Belonging in a family of mixed marriages means experiencing Malaysia’s many cultures.
DUE to their unique looks, Maygala Navaneetham, 29, and her sister Thanuja, 21, are often asked what their race is. “We’re Malaysians,” would be their simple response.
“We wouldn’t even give it a second thought,” says Maygala whose father is Indian and mother Chinese.
Some people would call them Chindians, but the sisters did not know that term growing up. Both were happy to make friends with children of any race or religion.
“During my school years, the Indian girls wanted to be my friend because I had an Indian name, the Chinese girls got along with me because I spoke fluent Chinese and I was always close to my Muslim friends because I looked Malay.
“I was just excited to have lots of friends!” says Maygala, a senior marketing and communications executive with a chuckle.
But as she grew older, Maygala came to realise her family was indeed different.
“For one, we were multilingual. We spoke Bahasa Malaysia, English, Tamil and Chinese. It was then I began to realise there was something unique about our family,” says Maygala.
Even though the sisters lived and grew up with their father’s side of the family, they were still exposed to their mother’s culture, rituals, festivals and more.
“We were always familiar with and happy to learn from both sides of our family. In many ways, my sister and I are lucky to be part of such a diversity,” adds Maygala.
The girls were especially excited during festivals. They celebrate Deepavali and Chinese New Year in their family. Maygala’s mother would give them an oil bath on Deepavali morning, and they all attended reunion dinner with their mother’s extended family on Chinese New Year eve.
Through the years, Maygala’s family became even more diverse as there were more interracial marriages. Maygala’s family is now used to celebrating Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali and Christmas.
“One of my dad’s younger brother married a Muslim woman and is now known as Mohd Rizal Kanabathi.
“My sister and I used to play with my uncle’s three children. There was one time that they visited us during Ramadan and as a sign of respect, we broke fast with them in our home,” shares Maygala who now also fasts during Ramadan.
“Since I was brought up with Indian and Chinese influences, I thought to myself, why not add the Muslim element to feel more patriotic? I’ve since joined my Muslim colleagues in fasting for the past five years,” she adds.
Maygala’s parents have never dictated which culture the girls should follow.
“My parents have left it to us to choose who and what we want to be. If I were to marry into a different race or religion, I would be happy for my children to share the multicultural experiences I had and to be exposed to even more than I had.
“What’s unique about being Malaysian is that every little part of me feels like it belongs to every race. Home is at every corner of this country,” concludes Maygala.
A colourful mix
Growing up, Joan Stephanie Lopez remembers going over to her friends’ house to help the family cook for the Hari Raya festivities.
Born into a multicultural family, with Indian, Dutch, Irish and Kadazan ancestry, Lopez was always happy to mix with those from different races and religions, and she is always interested in their beliefs and traditions too.
“One of the advantages of being born in such a diverse upbringing was that I understood the many races and religions in Malaysia better. My family was always tolerant of every faith and they taught me to accept everyone no matter what their background is,” shares the 29-year-old senior team leader at PayPal Malaysia.
When Lopez married husband Kumareshan Paramaguru, 31, who is also of mixed parentage, they performed three different wedding rituals to celebrate their union.
“Because of our mixed heritage, Shan and I married in a church and a Hindu temple. We also went through a Chinese tea ceremony,” shares Lopez, adding that such diversity is uniquely Malaysian.
The couple are now proud parents to newly-born son Noah Clark K. Paramaguru.
“As parents who come from mixed backgrounds, we can’t wait for him to see what this multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual country has to offer.
“This is something that is truly unique about Malaysia. Our different cultures, religions and traditions only bring us closer together. It allows us to learn each other’s languages, be exposed to different races, festivals and even food!” Lopez adds proudly.
With Lopez’ mother coming from an Irish-Dutch and Kadazan background, she is also in touch with her East Malaysian heritage.
“Even though my mother is half Dutch and Irish, her Kadazan side lives strongly in her.
“We have joined her family there and celebrated festivals such as Kaamatan (Gawai) and have even picked up some indigenous languages,” says Lopez, who also speaks Bahasa Malaysia, English, Chinese and a bit of Tamil.
Proud to be Malaysian, Lopez’s wish is for there to always be racial harmony in the country.
“Every Merdeka, I remember how we used to sing national songs such as Negaraku and Wawasan 2020 in school. I still remember the lyrics to these patriotic songs!” adds Lopez.
From East to West
Sarawakians Wilson Yeoh and Tracy Romy thought carefully about their children’s names.
Yeoh is Chinese-Bidayuh while his wife Romy is Bidayuh-Kayan. The couple ensured their two children’s names have all the elements of their backgrounds, to represent their diverse heritage.
“Our firstborn, daughter Zia Claire Bulan Yeoh Yi Ching and our son five-month-old Ziv Clarence Aran Yeoh Ming Sen, have names that are long but representative of our religion, beliefs and cultures,” explains 27-year-old Yeoh.
The couple feel their kids are truly 1Malaysia.
Yeoh and his family are now living in Kuala Lumpur but they want to be sure the children will not be strangers to their Sarawakian roots.
“We will ensure that our kids are exposed to both our cultures, especially when it comes to the different festivals and languages,” adds Yeoh, who still regrets not learning Bidayuh.
Even though Yeoh was born in Kuching, his family moved to Peninsular Malaysia before he turned three.
“This is why I was not exposed to much of the traditions there. However, marrying Tracy has offered me another chance to learn about my roots,” says Yeoh.
Romy, 31, says moving to Kuala Lumpur in 2007 took some adjusting. “Knowing about the culture and practising it are two different things. For example, now I get to see how the various festivals are celebrated here, especially Chinese New Year as we celebrate it in full swing, ” shares Romy.
She looks forward to giving ang pao and dressing her kids up in traditional Chinese costumes. Romy has also exposed Yeoh’s family to different Sarawakian cuisine.
Despite the differences in their cultures, Yeoh and Romy make it a point to celebrate Merdeka.
“We are thankful for the public holiday, to have time off from work to be with our families.
“Now, for us there’s a choice of whether to watch the fireworks here in KL, or to visit Tracy’s family in Kuching and watch the parades,” says Yeoh.
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