When I was in primary school, a classmate alerted me to the fact that there was something strange in my eyes. I mirrored his alarmed state and started freaking out, too, but quickly realised he was simply referring to the colour of my eyes. Due to my mixed heritage, I don’t look like a typical Malaysian and most definitely don’t look like a typical Malay.
Strange and unnecessary remarks about my appearance have followed me throughout my years in Malaysia. Almost like a dog following the scent of snacks hidden within the hands of its owner. Except that the racial comments I receive don’t ever feel like a treat – let alone a reward. As I attended a high school filled with (mainly) locals, I was actually repeatedly told that I’m ugly. With hindsight, I know that this remark probably stemmed from the fact that I did not look like my peers. As a teenager in the moment, though, my self-esteem was affected.
It seemed like I was never Malaysian enough despite the Malay (and Chinese) blood coursing through my veins. So, I assumed I would fit in easily in Germany but there, too, I was not German enough. This impacted my perception of self, specifically my self in relation to my cultural identity.
Exploring Malaysia & It’s Cultures
Initially, I rejected my culture because I was rejected by my local peers. Eventually, though, I realised how that only worsened the situation so I started embracing Malaysia and all its cultures – literally. From discovering Sarawakian history in Kuching to understanding Buddhist philosophy and researching almost every festivity, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of how diverse Malaysia truly is.
Yes, this diversity can create divides but it’s you who chooses how to address that divide. Will you choose to see others as ugly because they’re not like you? Or will you choose to find common ground – to understand how each of us claims Malaysia as home and how that bonds us?
Some Advice from Me to You
Biracial marriage is becoming more and more of a norm, resulting in more and more Malaysians growing up feeling alienated. To avoid feeling lonely within a crowd of people, I recommend:
- Learning about your culture but learning about the other cultures in Malaysia, too.
By doing this, you will be able to relate to almost everyone and can avoid feeling out of place.
- Find the similarities within each culture – for example, how every major religion within Malaysia preaches kindness.
If you are avoiding learning about your own culture or have preconceived notions about a specific culture in Malaysia, ask yourself why. You may be rejecting your culture the same way I was under the presumption that you will feel less attacked, or you may be acting the same way others have been acting towards you as a defence mechanism (believing a specific race or culture can only look/ act one way).
- Set boundaries – if someone is asking invasive questions or attacking your culture due to assuming you’re from another culture, then clearly express your discomfort.
I have personally experienced too many people asking me about my religious beliefs and if I practice this or that aspect of my culture. This has resulted in countless of moments of discomfort – why should I share a personal aspect of myself with a stranger who’s probably asking with the intention to judge? Remember, always express your discomfort in an understandable way (aka don’t be rude either) or change the topic if the person doesn’t get the hint.
- Seek mental health support if needed.
If you have suffered from a traumatic racial related incident then know that Wild Ginger has extensively shared information on easily accessible mental health support via the official Instagram! Alternatively, you can read this article which details normalising conversations about mental health or this article about how to tell your parents you want to go for therapy.