Youth: Two Korean siblings make history in Christchurch's local elections

(caption for the above: Linda Chen (left) with her younger sister Catherine Chu)

  • Catherine Chu - elected from Riccarton Ward of the Halswell-Hornby-Riccarton Community Board with 2,074 votes

  • Linda Chen - elected from Harewood Ward of the Fendalton-Waimairi-Harewood Community Board with 3,391 votes


  • Linda: safer roads, traffic lights, cleaner environment

  • Catherine: traffic congestion, crime, celebrating diversity

This can be the story of these local elections. Two young Korean siblings Linda Chen and Catherine Chu - daughters of Korean immigrants who came to New Zealand almost two decades back - winning their respective community board elections is not an everyday occurrence.

Linda who gathered 3391 votes won the Harewood Ward of the Fendalton-Waimairi-Harewood Community Board. While Catherine came out as a victor in the Riccarton Ward of the Halswell-Hornby-Riccarton Community Board with 2074 votes.

This too, in a city which sometimes struggles with the perception of not being very accepting of diversity. In fact, the sisters, in the last one month of campaigning - door to door knocking, handing out flyers, putting up billboards - had encountered a single isolated incident of someone saying that they will not vote for the sisters as they are not Kiwis.

Catherine, to whom it happened, said, “It was an old lady and probably she didn’t vote for me. But the margins of our victories clearly indicate that people across communities have shown faith in us for which we are really very grateful. More so, I must add, that while my parents immigrated to New Zealand when Linda was six years old, I along with my twin sister was born and brought up in Christchurch. I am as Kiwi as it gets. Although, at the same time, both of us are very proud and cognizant of our Korean culture, traditions, history, and heritage.”

Though one would think that the experience of the two sisters growing up in Christchurch cannot be as different from each other’s. Linda explains, “When we came here my family was trying to integrate into the community and learn the Kiwi ways. More so, I was lucky that most of my friends were, and still are, Pakehas. I cannot recall facing any kind of discrimination either at school or outside but it was different for Catherine.”

“Yes, I would say that when I came along, my family had already settled in New Zealand and was looking towards rediscovering our Korean heritage. That’s why I was sent to the Korean language school as well as to Korean dance classes. My parents knew that English will never be a problem for me, so the emphasis was on learning Korean. Peculiarly, my parents were called to school as my teachers were concerned with my learning Korean and expressed worry that I would never be able to speak English properly because of that. So in general I would say that I encountered heaps of discrimination while growing up,” Catherine added.

But one thing that is common to both the sisters is how well they have excelled professionally, and now politically. While Linda went back to Korea for her university degree to one of the top colleges there, Seoul National University, Catherine got into the University of Canterbury at the age of 15. Linda is a financial advisor now and Catherine works as a Business Banking Manager while part-time studying Chinese and Japanese at the University of Canterbury.

Another shared vision is taking each day as it comes while serving their respective community boards.

Linda says, “Few years back I was just focussing on my life. But now I feel there is more to it and all of us have some societal roles and obligations to fulfil. This was what motivated me to enter politics. My vision is to have safer roads with more traffic lights for the community in Harewood. Proliferation of liquor stores in our neighbourhood is also an issue. Being recently married and a future mother, having a cleaner environment for our current and future generations is another thing I am passionate about.”

For Catherine, who was never really interested in politics, the motivations have always been volunteering and involvement in the community groups. “Ever since I was very young I have been involved with the Korean Society of Christchurch, and getting into the community board was the obvious progression, I guess. In the next three years, I would like to tackle the issues of traffic congestions, parking problems, as well as the increase in crime rates in the Riccarton Ward. Coming from a multicultural background, I appreciate and value diversity, and will also work towards bringing various ethnic groups together,” the younger sister concluded.