I have lived in both my parents’ home countries (Malaysia and Wales) but have lived in Bristol, England since I was a teenager.
I have felt indifferent towards, loved and loathed my heritage at different times in my life, such is the complex journey of many mixed race people – or so I imagine.
As a small child, I didn’t know anyone else like me, other than my own sisters and two of my cousins. Back then there were few role models to look up to, if any.
I have been – and always shall be – a Star Trek fan, with a special place in my heart for Mr Spock. He was important to me as a child.
Half human and half Vulcan?
He surely knew how I felt. I saw him struggle with his identity. I saw other people struggle with his identity. I saw him overcome challenges, make friends and live his truth. I could relate.
….and he was an all-round awesome guy.
I once got lost in a department store and while my frantic mother raced to collect me, the gaggle of ladies who had flocked to pinch my pre-schooler cheeks inevitably asked the single most common question from my childhood;
“Where are you from?”
I cheerfully told them I was half Chinese and half human!
A deep dive into the psychology of why I considered my Welsh half as human and my Chinese half as alien is best left to another post, another time, with a much higher word count and maybe a follow up therapy session.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time trying, not always successfully, to ‘fit in’. People in the UK would say: “I don’t think of you as Chinese”, mentally giving themselves a pat on the back for their modern views while awaiting my expression of gratitude for their ‘acceptance’.
Everyday bullying of varying levels was just part of life at the time and, I’m afraid to say, even though it really upset me to have one half of my heritage just brushed under the carpet, I often did feel that gratitude, desperate for anything that helped me ‘fit-in’. A sad juxtaposition.
Over the years, I’ve adapted my accent and mannerisms, particularly at school, going from a strong Caerphilly accent in Wales to broken English and lots of “lah’s” in Malaysia to plenty of rolling R’s and flat A’s in Bristol.
Ultimately, we all mimic accents to assimilate with others and create empathy.
Even today, there are times where I use my ‘posh voice’ (akin to a classic ‘telephone voice’ your mum might put on when answering the landline), and other times I lay on a Bristolian twang. And if I’m in Malaysia, the old accent creeps in – it can make a huge difference to being understood in a conversation. After doing this for so long, my ‘real’ accent could feasibly be considered something of my own making.
Will the real Sharon Chang please stand up?
Surprise! No matter the accent – they’re all the real me.
In Malaysia, if I’m ordering three cokes, I hold up my middle, ring and little fingers. In the UK, I’ll hold up my index, middle and ring finders.
I might beckon you towards me in Malaysia with a palm down, downward swipe of the hand – in the UK, it’s a palm up, upward swipe.
I love these subtle differences and each feel comfortable to me. I can take these things on and off, like so many hats, but they are all still a genuine part of the individual I am today.
Living in England for over 30 years has made me very English in my manner. It’s home. Ashamedly, I butcher Welsh language at every attempt and only know a handful of words in Cantonese.
I often don’t feel Welsh ‘enough’ or Chinese ‘enough’ but I do very much feel mixed race. I gravitate towards other mixed race people – specifically, Eurasians like me – which is probably my not-so-unconscious bias still driving me to seek a kinship I rarely felt in childhood.
As an adult, I’m proud of my identity and although that doesn’t mean I always feel I belong, I am certainly much better at being me.
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