Malaysia Day Special: The colourful life of a multicultural Malaysian family


  • Family
  • Wednesday, 16 Sep 2020

A birthday gathering in 2017 with Massang's mother (seated, left) and her siblings. Photo: Paul Massang

To Ignatius Paul Massang, 49, Malaysia Day is the perfect time to celebrate unity in diversity.

Massang, the eldest of three siblings, comes from a multicultural family: his father is Portuguese-Eurasian, with ancestors from Penang and Melaka, while his mother is Chinese from Ipoh.

“This is a great time to display the colours of the Malaysian flag, a day when everyone can dress up in their different cultural attire to celebrate their unity in the midst of diversity. There is a sense of belonging and togetherness,” says Massang, who is in property management and lives with his wife and children in Kuala Lumpur.

Massang is married to Jakarta-born Chinese Joyo, and they have three children. Photo: Paul MassangMassang is married to Jakarta-born Chinese Joyo, and they have three children. Photo: Paul MassangMassang is married to Jakarta-born Chinese Beatrix Joyo, 40, and they have three children, a son aged 12, and twin daughters, aged six.

“Our multiculturalism is something that we as Malaysians should be proud of. At events, you can see a Chinese girl wearing a kebaya or saree, or an Indian girl wearing a cheongsam or baju kurung. This is something that you won’t find anywhere else in the world,” Massang says.

Joyo comes from a large family and is eighth of nine children.

“My dad is Chinese while my mum is Chinese with a little bit of Dutch from my great-grandfather,” she says.

Being a multicultural family can be an adventure in cuisine.

“At home, I cook more Chinese food, and sometimes, Malaysian and Indonesian dishes, while my husband cooks more western-style dishes,” Joyo says. “I love extra spicy food, and even though he loves Chinese food, he also enjoys his cream and butter,” she adds.

Some traditional family dishes they make at home include Nasi Uduk, Kering Tempe, Nasi Lemak and Chicken Rice.

“Growing up, my siblings and I enjoyed Portuguese food such as Devil’s Curry and Chilli Crab which my mum learnt how to make from my grandmother (dad’s mother). My wife has yet to attempt making these dishes although we do have the recipes kept safely for future reference,” Massang adds, as a hint for his wife.

Massang and Joyo's children have now grown to accept their multiculturalism and see it as ‘normal’ rather than ‘different’. Photo: Paul MassangMassang and Joyo's children have now grown to accept their multiculturalism and see it as ‘normal’ rather than ‘different’. Photo: Paul Massang

Being “mixed” is not without its challenges.

“Growing up, I often got asked ‘what are you?’ or ‘what is Eurasian?’ and ‘how did you end up in Malaysia?’,” Massang says.

Although it can be challenging, and sometimes embarrassing having to always explain one’s family history to people whom we meet for the first time, it’s necessary to see things positively and sometimes, with a touch of humour, he adds.

“Even my surname Massang, has raised some interesting questions and conversations before,” he reveals.

“It originated from the Portuguese-French name, Massone, and eventually evolved to Massang... and one day, it will evolve to massage!” he laughs.

With Massang's family during Christmas 2018. Photo: Paul MassangWith Massang's family during Christmas 2018. Photo: Paul Massang

Massang reveals that their son, Peter, also initially felt awkward because of his multi-ethnicity.

“He asked me one day, ‘why am I different – others are Malay, Chinese or Indian, but why am I 'lain-lain'?’. I told him, we’re Eurasian – a mix between European and Asian,” Massang says.

But now, Peter has grown to embrace his own unique identity.

“I believe that our children have now grown to accept our multiculturalism and see it as ‘normal’ rather than ‘different’,” Joyo says.

Chinese New Year 2019 with Joyo's family. Photo: Paul MassangChinese New Year 2019 with Joyo's family. Photo: Paul Massang

“Being from a multicultural family is colourful – and we stand as one of the examples of how diversity can be beautiful. I love it because we get to celebrate more festive seasons together,” she exuberates.

“For my family, Christmas is a big thing. We go to church and have then have a family dinner. There are also parties and drinking. Then, on Boxing Day, we open the presents and give to the kids,” Massang says.

“Chinese New Year and Chap Goh Meh are a big thing for my side of the family,” Joyo says.

“We’ll gather at one (relative’s) house, have a potluck, give and receive ang paos, plus have a mandatory family photo session,” she adds.

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