people like me

I asked my mother today if there were “people like me” when she was growing up in the 1960’s in Malaysia. Her immediate answer was this: “Oh, of course. There were weirdos then, too.”

Ouch.

I wasn’t talking about being a little off-balanced, I was talking about being biracial. After I clarified, she said that marrying people from other races wasn’t a big deal even then. But I reasoned that she was from Sabah, one of the more multicultural places in Malaysia back then. I decided to ask my father once he got back from work.

So, approximately half an hour ago, I posed the same question to him, the exact same question. He asked me to explain what I meant by “people like (me)” (at least he had the courtesy of not saying that he thought I was a strange person). My dad grew up in the 50’s, so one would think that interracial marriages might have been frowned upon back then. But he said it wasn’t, that he had many friends that came from mix marriages.

My dad grew up in Selangor, the most liberal state, so to speak. So, again, perhaps this is a biased answer.

Fast forward to 2013: biracial marriages are far more common. I know lots of people who are “like me”. We tend to come in varying shades of brown. We have different religions but we all tend to share similar features because of our mixed heritages.

One would think that being a “child of two cultures” (points for Star Trek reference) would be a norm now and that no one would question it.

Guess what? It isn’t. In a conversation I had with a classmate earlier this year, she mentioned that her mother didn’t think it was appropriate that one of our friends (he’s like me) was dating a Chinese girl. Or rather that the Chinese girl was dating him. I was shocked. I think my face expressed my thoughts very clearly because she was quick to appease me that she did not share the same beliefs as her mom.

That’s situation number 1.

#2: Another friend of mine of Chinese descent was talking about how she was worried about the 2 girls that her boyfriend was working closely with in a school project. Upon showing me a picture of the 2 girls, she pointed out that she was less worried about one of the two because “she’s dark skinned”. Well, wow. Here I thought stuff like that wouldn’t matter. Not because “she’s not as attractive as the other” (superficial as that is) or because “she’s a snob” or a personality defect but because of her skin colour.

I guess we have yet to outgrow the notion that being “as white as snow” is the definition of beautiful.

#3: Another friend of mine from school was getting flack for dating “out of her race”. Race, mind you, not religion (because I can understand why some people may be worried about dating outside your religion due to future complications. I’m not against dating outside your religion, my family is multiracial + multi-religious(religion? I don’t know what the right word is)).

Three situations, I present to you. Three situations that aren’t from a few years back. Those happened this year. I’m not even talking about the bullying because of skin colour that I know for fact happens because it happened to my brother and to friends. It’s sad to hear things like that, first hand.

I can only imagine what those friends from the first 2 situations must think of me. My mother is fair, my father is dark, my brother and I are as brown as the parquet flooring.

What must the first friend’s mother think of me then, as a product of an interracial marriage?

What must my friend from #2 think of my skin colour because I’m darker than her? Does that mean I’m already defective, placed a couple of notches below her on the scale?

What a strange concept it is that people still think that now! Malaysia, for all it’s “we’re multicultural” talk, still, has yet to reach these select few people that being a different colour is equally as alluring, that dating out of your culture is nothing novel.

I once called myself a ‘mongrel’ because of what I am. My mother took offense to that, and why wouldn’t she? Wikipedia defines ‘mongrel’ as “a dog that belongs to no single organizationally recognized breed and is not the result of selective breeding.” That doesn’t sound too pleasing does it? My mother told me that I was a result of ‘selective breeding’. My parents chose to get married despite their differences and to have me. There was intent. Science calls that hybridization. I cite Wikipedia once more: “The third type of hybrid consists of crosses between populations, breeds or cultivars within a single species.” For centuries, hybridization as we are thought in Biology, is done for the purpose of making a better version of a certain organism by taking desired features from both populations.

Now that sounds far better. Please note that I’m not saying that I’m superhuman for being from two separate populations. Both genetic sources have their dominant alleles that present themselves in my phenotype that may are less than desirable but I’m sure, somewhere, there are the better alleles that have made me who I am. I do have some friends after all, so I’m not wholly detestable.

I have often heard that a lot more people in the future, say, 50 years from now, would look more like me because of interracial marriages. I’m looking forward to that; to see that being from a combination of two initially separate gene pools, that being a ‘hybrid’ is not considered a disadvantage.

To see that ‘people like me’ are beautiful.

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