This is me and my Uncle Kelston Hemopo, with my little sister Ceara and one of my cousins Alex (his third son). My uncle passed away at just 36 from cancer when I was a teenager. It was such a shock because my uncle seemed like such a strong warrior in my eyes. With taniwhas inked into his strong arms and his jokes about when any boy wanted to start dating that he would have to get a shotgun. My heart aches still, I miss him so much!
He was one of the few people in my life that made me feel truly loved. He took me out to enjoy raw kina off the rocks. I would be grossed out as he sucked the eyeballs out of the fish heads in the fish head soup. He would kiss my checks so hard that it would pull my cheeks out from my face and we thought that was so funny. He had four sons which he totally loved but he did enjoying taking me everywhere with him too. He made me feel like a princess and let me get away with things the boys would never have got away with.
I remember his mother so fondly (aka Nana Chicken), she was so strong and did everything for her children and grandchildren. She told me about how she wasn’t allowed to speak her language, and as a child I couldn’t understand why anyone would do that. But then my grandmother, my mother's mother, used to tell me about stories in Scotland and they too weren't allowed to speak their language.
I am lucky to have lived my life with so much diversity within my family. I was raised to see humans and not colour. With everything happening right now in the world I wonder what I can do. I am so grateful to live in New Zealand but know it came at a massive price to Māori. I am so sorry! And yet, after everything that has happened, every single Māori person that has graced my life has accepted me with so much Aroha.
My mother arrived here from Scotland in the sixties with her parents and siblings. My memories are of both cultures, the Scottish and Māori coming together with love and laughter, the Armstrongs and the Hemopo. I feel blessed to have grown up with such generous and kind people surrounding me.
I knew with my position as author and publisher that I should do something to address the lack of diversity in our books. I wanted my cousins children to see themselves in our books. To see strong leading characters.
I knew that I wanted the character in our first book to be Māori or part Māori like lots of my whanau, and I knew I wanted her to be a girl, to represent the strong wahine in my life. Aroha was the perfect name to represent the character.
Aroha’s Way and our other books also needed to be translated into Te Reo Māori. It was important to me for this to happen. For my Uncle Kelston, for Nana Chicken and all my beautiful whānau and friends. A small thing to make up for so much that was lost. I was so fortunate to have had the help from Stacey Morrison and Dr Hinemoa Elder to make this happen. They were so generous with their time and knowledge. They helped us find Karena Kelly.
To Uncle ...I love and miss you so much but feel your presence and guidance, I know you would be so proud. Bex