A Chinese born in Malaysia. A Malaysian. An American influenced Malaysian Chinese. A Malaysian Chinese previously married to a Caucasian American and a Caucasian British/English/United Kingdomners/whatever is the correct term for such a confusing national identity thus me perceived as white-washed or having a “racial type”. Note, I wasn’t married to both of them at the same time although that’d be a fun story, wouldn’t it?
Identifying as an Asian was a lotta work for me at one point. What I identify with most today, is being a decent citizen of the world, one who happens to be privileged of race-related experiences, fighting the anti-racist SOB called cancer and relying on a genetic twin to save my ass.
Being recognized as Asians, or more so, being recognized as Asians in America is a movement. To be more than Math whiz and KungFu stereotypes and fight for Asian comic heroes to stop being played by non-Asians. Why is there such movement behind this yearning for identity though? I noticed that my friends out of America don’t get what the big deal is. Fun info, according to the UN, there are 48 countries in Asia. In America, we are often referred to as the same thing. Like “oh you’re from Malaysia? Do you know Julie? She’s Korean.” When I first experienced those curious questions, I remember feeling confused about my amusement mingled with pity for the lack of education, topped with a splash of annoyance for being defined based on my race. After leaving Tennessee, I thought of it as a silly struggle and compartmentalized that part of my life away. Who has time for all that unconstructive whining when I’m busy being ambitious chasing business dreams anyway? Upon listening to Hong Kong Confidential Podcast ’s “Spill Stories with Tiffany Huang” episode in my hospital room yesterday, I was reminded of my own childhood and teenage-hood. How a collection of experiences shape my perspectives today.
We’ll start with why I suck at speaking Malay.
…Oh and if TLDR applies to you ->I think if we’re willing to embrace our racial differences we’d be more united as a human race. We could whine about not having a cure for cancer OR we can choose to raise funds for research AND donate bone marrow for the meantime.
Got money? Share it willingly
Got fitness? Choose suffering in public for donation pledges.
Got inspirational quotes? Be about it. YES.
Proceeding to the backstory.
Up until my 13th birthday I was essentially raised in what society considers “privileged” and sheltered surroundings. Not privileged like Crazy Rich Asian wealth but throughout my childhood, I was only ever around other Chinese in kindergarten (English speaking Christian kindergarten, then to another Mandarin educated kindergarten), Mandarin educated primary school and English speaking Sunday-school and church. All of my tutoring, piano and ballet lessons were in English. Just think of it as living in a huge ass crime-free New York Chinatown where everybody speaks English and never leaving that world. At that point, the only Malay I had to use was during the 1-hour block throughout primary school, hearing it at local food joints and mandatory movie subtitles Would it surprise you if I told you I watched a ton of Hindi soaps with Malay subtitles before TVB (a popular Hong Kong channel) was introduced to the household? ‘Cause I totally did. It was also something my Popo (grandma on Mom’s side) and I watched together when she wasn’t busy disciplining me in Cantonese. When I feel gutsy, I would talk back in English because I didn’t speak Canto. It was a little frustrating, being a rebel when it’s a “duck VS chicken” conversation.
Our education at school and at home were important choices my parents kept. Papa grew up as a private-British-school kid and lived in the UK for university whilst my mom spent her teenage years selling vegetables at the market with her widowed mom raising her and 4 siblings. You get the dream my Mom has for her kids now, right? My brothers and I never needed to take the school bus because Mom did the pickups and drop-offs. We went to my dad’s parents multi-story home with an enclosed garden and a waterfall koi-pond every weekend and had fancy restaurant lunches with uncles, aunts, and cousins after Sunday service. I used to love poking my head out the sunroof of my Ah Kong’s Jaguar and watching Mr. Bean with Ah Mah (in Hokkien, Ah Kong is for grandpa and Ah Mah is a grandma on the father’s side). I only became more self-conscious about speaking my first language (English) when I started at a public school for secondary school’s first year (aka 7th grade). That was my conviction for being in the “real world” after what seemed like a manipulative battle with Mom about not wanting to go to an all-girls private Catholic school. This public school was predominantly attended by Chinese students where many were young gang members and wannabe gangbangers. Apparently, I needed “big bros” and “big sis” to protect me, more so after I had agreed to go out with one of their boys and it not working out. (Sorry Papa! At least you know this now!) Cantonese was popularly used as the survival dialect. Well, to me it was, since being made fun of my “fanciness” in Cantonese riled me up. I could continue chucking wooden chairs at bullies or I could start protecting myself with Cantonese intelligence. Intelligence didn’t happen but the lingo for insults stand useful today in Hong Kong, where Cantonese is mainly used and you need to know which taxi driver might potentially kill you from the consequences of road rage. The necessity to speak Malay increased a little at this public school with more Malay speaking teachers. For me, that increase was probably 2 classes. At the time, our national school curriculum was still delivered in English. Then, I went to Knoxville, Tennessee and missed out on some of these pickup lines.
Some might say living as the non-majority most of my life in America, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Spain seem hard. I never thought of it as hard, just bloody annoying and a displacement of energy. I never even felt like a minority in Malaysia, it doesn’t matter what statistics or national language say. It’s just on me that I didn’t do the work to fit in. Kinda hard to do something you don’t believe you needed to. I felt unsafe living there before anything else and I only felt that as an adult upon moving back to Malaysia. Many stories were shared with me upon returning, several happened close to home – the snatching, the slashing, the kidnappings, stick-ups at homes and restaurants – all with machetes and knives yo.
Flashback: A few nights before I moved to Singapore, I got into an altercation with 5 guys just on the outskirts of downtown KL. My car was parked in 2 other cars and in order to get my hooptie out, I had to pay these guys off. I brilliantly challenged the person asking me for money in English. It barely lasted 20 seconds ’til his boys came outta nowhere surrounding me and my car. Two other girls of their group were sitting on the sidewalk hollering insults at me in Malay, I was referred to as the Chinese bitch. When things escalated from half-witted yelling to me being shoved between one another, I got scared. I remember looking out for my metal steering-wheel lock sitting in the driver’s seat as I watched them rock and kick my car repeatedly. How I could use it to ward off these guys, surprised at my own violent visualization. Considering how NOBODY in that busy bar district bothered to stop and help me, I calculated the risk of my self-defense weapon turning into a killing weapon. The verdict was, my chances in coming out better off were very low. The boys eventually got bored and let me go, not before a lovely send-off thru the driver’s seat window “you want to report ke? Go ahead lah!” The main guy sneered. Then, with a hideous laugh, he finished with “My uncle is inspector! Go lah! Report lah! Stupid Chinese”. (translated from Malay)
As I drove off, my tear bank exploded. Tears stemmed from anger, injustice, and helplessness. It became easy to generalize and hate. I also admit to trivial thoughts like “I didn’t fucking leave a state full of stupid rednecks to come back to this shit show”. Memories from teenage hood rushed back, I was furious. A roadblock was set up on my route where I was pulled over and learned another way to get out of being pressured to bribe corrupted cops – CRY LIKE A MAD HUMAN. He flashed his torch on me and after one look, he couldn’t wave me off any quicker.
There was no “Are you OK? Are you hurt?”, just a non-verbal “fuck off”.
I spent the rest of the night reporting at 2 different police stations, not knowing that I’m supposed to report at the closest station within the district of the event. The police officer at the first station started taking my statement ’til he got tired (I guess) from needing to process things in English and passed me the keyboard so I typed in the breakdown of the event myself. At the second station, all they asked me for was the copy of the statement from the first station. I felt like the over-giving romantic in a passionate but shallow relationship who got dumped. No, wait, let’s be real. It was like ghosting on a stalker. Leaving Malaysia again a few days later felt too good. The last time I used Malay was at the station in 2011.
One of the rare times where I felt safe and proud to be back in Malaysia was at a Bersih demonstration in the heart of KL. That is, before the release of tear gas and police enforcing against civilians. But, another time for that.
Now, don’t get me wrong. That was not a race-bullying. It was more of 5 dickheads bullying 1 person throwing in racial references. Did my poor ability to defend and report in Malay spark any motivation to improve speaking it though? My results via Instagram stories speak the truth. I can choose to love instead of hate. I can also choose to be smarter next time instead of letting my ego take over. On the contrary, I’ve been more motivated in continuing Spanish lessons. It may or may not have to do with my 99% grade average for Spanish class in high school #noHumilityHereIKnow but also, Spanish speaking countries spread across 3 continents #kiasu #wentoffpointagainIMSORRY
I asked my brother what it’s like for him returning to the states now as an adult. This observation of Asian Americans struggling with identity attitudes and attachments (what’s the PC term for it anyway?) is more prominent today with a heightened level of cultural awareness. Topics like Asian masculinity are more commonly spoken of today, that also clashes with the timing of Asian women being more open about their masculine energy. DTT about this, folks? And contribute constructively?
But you know what, I was never harmed for being an Asian. Not in Malaysia, not in Dubai, not in the States. It’s a whole different ball game though when your community neighbours suffer injustice with a headline like this:
So what’s my point? I do not need to speak sparkling clean Malay to identify with the Malaysian nationals. I do not need to be born in China to identify with Chinese customs. I do not need to spend my entire life in America to identify with the American vision. I do not need to have ethnic friends to identify with only helping that ethnic group. #AllLivesMatter #SomeCountriesAreStillAtWar
What I did have to do was expose myself to other races and customs to learn that we’re all not so different in our desires.
To imagine life in another’s shoes before generalizing an entire race, hating an entire country. Stop this reaction of reactions.
What I want you to know now is that we have to help each other even more, with or without being driven by race.
We don’t need to speak the same language to help each other. In this case, we just need to come from the same ancestry.
An odd tie to my point – minority groups experience a whole lot more unpleasant racial experiences. It’ll take a lot of time for things to be less unpleasant but it doesn’t mean we do fuck-all today. We can comment on news of the beaten and killed all we want but until we turn our sympathies to action, we don’t contribute to change. The action can be little compassionate acts.
Compassionate acts come in all forms but most require you to show that you stand for something. Whether it’s volunteering time and money or donating a part of you, even a single share on your fancy curated social feeds contribute to more eyes seen. There is plenty of shitty news to go around, can we flood our feeds with spirit-lifting news? Can we collectively restore faith in humanity for those whose Facebook algorithm is working against them?
You don’t need to be Chinese, Filipino, Malay, African and so on to help spread the message on the low percentage of bone marrow donor matching for ethnic groups.
You don’t need to know me to share what I stand for.
None of us have to do anything but whine about why there hasn’t been a cure for cancer and why can’t we do anything about it.
Here’s the thing, you bloody well CAN. Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplants may be the cure for some diseases and boost survival chances for some cancers.
Matching marrow is HARD. It’s described as finding your genetic twin, hence, ancestry is a big factor. If you are made to tick the non-caucasian box on official forms or live in majority minority neighbourhoods, it’s likely you have more friends of similar ancestry. Your friends need to know they can save lives with their marrow.
Not eligible to donate? There are other ways. Think resourcefully.
Got money? Share it willingly
Got fitness? Choose suffering in public for donation pledges.
Got inspirational quotes? Be about it. YES.
I identify with being a useful human and be proud of helping another human, regardless of race.
In order to do that, I need to say real shit and do real things.
A driving force of my motivation in getting through all of my cancer treatments is to put in work to do the work.
Will you join me?
https://join.bethematch.org/join4emily (US residents)
Hope you find your country on this list of marrow donor centers. And if you don’t, do you know someone who can create a donor center in your country?