Thursday 20-10-2016 - 15:35
#ReclaimBlackStories is NUS Scotland Black Students' campaign to share the reality of Black history and what it's like to live in Scotland at the moment - as told by Black students.
I suppose (& somewhat) it is more convenient for me to identify myself through my nationality (Malaysian), rather than a particular race; especially outside my native country: Malaysia. Back home, I am automatically classified as ‘Malay’ according to the Article 160 of the Malaysian Constitution (with a little bit of Googling, you’d find that the definition of a Malay in Malaysia has a lot to do with religion and politics rather than actual genetic make-up), but my ethnic background is really less straightforward than that in truth, and mixed-race kids are pretty common in Malaysia – particularly in my hometown, Kuching; due to our ethnically diverse make-up. (Said racial make-up is also something that the national tourism board would frequently play up for their promotions, in order to attract more tourists.) My father’s mother is ethnically Chinese, but she was raised by a Malay-Muslim family since birth & therefore, became one of them.
Back then; it was pretty common for Chinese families to give their daughters away to Malay families. Sometimes these Chinese families would make an effort stay in touch with the children that they’ve given away – although I have no idea how common this would be, since I don’t know of the actual circumstances behind my grandmother’s adoption: her birth sister would always come visiting for Eid Mubarak, while me & my dad would always end up representing my grandmother to the annual Chinese New Year family dinner. My grandmother’s family can actually trace their (& therefore, mine as well) ancestral roots back to a village in Fujian, China.
Growing up, I’ve frequently been told that I don’t look ‘Malay enough’, since I was really fair-skinned & had monolids as a young girl – at one point, I got so sick of being bullied due to my looks; I started picking up taekwondo just so I could physically fight back against my bullies. I also started to take up sports such as basketball & running, even if I was slightly terrible at them, in order to stay out more often in the sun & tan myself. I also looked nothing like my mother: you could definitely tell that my father & I are related in some way, but not with my mother – she looked distinctively Malay: tanned skin, light brown eyes, small frame, short in height; the very opposite of me.
Before I started wearing the hijab on a permanent basis, sometimes people would just start speaking in variants of Chinese to me & assumed that I understood what they were saying. Apart from my father, who knows his way around the many variants of Chinese languages spoken in Malaysia, no one else in the family had that knowledge. I only knew random bits & pieces of Cantonese through the various Hong Kong (Jackie Chan was & still is pretty huge in Malaysia, I suppose) movies & serial dramas that I was particularly fond of in primary school.
My mother, on the other hand; is a first-generation Malaysian who emigrated from Singapore with her family when she was 18. She was a Singaporean by birth – was, because Malaysia does not permit dual citizenship – that happened spend a huge bulk of her teenage years in Malaysia prior to their move. She would tell me of how her father would commute back and forth from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (to give you an idea of how far the distance between these two places were: it’s approximately similar to the distance between Manchester & Plymouth) by car for meetings & business dealings, often spending time away from home while her mother was constantly sick, so as the eldest child, she would take up her mother’s role in the house: acting as parent & sister simultaneously to her siblings. She identified herself as a mixture of Bugis from her mother’s side & Javanese from her father’s side – her mother’s family came from Palembang, Sumatera & still maintains their ancestral home up till today. My grandparents are the only ones from her side of the family that has moved permanently to Malaysia (specifically, Johor Bahru – which is on the other side of the Causeway) while everyone else (that’s still alive, at least; a lot of the elders have passed away when I was still in high school) remained in Singapore. We usually spend our Eid Mubarak driving all around Singapore to go visit everyone when the turn to celebrate with my mother’s side of the family came.
But due to the fact that I wear a hijab, people would just disregard my ethnicity & skip straight to the fact that I’m Muslim – which hasn’t sucked so far, I think? The only remotely threatening situation that I’ve been in is when I was catcalled by a few drunkards across the street on my way home from campus, so it’s not something that I, you know, constantly worry about – or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention that much, since I usually hope for the best when it comes to interacting with strangers. I suppose the situation might change soon, it has changed for some Muslims in other parts of the UK – due to the current refugee crisis, due to the rise of ISIS, due to the misperceptions of Islam that some Muslims themselves have propagated – but Edinburgh has been one of the most tolerant Western cities that I’ve been to & it has been good to me so far. I’m hoping it’ll stay that way.