We’re no strangers to the concept of interracial marriage. In Malaysia especially, interracial marriages are not uncommon seeing that we have a multitude of different races all under one tiny continent. Despite the cultural difference that exist in our nation, the coming together and tolerance that we have for one another is the glue that keeps our society united and one.
Being one of mixed descent myself has provided me with much insight and experiences that are quite unique. Growing up in a family with different races, cultural beliefs and background itself was enough to confuse me as a child. It was only much later than I realized how unique we truly are, and how families stand the test of time, despite external changes.
Growing up in a small, remote town of Kedah at the tender age of 3, many of the locals could not fathom why we were there and where we came from. The schools were mainly populated by one dominant race and after spending 7 years in public schools there, I became one of them: I spoke like the locals and made some very good friends during my childhood.
I was 10 when my father got re-posted and we moved to Kuala Lumpur – the land of promise. It was then that I began facing some very real challenges that spanned from language (accumulating a thick Northern accent while spending 10 years in Kedah), identity and having to start the whole process of making friends again, which was pretty daunting and scary.
While my father is of Pakistani and Danish descent, my mother was part Thai and Sinhalese (natives of Sri Lanka). Though both my parents were born and bred in Ipoh and Penang respectfully, both my maternal and paternal grandparents migrated to Malaysia during their early 20’s. When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, not only did I speak like an outsider, I also found it difficult to assimilate and relate to the other kids around me because of our vast differences in respect to linguistics, slang, societal norms and so forth.
NOT HAVING A SPECIFIC MOTHER TONGUE
This would always top my list when I think about my heritage. In my family and extended family alone, we have several different languages that is regularly spoken. With English being the universal language in our household, my grandmother, whom I live with, speaks frequent Hokkien, while my aunt is fluent in Mandarin and often speaks with my cousin. My mom, who also knows Hokkien and broken Cantonese, would speak the language with my grandmother at times. My father, who is fluent in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Hokkien, Tamil, French and Cantonese, would switch back and forth as and when it pleases him! Unfortunately my father traveled a lot for work and I did not have much of an opportunity to learn. As a result, my brother and I only speak English and Bahasa fluently, with a little knowledge in all the other languages, but not enough to have full pledged conversations with others. The advantage however, is the non-conventional exposure, which is pretty awesome.
HAVING TO EXPLAIN “WHAT YOU ARE” TO STRANGERS
This is always a sure-fire, with classmates, teachers or the the over friendly taxi driver who feels the need to uncover my racial profile. Questions like – Where are you from? Are you local ? or some may even strike up a conversation using a different language with the assumption that I also know it too. It would almost always lead to an interesting conversation filled with bewilderment or confusion on their end or just exhaustion on mine. While many of my “mixed” friends would find it infuriating to be frequently asked what they are, I would find myself letting out a chuckle or the standard response: ”I am a Malaysian”.
RELIGION AND BELIEFS
While my father was raised as a Sikh, my mom is a Buddhist. After living with my maternal grandmother for 20 years, I have been exposed to much of the teachings surrounding Buddhism and occasionally take part in the celebrations. As for that, visiting my paternal side during a religious festival often leaves me a little awkward due to the lack of exposure on the religion, its practices and even the language (my paternal grandmother only speaks Hindi) but I’d like to look at it as a learning curve. Rather that shutting myself out and refusing to partake, I find myself gravitating to the teachings of other religions and because my parents never neglected their original religious views, my brother and I are given absolute freedom to practice what we believe in. Most of my extended family are also Christians. The result is often a colourful and vibrant celebrations, and more visitations during holiday seasons. Not to mention more presents and angpows.
We don’t get to choose where we’re born, or what we’re born as but and key is to take whatever challenges and churn them into positive lessons. What does the term ‘heritage’ even encompass? It explains more of the coming together of my parents, of racial divisions, of lost family connection and lastly, to life!