Malaysia is known for being a multi-cultural society, but how accepting are people when it comes to inter-racial relationships? With that in mind, I spoke to Patrick, a Malaysian Indian and Emma, a Malaysian Chinese who have recently gotten married about their relationship.
“What was supposed to be a summer fling ended up with me being married to this woman!”
They had met when they were in 18, but had been seeing other people then. They stayed in touch, and in the year 2010, both met up again and sparks flew.
“What was supposed to be a summer fling ended up with me being married to this woman!” Patrick says before bursting into a laugh.
“There was always an attraction going on, but it was never serious. I think we both never intended this to last as long as it did,” Emma says.
When did they realize things were turning serious?
“Her mom and dad were very against the relationship from the start, and for me, I thought, wow, this girl is standing up for what she believes in, and she’s doing it for me. It made me think that this was something serious.”
Every couple has its own challenges, but not having the support of your parents can be a major dealbreaker. While Patrick’s parents were supportive of their relationship, Emma’s parents were extremely against it. I asked what caused her parents to be so against their relationship.
“They thought I was going to be this drunken Indian husband who comes home and hits the wife!”
“I think what comes into play here is basic, simple racism. The very fact that he was of a darker colored skin than my family was, was an issue. The point that he was Indian was the issue,” Emma says matter-of-factly.
Did religion play a part in this?
“No. Emma’s Catholic and I’m born Hindu, but we’re both not extreme about religion. Very early on, we established that our values were similar. In fact, I’d go to church with her on Sundays and she’d come to the temple with me on Fridays. You couldn’t really say it’s an inter-racial issue either, because her family had angmohs (white people) marrying into the family. It was because they thought I was going to be this drunken Indian husband who comes home and hits the wife!” Patrick snorts with laughter.
I’m impressed that Patrick can laugh it off, and I believe it takes a certain strength and humor to be able to do so.
“It’s a stereotype.”
“It’s a stereotype. I think my parents were afraid and concerned,” Emma adds in.
I bring up the point that our parents generation tend to be stricter and judgmental more than our generation.
“The funny thing is that even when Emma and I walk out into the mall, we still get people of our generation who stare at us, like, “What? Are you serious?”” Patrick says.
“Yeah, they do a double take!” Emma chimes in.
“It used to affect me a lot more. I would be like, what the fuck are you looking at? But now, I find it funny.”
After Patrick proposed to Emma, drama ensued as her parents refused to accept the relationship.
“We gave them our wedding card, but sadly they didn’t show up for the wedding.
All her other family members showed up and they were very supportive. However, on the day of the wedding, right before the dinner at night, Emma’s mom sent her a message where she said, “Dad and I are now ready to bless you and Patrick, and accept him.” And we were like, dude, you could have come to the fricking wedding!”
“Dad and I are now ready to bless you and Patrick, and accept him.”
I ask Emma how she felt, dealing with all this. It must have been intensely stressful having to face so much opposition from her parents. Where did she draw the strength to keep going?
“I think it was easier because I wasn’t living with my parents. I’m pretty good at ignoring my problems as well, haha! It was difficult, with this fact always looming above us, but I think in the end, I didn’t see that I was doing anything wrong. It was difficult in the sense where I felt guilty, like I wasn’t being a filial daughter. But, I couldn’t accept the reason why they were against him, which was just pure racism. So yeah, that’s what fueled my strength. Also, the fact that his family was very supportive and were very, very nice to me.”
At the time of the interview, Patrick and Emma have been married for a year. What was their relationship with her parents like now?
“Things have definitely taken a 180 turn for the good.”
“It’s improved by leaps and bounds! After the wedding, I had to go to the States for work. When I came back two weeks later, we had a very private tea ceremony, and there was a lot of “Sorry we couldn’t make it,” and “Let’s look forward”, those kind of things. After that, the first few times we went home, and I stayed in their house, it was really quite weird, definitely very weird, but they’ve been really awesome. Her mom, especially has been really nice to me. Things have definitely taken a 180 turn for the good.”
What was the turning point to why Emma’s parents had changed their minds?
“After the wedding, there was a family discussion where all of her mom’s brothers and sisters were like, “What’s wrong with both of you? Do you want to lose a daughter? If you can’t find anything wrong with the boy, why don’t you just let her marry him!” and so forth. I think it’s when her uncles and aunts came to the wedding and saw how my family accepted her and accepted them. There was a lot of constant feedback to them about how they were going to lose a daughter. I also think there was a lot of ego on their side as well. Emma has never gone against them per se, she’s always been this daddy’s little girl and does whatever her mom and dad says. All of a sudden, because of an Indian guy, she goes against them,” Patrick says.
Did they face any difficulties with friends?
“Most of my friends were in love with her more than they were with me, so they didn’t have an issue!”
“In general, my closest circle was okay. I think our generation doesn’t discriminate that much,” Emma says.
“Oh, but there were one or two of her friends!” Patrick say loudly.
“The ones that are less exposed to other races, they would say to me, “Your parents are so against this, are you sure you want to go against your parents? Is this worth it?” There was a little bit of that going on. But I had studied in a Convent, and generally there weren’t any boundaries between races. My closest friends didn’t see a problem,” Emma says.
“Ann Jie, you know me personally from university. I’ve got a myriad of friends from different races. Most of my friends were in love with her more than they were with me, so they also didn’t have an issue!”
While being part of an inter-racial couple can be challenging, there are plenty of positives too. What were the best parts for them, of being an inter-racial couple?
“Well, my dad’s foster mom is Chinese, so I did grow up celebrating Chinese New Year, and again, I’m from Penang, where there are more Chinese fellas there than anywhere else in Malaysia! My exposure to Chinese culture was pretty all right, but for Emma, it was quite different the first time she came and met my family. I come from a family where we express love very physically, in the sense where hugs are a very big thing. Emma comes from a more reserved, show-love-through-actions type of background. But the best part of being an inter-racial couple is that we get to experience different cultures in a much more in-depth manner,” Patrick explains.
“There are more celebrations in a year! More food!” Emma says happily.
“But damn, the angbaos are painful!” Patrick says.
Patrick had grown up with a lot of Chinese exposure, but it wasn’t the same for Emma. What did she find surprising?
“There was a lot of learning. Not so much in terms of food, because I guess living in Malaysia, we’re all exposed to different food anyway. It was a lot of learning in terms of the Hindu religion. It was really interesting because a lot of the rituals they perform in the temple are pretty scientific. There’s a science behind each action, like why you touch your forehead to the ground of the temple.”
“I personally believe that all religions have very similar values if you study them.”
My interest piqued, I ask what the scientific reason is behind touching your forehead to the ground of the temple.
“I’m not going to go very in depth, but the whole idea is that you have negative energy in your body, and the temple is built with a lot of copper. When you touch your forehead to the ground, it sort of re-energizes you by neutralizing the ions in your body. There’s a much more scientific explanation than to what I’m giving you, but having said that, I’ve got a separate belief on organized religion. However, I personally believe that all religions have very similar values if you study them.”
*Names have been changed for privacy.
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