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Thursday, November 1, 2012
Marriage Melting Pot
A wonderful article about the changes in our culture and the melting pot it has become. Remember, Chaudhary Law Office is experienced in handling Marriage Green Cards, Fiance Visas, and travel visa for families to share the joy of a wedding. Don't leave your happiness to chance. Contact attorney Satveer Chaudhary at Chaudhary Law Office for a free initial consultation. (952)525-2285
Intermarriage between Sarawak’s 25 ethnic groups has been common for generations. But until recently most of the mixed marriages have been between indigenous groups with similar backgrounds. Now, though, mixed marriages have expanded to encompass unions with Chinese, Malays, and even Europeans and Americans.
“In those days, we didn’t want to marry other races,” says Tamah Saging, a retired chief who estimates he’s about 90 years old. “It must be between Kelabits and Kelabits.”
But when Mr. Saging’s only son – who until recently was director of immigration in the Sarawak state government – decided to marry an Englishwoman, Saging simply shrugged his shoulders. “What to do?” he says. “I can’t say anything.”
Many meet someone from another nationality when they leave their villages to attend boarding school in Marudi and often remain there afterward. “Nowadays, people with good education, they’re bound to meet another person … from somewhere,” says Jaman Riboh, the owner of a local guest lodge.
These bits effectively convey some key factors in this shift in perspective. Children have found for themselves greater opportunities for independence in recent generations. Take Sarawak for instance. Limited as its development may be, the fact is that the locals are no longer restricted to just staying in their villages – instead, opportunities to work in the cities, whether for the government or otherwise, have offered them a broader worldview. Working alongside locals of other ethnicities, or even foreigners, it’s no surprise that their minds are more open to mixed marriages. Education is another factor, and it’s definitely not limited to Sarawak. Besides the greater number of private education institutions that have emerged, offering a more diverse student populace, the higher level of education available to the people has also meant greater work opportunities. Jobs that take the people of this generation into different cities, overseas, or into multinational companies all mean that different ethnic groups are meeting more and more. Interracial marriage, in this sense, is inevitable.
We get a few perspectives from married multiracial couples today. Teh Soo Choon, who married her Indian husband M. Pusparajah several decades ago, notes how her parents were vehemently opposed to their relationship, threatening to ‘lie on the railway tracks’ if they ever wed. Eventually, however, the two families came to accept the decision – and all it needed was time and understanding.
Interestingly, she also shares how she and her husband ‘built a shared history and fusion culture to call their own’ – this meant mixing and matching cultural aspects like food, where every Chinese New Year would bring with it some Indian flavours, and vice versa for Deepavali. It’s interesting – and heartening – to see how a mixed marriage does not have to mean the erosion of culture; rather than the ‘one culture wins, the other loses’ mentality of fear that people hold, their marriage proves that given the chance, such relationships add rather than detract from culture.
DAP Assemblywoman Hannah Yeoh, who holds the Subang Jaya seat, ‘believes a uniting factor between her and her husband is their similar background’. This suggests that the common ground needed for a relationship to work is based on much more than just race or ethnicity. It’s a hopeful sign. As Yeoh herself claims, ‘race is not what good marriages are made of’; she also points out that many traditional marriages also end in divorce.
Difficulties Still Exist
But that doesn’t mean mixed marriages are in the safe and clear yet. Many families, even relatively modern and progressive ones, maintain their misgivings when it comes to interracial marriage (whether this is heightened when it involves marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims I cannot say, though logically it is certainly possible).
When Wong converted into Islam, her parents almost disowned her. Although they later acquiesced to her decision to convert, and then marry a Malay man, they still refused to attend her akad nikah (solemnisation of vows).
Her husband Shahrul says that one of the biggest fears among non-Muslim families when their children convert is that they will have to sever all ties with their families after they embrace Islam.
Sharmin Chong, 30, who has been married to Hussain Karim Ally, 32, for about two years, shares that the biggest misconception that people have about new converts is that they will automatically become a Malay if they embrace Islam.
“Although I am now a Muslim, my race is still Chinese. And unlike popular misconception, I don’t get special privileges for Malays. Anyway that is not why I converted,” she says.
As is evident from these excerpts, much of the stigmatisation and estrangement arises from misperceptions and fear. Parents are afraid that their children have not thought it through and are converting without considering that they cannot leave Islam. Parents don’t want their children to be stuck in a rut if they try and fail to revert to their original religions. Parents don’t want to ‘lose’ their children, so to speak. Their intentions are not misplaced; however, it seems that their worries are.
The same applies to marriages not involving Muslims. Eunice Tan, herself in a multiracial marriage, talks about her parents (who are both Chinese) had trouble with their relationship because her mother was Cantonese while her father was Teochew; their parents disapproved. If even the Chinese can nitpick marriages between themselves, is it at all surprising that trouble arises when different races clash?
There are two lessons we can learn from these stories. The first is that blaming these disapproving parents, while natural, will not do anything. This is because of the second lesson; the reality is that whether you agree with them or not, these are the perceptions that they hold – the real problem is that people are not being educated on the matter. Would you blame someone for failing an exam if he had never been educated? Or would you look to the system that didn’t educate him?
The author of the letter basically relates two stories of multiracial marriages, one concerning a friend and the other a friend’s brother. What’s striking about both stories is that the problem was never the marriage itself – the author makes no note of whether the marriage is working, or has ended badly. Instead, the families suffer – hence the ‘collateral damage’. Is it a stretch to say that all the bad feelings and disapproval do more to hurt the marriage than the marriage itself? I don’t think it is, and once again it highlights how the problem was much less the couple’s, and much more the cultural divide between the ethnicities. The couples taking part in mixed marriages have obviously found some common ground. But then the gap between the couples and their families, who have not yet bridged these differences, rears its ugly head.
The Models We Didn’t Know We Had
What I find most compelling is that if you do some digging (and not even deep digging; I’m talking about a first-page, first-ten-Google-results level of research) you’ll find so many great, even exemplary instances of mixed marriages that should really send home the message that nothing’s really wrong about it. Take a look at ‘Elite Malays and Mixed Marriage’ (2007) –Asia Sentinel: http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=600&Itemid=34
[Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s] new wife is Jeanne Abdullah…Jeanne had originally been Jean Danker, a Catholic from a Eurasian family which spans Malaysia and Singapore and who converted to Islam when she married her first husband…
Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister. His father was a Muslim Malayali from Kerala in south India who migrated to Malaysia and took a Malay bride. Mahathir himself was classified as an Indian when at university in Singapore.
Of [Tunku Abdul Rahman’s] four wives, one was Thai Chinese, one English, one Malay and one Malaysian-Chinese. He never hid his fondness for whiskey, even while heading the Organization of Islamic Conference, or his student days in England pre-occupied, as he once put it, with “fast women, fast cars and not-so-fast horses.”
And these are only the more prominent examples. Here we have three of Malaysia’s six Prime Ministers, all of them former Presidents of Malay race-based party UMNO. Yet, they are either of mixed ancestry or have married non-Malays. As the writer succinctly puts it:
The good-natured Abdullah Badawi clearly has no problem with the mixed racial ancestry of his bride, or with the fact that she was baptised a Christian. Yet he heads a ruling party which is not merely race-based but at times makes a fetish of Malay racial purity.
Should we not be championing the fact that our Prime Ministers are such great examples of multiculturalism and Malaysian identities? Can’t we be proud that Tun Dr. Mahathir himself is proof that the sons and daughters of immigrants are every bit as Malaysian, and every bit as deserving as the rest of us? Doesn’t the fact that Tunku Abdul Rahman – Malaysia’s own founding father –clearly endorsed mixed unions make our widespread hesitance and fear towards such marriages a point of baseless concern? And yet the problems persist, just as I have outlined in the previous section. Why hasn’t a party, whose top leaders have been great examples of such multiracial success, advocate mixed marriages rather than trumpet the exclusive rights of just one group of people?
There really isn’t much to say about this, because that article really says it all. What I can add is that the fact that we haven’t sat up and taken greater notice of this is highly revealing. What does it say about us? Perhaps all it demonstrates is that the people as a whole are not ready or willing to move beyond petty issues of race and religion, even as living and breathing leaders have attested to the contrary.
Why do these cultural gaps exist? Obviously, these encompass details like differences in language, practices, and beliefs. A more pertinent question would be: Why do these cultural gaps still exist?
That answer, I believe, lies in education. The issue of unity appears here, and I won’t expand on it because it has been discussed many times – not segregating races, exposing children of all races to each other, cultivating a common Malaysian identity.
Have things improved in today’s society? The answer seems to be yes, and unsurprisingly so. Can it be better? Most definitely, yes. With only an estimated 150 000 mixed marriages, according to Asia Sentinel, there is a long way to go. What can we do? Besides educate ourselves and our children, we can look up to our leaders, in whom (political considerations aside) we should be able to find some respect for embracing mixed marriages.
I fully encourage you to read all the articles I have linked to. They’re all extremely insightful, particularly the Asia Sentinel one – if you have to read just one, read that one. Browsing through the letters section of Malaysiakini is also very eye-opening, because there are many personal accounts of such matters there. The parts I have quoted and mentioned in this piece aren’t even half of what’s there to be read – educate yourself today. If you thought only our leaders were engaging in mixed marriages, you’re wrong. Ethnic groups like the Peranakan show us that mixed marriages, even with all its problems, have been a prominent feature of our society.
In truth, the reality is that most of us probably aren’t really pure brown, black or yellow anymore – but rather, shades in between.
Satveer Chaudhary is the founding lawyer of Chaudhary Law Office, PLLC. In practice over 10 years, Chaudhary brings 14 years of legislative experience as a State Senator and Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives to each and every case.At Chaudhary Law Office, our clients come first. Every client is treated with courtesy and is guaranteed effective representation. Practicing in the areas of Immigration Law, Wills, Divorce, Family Law, Small Business and Criminal Law, we provide free intial consultations to all our clients.
In 2004 Satveer Chaudhary was named the University of Minnesota Law School Alumni of the Year. He was also awarded the Governor’s Certificate of Commendation for the Legal Aid Society of Minnesota, served as Special Assistant to Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III, and was recognized by the worldwide Asian-Indian community for his dedicated work, Chaudhary was named to the top-50 non-resident Indians in the world (NRI World magazine).
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