Sunday, December 4, 2011

I am Me

“Are you proud to be Malay?”

Was the question posed to me during a recent course I attended. It was a straightforward question, for most of the course participants at least. But it was a bit tricky for me.

First of all, how Malay am I? My entire life, my Malay name and Chinese looks means that the two questions asked by a person I’ve just met are usually:

“Nama apa?”

And, at the mention of my Malay name, the next question asked with eyebrows raised in slight astonishment:

“Melayu ye?”

As a kid, I would duly nod my head to the second question. After all, my birth certificate, and later my IC, stated that I am “Melayu”. I didn’t really care, frankly. Rarely did I give my mixed heritage a second thought. I was indifferent to the fact that Mama is Chinese and Papa is Malay. I knew I was unique somehow, but so what? I rarely gave very much thought to it.

Later in life my answer to the second question would be “Melayu + Cina”, and a brief description of my parent’s ethnicity. I always saw myself as that. I was never asked to choose between the two. And I didn’t see any reason too.

Until my first real encounter with racism, which (perhaps ironically) happened during National Service. I remember taking my wudhuk outside the camp surau, and another camp participant telling me (jokingly for him): “Eh, ni bukan tokong la”.

Fortunately, I did not find myself the butt of racist jokes during the camp. Besides several references of “apek”, I found myself mostly accepted by all ethnicities at the camp. I count my blessings for that. But NS was the first time I noticed how bad racism really is. The ‘wiras’ and ‘wirawatis’ (as they called the participants) of the camp would, almost automatically, gravitate to those of the same racial background.

Melayu dengan Melayu. Cina dengan Cina. India dengan India. Yang lain-lain tu (which perhaps included me)…pandai-pandailah.

Unfortunately, I learned later that it was not a problem limited to the boundaries of the NS camp. Going to a college which was >90% Malay, I found that racism, though not extreme (yet), was well and alive even among students deemed the crème de la crème of the country.

It is at this point that I have to say this loud and clear: I am not ashamed of my Cina blood. In the same line, I am not ashamed of my Malay blood either. I just question why people have to be so damn proud of their own race to the point that it leads to hate towards others who look and/or act differently.

I used to be offended by jokes on my Cina-ness. The fact that my left eye is a lazy eye and is thus smaller than my right one (“Sebab separuh Cina la tu”) did not help matters. But I have grown past that. I now play along when Chinese jokes are thrown in my direction – why be ashamed? Besides, the eye infection currently going around my college means that I am no longer the only one with one eye smaller than the other (thank you to my roommate, Boiler, for starting off the infection) :p

I am no longer offended by jokes about my Cina-ness. I am, however, offended at jokes or statements aimed at harping on the flaws of the Chinese – to demonise them. I will always try to speak out against that. For that matter, I will also speak out against things said against the Malays if I get a chance to study overseas.

After all is said and done, my search for identity was, in the end, resolved in this college – and for that I will forever be grateful. I did not find my identity in my Melayu-ness, or my Cina-ness, as I always thought I would.

I found it in Islam. A religion I was born in, but perhaps never really lived before entering this college. I have found acceptance – brotherhood – among Muslims. Alhamdulillah.

Perhaps the question at the start of this post merely caught me off guard when I was asked. In retrospect, the question was good for me. It pushed me to decide between being Malay or not. And it made me realize that I have made that decision long ago.

Am I Melayu or Cina? I am neither and I am both. I am Malaysian. I am Muslim.

And most importantly, I am me.

Deal with it.

Fact: Mixed kids are cute :ppp