at the wrong time, could be held at the wrong place, or it’s just not run in a way that's accessible for a lot of people.
Elina: What are examples of urban planning that has happened in Auckland or New Zealand that are currently excluding or affecting minority populations?
Marie: I work in the transport space, and there's one bit of work that we're doing around bus priority. It’s trying to prioritise the mode of using the bus and public transport on Hamilton state highways, to try and encourage public transport ridership. Where you decide to put bus priority, and where you decide to make it easier to catch the bus, determines which communities will benefit the most from it.
My Honours year project was about the spatial relationship between ethnic inequality and public transport access. So as I was hopping on to this public transport project, I went back to these questions that I studied at uni: “Where are we going to put these benefits? Are we going to increase ethnic inequality because of it? Or are we going to address ethnic inequality, and access to opportunities?”
Elina: I’d love to hear a bit more about the other things that you do!
Marie: Yeah, so um, I do too much [laughs]. It's been a question in my mind. Am I doing too much, and not able to give enough time to these things? But it's hard, I feel like there's so much to do!
Outside of being a planner, and exploring the transport space, I am also involved with the Multiethnic Young Leaders Network. It's a recently established organisation trying to build a pipeline of diverse leadership in Aotearoa. In that organisation, I work as a project lead for the Rangatahi Leadership Opportunities Database. It really aligns with what I'm interested in, which is access to opportunities. It’s like the softer side of the hard infrastructure stuff I do on the day to day. We try to create a place where people can find leadership opportunities. We found that leadership opportunities tend to happen via shoulder taps, or networks, or through being active in that space. But the people who would benefit most from these opportunities are sometimes completely oblivious to these things. We're trying to bridge that gap. I also do some work for Authenticity Aotearoa. I'm helping with a woman of colour conference, which will be a great initiative.
We're trying to bring together women of colour to celebrate them and to explore all of the different issues that we face. It's quite a new initiative, and we only started a few weeks ago, but I'm really excited about that. I'm still quite new to the journey, so there's definitely a lot to learn!
Elina: Yeah, something that I’m reflecting on as well is how I always felt like there was so much to do, and I needed to do all of it. I wanted to interview people to ask if they felt the same. How are you feeling about these things now? What are your relationships to these feelings, like imposter syndrome, or ‘not doing enough”?
I think I've always felt like I'm never enough. It's something I really need to unlearn. There is just so much to do. When I studied urban planning and I learnt about social justice and people, I realised there's just so much to solve in the world. And being someone who's in a semi-privileged space, to have the time to volunteer, the mind space to even think about it, I felt obligated to at least try and give back.
It also goes back to how I was raised as well. I guess the reason why I'm even in New Zealand is because my dad was lucky enough to have had an opportunity to study here. If he hadn’t had that, and he didn’t strive academically to get a scholarship, my family wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be building a life in New Zealand. I'm privileged because of that. So many other people, a different family, could have received that. It's only fair that I try to advance people like myself, a person of colour who's thriving in New Zealand. I try to enable other people to see that they can do that as well. I get imposter syndrome, but I think it’s because I feel like there's just so much to do, and that never ends. I'm learning that even little things - chats like these, telling people that you're not alone - have an impact. But it's definitely hard!
Elina: Yeah, I think for me, my journey was unlearning, but also relearning through interviews like these that all of us feel the same - so why are we agonising over it? It also reminds me to question why I’m doing this work - out of delight or out of lack?
Marie: I think it does come from a space of love. I do do my work because I want people to be able to receive the same privileges. I want to pay it forward. But I don’t think imposter syndrome and the urgency around needing to do more will ever leave until what we’re advocating for becomes the norm.
I feel like the diversity, inclusion, and equity space has always been this “activist” thing. We're always trying to challenge something, because it's never the norm. It really should be, but we're just not there yet. So I feel it invites the idea that we need to be full steam ahead with what we’re doing, it's never enough! But we're heading somewhere, and we’re only people - a lot of us are volunteers, so we need to be sustainable about it.
Elina: Yes, for sure! Marie, if we go back to your roots, we'd love to hear a little bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up? What influenced your identity, to form you into the person you are today?
Marie: I'm 22 years old, in that interesting 20s space where I have time to think about this, but also to freak out about the future. I'm a Filipino New Zealander. I think that's the label I've decided to give myself at the moment. I was born in Manila, which is one of the biggest cities in the Philippines, and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. And currently for about a month and a bit, I've been based in Kirikiriroa Hamilton.
I moved a lot as a kid. I lived in a town called Antipolo, Rizal, which is just on the border of Manila. That's where I was raised straight after being born. Then I briefly moved to Brisbane with my parents because my dad, being the great academic person he is, got a scholarship to do his Masters there. Then we went back to the Philippines, and my brother was born. Then we lived in the Philippines until I was six. After that, again, my dad got an opportunity to study at the University of Auckland.
I think having always moved around, especially because of my dad’s opportunities, I always had this weird interpretation of home. Home was always moving, but home was always where my family was. My little family of four: myself, my parents, my younger brother, and me growing up as the eldest daughter of a Filipino family.
Our family didn't have extended family in New Zealand; I think that was also quite an interesting experience in hindsight. Because Filipinos, we're very family oriented. We have big gatherings, like huge fiestas! When I grew up, we had that with family friends, but it's not the same as being with family. That's why over the years, when I've gone back to the Philippines, I sometimes feel quite detached from being Filipino because I still grew up a bit like a kiwi.
But then, at home, I'm still Filipino. So again, it's that whole dichotomy. I'm a Filipino in New Zealand but I'm not New Zealander enough to be a New Zealander.
Elina: Yeah, I noticed you wrote that online as well, “I'm too Filipino to be a Kiwi, and too Kiwi to be Filipino.” How do those two identities intertwine for you?
Marie: I think I still struggle to know what a “Kiwi” is. But I did feel like I wasn't “Kiwi” enough. When I was quite young, when I’d just moved to New Zealand, there were a lot of things about our culture here in New Zealand that were very different from Filipino culture. I always felt othered because of that.
And as a little kid, you want to fit in. I always tried to fit in my interpretation of what being Kiwi meant.
You know, going to sleepovers! Sleepovers weren’t something that Filipino kids did. My parents heard that I want to go to a sleepover and they'd be like, “Why would you want to go on a sleepover when you have a bed in your room?” You think those things are just a way of life, but they’re not necessarily, not for everyone.
I like Filipino food. I didn't like having to eat a sandwich at lunch all the time, I wanted to eat rice! In hindsight, even small things like having different food from your classmates did actually influence this feeling of being “other”. But as I grew up, I started to develop connections with the Asian community and people who felt the same. From that, I felt a sense of belonging. It's definitely an evolving identity, and not something that I can say I'm fully comfortable in, but I’m getting there!
Elina: It's been interesting to hear this podcast that everyone had similar experiences. So given that there’s room for improvement with racism, belonging, othering, what would good leadership or good change look like?
Marie: At Multiethnic Young Leaders, we're trying to build the future pipeline of leaders. So there's two things that need to be done. How do we make the leaders of the future be more inclusive, more empathetic, and to serve people instead of serving an interest. Being a leader is about people at the end of the day.
Then there's the existing leaders, the people who are right here, right now, leading, and are perpetuating exclusionary practices. It’s easy to teach people the right thing to do from the start, but it’s harder to unlearn things. I'm not sure how we can actually help the people who are up there at the moment.
One thing I've found is that trying to understand people better is the best way forward, for conflict resolution and that sort of stuff. If you can’t agree, at least try to see from each other's sides.
It would be nice to have a proper deep conversation like this with a leader, to understand where they are coming from and why they’ve come to think in this way. But in any case, as with any sort of change, there needs to be a community of change. It can't just be one person. There could be someone spearheading it, but it requires a total mind shift from the whole leadership community that exists today. So that's a hard one. As someone who's not even really a leader yet, or at all [laughs] I don't know how to challenge the leadership that exists at the moment!
Elina: I think the beauty of everything you've spoken about now, is that while it can be overwhelming to try to “fix racism” or “get better at inclusion and belonging”, there are just so many of us, right? We can each have our little impact, and that all adds up. Little things like talking to kids about different cultures, so that they don't propagate the same old status quo bullshit, and hurt other kids at school by accident because they don't know.
Marie: That's why I think that to be a good leader, you really need to have an element of paying it forward. No one person can do everything. So as much as you can, empower other people to think in a way that will serve others. We know that we can't make change unless lots of people do it, so isn't that the way to do it? To share leadership, and share these sorts of ways of thinking?
Also, I did like that question you had before the podcast about what my relationship is with Māori and Te Tiriti. Like with everything that we've talked about, it's an evolving thing. If your identity with yourself is sort of iffy, the relationship you have with a different identity is probably the same. I only really learnt about Te Tiriti and my relationship with Te Ao Māori through self directed learning. It's really unfortunate that that's how we learn it. There isn't really a clear way to understand how you fit into this bicultural framework in New Zealand.
Elina: Yes, how do you fit within the bicultural narrative as a migrant, or even just born here of a different ethnicity? What does it mean to us, as non-Māori, non-Pākehā people, to give land back, or to give power back, or to honour certain things? Can you tell me a bit more about what your self-directed learning was like?
Marie: I guess the main thing is just understanding our history around it. I think there is an obligation where because you've moved to New Zealand, and you want to help marginalised communities, you should probably look to the people who have been here for far longer than us and have been marginalised. It’s learning more than what you get taught in Social Studies, actually going back and reading up on it. Also, trying to understand or use Te Reo as much as you can, in a respectful, non-tokenistic way.
I think the learning journey differs per person, but it’s just a matter of really trying and learning, if you can. There is no blueprint. We just have to be respectful around it, no matter how. And being open to conversation - coming with a mind that's ready to learn, rather than feeling like you know everything. I think that goes back to the thought of “I don't feel like I'm good enough”, because there's so much out there! We just need to be open to learning all the time.
Elina: I feel like we should have a whole podcast on ethnic relations with Te Tiriti & Te Ao, where we share, and teach & educate each other, share fears and learnings and challenges. I really appreciate our time together, Marie! I loved everything you shared about your journey, how you feel in the impact space, urban planning. I love how we don’t always need or have answers, we can just have these chats and share stories and hope that it will spark more in the future. I'll jump into quick fire questions to round us up too. I love hearing about food! What’s your favourite meal?
Marie: I recommend everyone to try palabok. It's a noodle dish from the Philippines and it's my all time favourite. My mum always makes it when I go home, so you can see it’s my favourite! There is this place in West Auckland called Gold Ribbon that has lots of Filipino dishes. Highly recommend, support your Filipino community!
Elina: If you could be the main character in the movie or TV show, who would you be?
Marie: I have always liked Mulan since I was little (the animated movie). I just loved what she represented. She made me feel like I need to be a fierce woman when I grew up.
Elina: Love it, yes yes! If you could propose one policy to the decision makers, what would it be?
Marie: Free public transport.
I was talking earlier about access to opportunities and being able to freely move around cities is a big part of it. If we can get people to first stop killing the environment with their cars, and to be able to access where they need to go: free public transport.
Elina: And to close off on one of my favourite questions - what makes you feel like a badass?
Marie: For me, it's actually having downtime, having time to reflect and have these sorts of meaningful conversations. I feel like we get so caught up in the day to day, gotta-pay-my-bills, whatever. But having meaningful conversations like this, finding purpose, and getting support from friends and loved ones, navigating this weird world - I think it brings meaning to things and I think it makes me feel more empowered to take on each day.
Thank you so much for listening, folks. We've recorded this conversations from the comfort of our homes, you know, the global pandemic at all. So we really hope you felt that cosy listening to your friends over the phone kind of vibe. If you haven't already, check out our remaining series with 14 other incredible conversations. Share, Subscribe, send to someone who might benefit from either feeling seen or you know or learning more about ethnic voices in Aotearoa. This wonderful podcast has been brought to you by collaboration of Belong Aotearoa, Storyo, Planet FM and Sport Waitakere. With thanks to our funder, the Auckland Council Regional Development Fund. Follow us on Instagram @passthemic.aotearoa and @story.co And until next time.