This was first published on Borneo Post Seeds in 2013 - this is an updated and edited version for my own personal blog.
When I was younger, I always had a dilemma whenever I was asked my race. Sure my paternal great grandparents came from China, therefore I am Chinese. I have fair yellow tone skin, black eyes and hair, oriental eyes. Culturally, I am not too sure. A few years back, I gave this issue some thought.
It has become the norm that when someone speaks Mandarin to me, I struggle. I will reply in English to tell them I don't understand. Then, they would usually ask me, “So, are you Chinese?”
My father is Chinese – of the Hakka clan to be specific – but speaks neither Mandarin nor Hakka. My mother is of Chinese descent, but she was adopted by a Melanau family when she was a baby, so culturally she is not Chinese but she doesn’t speak the Melanau language either.
Basically we are a family of mixed heritage that do not speak any of our intended languages.
Next question “So, what languages do you speak?”
English and Malay. Some broken Hokkien.
I went to a missionary-turned-government school, so it was common for many Chinese students to speak English or Malay to each other. Our subjects were taught in Malay and most of us city kids spoke to each other in English anyway.
Our English is special: it’s called ‘Manglish’ and sprinkled with a dose of Sarawakian accent. We can speak proper textbook English if we have or want to, but we have a hybrid language of everything molded into one, a lingo not easily recognized by native English speakers.
To be honest, if I ever needed to speak Mandarin, I would need to take a complete beginner’s course like a foreigner.
When it comes to language, I am Malaysian, not Chinese..
People ask: “Are you celebrating Chinese New Year?” My family's extend of celebrating is family dinner if we are all in the same area. It could be because we were brought up as Christians.
I like to think that I get to celebrate everything fun in Malaysia - Hari Raya, Gawai, Deepavali, Christmas, Easter, even Halloween. It's all about the relationships with the people around you.
My point is, when the little Chinese events come along, I am as clueless as the non-Chinese person, but I just want to join in.
When it comes to tradition, I am Malaysian not Chinese.
I have lost my racial identity and I am not alone in this issue. I have grown up being influenced by American media more than anything else. Don't ask me to name a Chinese movie or a Malaysian movie.
So when people ask me what race I am, it is most definitely accurate to say “I am Malaysian.” I was born in Malaysia, I grew up here among other Malaysians - I understand the cultures and I speak the national language fluently. There are so many kind of Malaysians and the best ones are mixed up so crazily that the race barriers gets blurred out. Those are my kind of Malaysians.
There is a disconnect to my Chinese roots but it doesn’t bother me one bit. What bothers me is when someone discriminates me based on my 'race' - how I look or what it says on my papers. Yet while I don't identify with being Chinese, I am not Malay, Indian nor lain-lain either.
Therefore, I am not Chinese, I'm Malaysian. PERIOD.