With second generation Asians, for whom Asia is a fabled land they go back to for holidays, I have to water down my conversations to only include topics like tuition, fees and choice of high school. Some are polite enough to bear with me as I delve into the dynamics of race relations but for the most part, all many want to discuss is this year’s Ikea catalogue.
Take for example this girl who I used to hang out with often. She was born in Australia, but her Malaysian family lived for many years in Papua New Guinea where her father owned a chain of grocery stores. All was fine and dandy until I mentioned that I am Peranakan. “What’s that?” she asked.
I explained to her. “Haven’t you heard of it before?”
Most would just say no. She had the nerve to say, “That’s not what Malaysia is about.”
Pray tell, ignorant second generation migrant, what is Malaysia about? Eating spicy street food, buying cheap knock-off Louis Vuitton at Chow Kit or having manicures down at Sungai Wang? The unofficial definition of the country might be wide enough to encompass all three, but contemplating the staggering ignorance her comment revealed, I shuddered to think how clueless of her cultural heritage and ethnic history my daughter is going to be.
To tell me, who was born and raised in Malaysia that being Peranakan – essentially bi-racial and bi-cultural, descendants of the first ever Chinese settlers in the Malay archipelago – is not what Malaysia, a multi-racial, multi-cultural country is about, is to spit on everything that her family stands for. If all my place of origin represents is foreign food cooked by my parents at home and a smattering of a tongue the locals have no appreciation for, then I might as well call myself an Aussie. At least, white Aussies are brave enough to admit they are a hodgepodge of European races they do not know.