The Quirks Of Being In An Interracial Marriage For 27 Years In Malaysia
"The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it's a lie." - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Humankind has come a long way - from a time when you can be butchered for mingling with people of different races and religion, to one that is seen peppered with people struggling to embrace interracial relationships.
We've heard of horror stories in the 60s and 70s in America about interracial couples being lynched or murdered in broad daylight. It was a major taboo back then, for white and African Americans to even speak to each other, let alone get married.
Interracial marriages were after all illegal in the U.S., till they struck down the ban in 1965 after years of protests and of course, the Civil Rights Movement. While it is no longer illegal, Americans still speak about the struggles of social stigmas attached to it.
Even the mighty 'Land of Dreams' is struggling with interracial relationships in the 21st century. So, what about Asia?
Have we truly accepted the idea that we are people, all made differently yet with the same core?
Malaysia takes pride in being a multiracial country, a 'melting pot of cultures and cuisines' as people say. The government does its best to promote the country as one that has truly assimilated into the modern world and is more than happy to accept people from different racial backgrounds.
For most parts, in all honesty, most Malaysians don't have major problems with interracial relationships. It is highly common to see interracial couples in the country, young and old.
While we would really like to believe that it is a norm in the country, it's difficult to say that when most people would either stare with sheer curiosity or with a hint of disapproval. Some even go to great lengths of making unsavoury remarks.
Besides, relationships are hard enough as it is, without people, especially your loved ones telling you that it would only end badly.
So, what is it like to be in an interracial marriage in Malaysia? We spoke to someone who has been in one for 27 years.
The Malay-Indian couple first met each other back in the 80s, when working at a remote fishing village in Kota Tinggi, but were only properly introduced by mutual friends much later.
By the time they were getting to know each other, she was already back in her hometown in Negeri Sembilan.
"It was at a time when there were no mobile phones, WhatsApp and all that easy modes of communication, so we decided to keep in touch over letters. The relationship blossomed over the years!" said 63-year-old Mohamad Redza Ramadas Abdullah.
"The whole thing was quite an experience. Things were different back then, dating really meant group hang outs. When we finally decided to tie the knot, friends were surprisingly positive about it!"
Their family on the other hand, weren't too happy about it.
Redza admitted that things were a little tricky at first. With statements like, "What would other people say about the family", "People will talk" and "You know we don't do things like 'this'", his family wasn't keen about the idea of him marrying someone from a different race and converting.
"But in the end, all of them were on my side and on the wedding day, we all got on really well. Thank god for that!" exclaimed Redza.
Ramadas Velu Chettiar converted to Islam prior to the wedding, as the Syariah law dictates conversion to legalise a marriage with a Malay Muslim. Mohamad Redza Ramadas Abdullah and Halimah Baharudin got married on the 5th of November 1989 and had their first child on the 22nd of February 1991.
Redza talks about being in an interracial marriage with a great deal of positivity. When asked on whether he was ever judged harshly for his choice, he casually says, " Frankly, I don't know, and I don't think much of it either".
However, he does admit that the stares are real and very common.
"Well, you will have to live with the stares and the "betul ke ni" (is this for real) looks from people from time to time."
"My wife faced the same situation too but the point is to not let it get to you - there will always be people who will have issues with integration and getting worked up about it wouldn't help make the situation any better," explained Redza.
So, how do people usually react when they find out that you are part of an interracial marriage?
"There's always that surprised look followed by the, 'You are?!' and the questions like, 'Didn't your family say anything about it?'.
He explained that they eventually learn to accept it, and that it isn't that unnatural after all.
Interracial marriages aren't uncommon in Malaysia, but it just isn't widely accepted. Society usually has trouble digesting the fact that people from different cultural and religious background can actually share a life together.
"Someone once asked me - 'If I were to give you a million dollars, would you give up your family and what you have now?"
"Not for a million or more! Given the chance, I would make the exact same decision of marrying my wife and having the wonderful family I have now."
Talking about how grateful he is for the good life he's been granted, Redza also mentions that he's had a really satisfying working life too.
"Spiritually, I have found that I have been "looked after" by Him all the time. I seem to have a helping hand all the way in whatever I have done and I'm doing."
"I even survived a 'cardiac infarct' - my heart stopped for a good 11 seconds! Got through it all with the love and presence of a beautiful family," said Redza.
What are the golden rules of ensuring that an interracial marriage works?
"Well it is like any other marriage. I'd say the key is loads of patience. It's also equally important to continue adopting and adapting."
"Comparing and banking on our respective experiences and initial upbringing is inevitable, thus why we need to continue evolving and adapting. True acceptance is also very important," explained the 63-year-old.
"It has been an amazing journey. An interracial marriage is like any other, it requires the same amount of patience and love."
Meanwhile, speaking to Redza's three children revealed some interesting details about being the 'product' of an interracial marriage in Malaysia
His second daughter, the 24-year-old Redzalisha thinks it's absolutely amazing having parents that come from different ethnic backgrounds.
"There's just so many cool things about it - you get learn everything about both cultures, from the norms, dos and don'ts and of course dapat makan (you get to eat) delicious home cooked Indian food all the time!"
"Making friends with people of other races comes really easy, you get a lot of angpaos since we celebrate so many different festivities and most importantly, and the best part is, I am not a racist, can't ever imagine being one either," explains Redzalisha.
What's more interesting is the kind of questions that they get...
2) "Don't they eat pork at home? How about alcohol?"
3) "Do they use the same pinggan/kuali (pots and pans) to cook and serve the food?"
4) "Eh, Indians kan selalu kaki pukul" (Indians like beating people up)
5) "How do you pray? Is there space in the house to pray?"
6) "Oh, they have all those 'statues', tak awkward ke?" (isn't it awkward)
*They here refers to Redza's Indian family members.
"These questions can be really irritating at times because it shows how little people know about other cultures and religion.
"But, you can take it positively and educate them. That's what we do every time someone asks questions like these, by making it a point to change their mindset."
"Ape-ape pun, we wouldn't give up anything for this. The languages, cultures, and amazing food just goes to show that being a part of an interracial family memang BEST!"
Real life stories like this remind us that all hope is not lost when it comes to racial tensions in Malaysia.
With education, mutual respect and acceptance of differences, people can overcome the negative feelings that lead to racial divides.
In conclusion, while healing racial divides is not exactly easy, interracial marriages certainly help with the process. It knits cultures together and brings about even more uniqueness and unity to a multi-racial society like Malaysia.
Speaking about interracial relationships, watch this young Malaysian couple speak about the beauty of differences: