What are you?

I bet those who've studied abroad have at some point been asked this question. Well, I've been mistaken for a Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian and even on one occasion an English boy in Sheffield thought that I was Pakistani!? Damn! That I did not expect! Must be the tanned skin tone.
 This is the result of all that mixing. Eid 2008. Guys. meet my family and please ignore the mustache. It was a phase ok.
Like most "Malays" I am a mix of all sorts. Both my grandparents from my father's side originated from Pattani, what is now modern day southern Thailand. They are Kelantanese of mixed Pattani and Arab descent. According to my grandfather our ancestors came down from Pattani to Kota Bharu with the royal entourage as missionaries or religious teachers. As history tells us, Kelantanese and Pattani governments are related and were only really seperated by the Golok river post Bangkok treaty between the British Empire and the Kingdom of Siam. Ever wondered why alot of Kelantanese women are fair? Well, centuries of mixing with the local Chinese (Cino kito) and Arabs took care of that. I pure Malay is NEVER fair. The fair complexion comes through mixing with another race. So I am half a mix of that though i got my grandad's dark genes. I can't speak Kelantanese so i do not consider myself Kelantanese, nor do I adhere to any Kelantanese customs or traditions.

Meet my grandparents from Kelantan.
Mum's side is rather complex. Her father was from Teraci, Negeri Sembilan and her mother was Singaporean (now Malaysian). Negeri Sembilan is well known as a Minangkabau state with the people originating from west Sumatra. Ironicly, my relatives say that they were of Jambi lineage i.e the peoples of East Sumatra. Well, at least we can be certain that they were from Sumatra. Grandma's side was Singaporean, even that they weren't originally from Singapore. Back in those days Singapore was the place to be if you were looking for a better life and to settle down. It was the hight of the British colonial era in the orient. My great grandfather whom I managed to meet once was Chinese. He married my great grandmother who was Javanese from central Java. My grandmother was brought up as a Javanese and retained little of her Chinese ancestry save maybe for the TeoChew language she and her siblings can still speak. My mother was brought up with a mix of cultures, Negeri sembilan and Javenese cultures and eventually i guess adopting the popular culture which we now call Malay culture.


The Singapore clan. Us boys and dad with Uncles and 2nd cousins
Which brings me to my next point. What is a Malay? is the Malay race homogeneous? Well, wikipedia has and entry on it which you can read here. No, Malays are not a Homogeneous race. Though there is an actual ethnic group called "Melayu", originally from Sumatra, to me in modern times it is more of an umbrella term used to define people that adhere to the popular culture of the government of the day (in a Malaysian context). Even the Malaysian constitution defines a Malay as: a person who professes Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and who has at least one ancestor from the Malay Peninsula or Singapore. Therefore you can have peoples with all sorts of ethnic backgrounds with their race written as "Melayu" on their Identification Cards (IC). Even my officemate that has a Chinese surname, habitually speaks Chinese with his parents, speaks Malay with a Chinese accent is a "Melayu" on his IC by virtue of having an Arabic first name and being Muslim. Fair enough his family has been muslims for 5 generations and has probably been in Malaysia longer than some of my relatives but it's just plain silly to call him a Malay. But in Malaysia, being Malay has it's benefits so takper lah, in public he's Malay at home he goes Tamlaaaaaa....Taumaaaaaa...(sorry, just quoting a few lines from Russel Peters hehehe). And do you think that certain things like the "Standard" baju Melayu is the traditional dress of all malays in Malaysia? if you think so then you have been misled. Each state or region in the peninsular had their own style of clothing. I do not believe the baju Melayu is native to Kelantan, well maybe not in the current "Standardised" form. Javanese have different traditional dresses altogether. So, in short Malays are a mixed race of mixed cultures but adhere to a certain popular culture as practiced in the region at that particular period of time.
My mum and sister with my grandma and her eldest sister on the right who married a Chinese man and left Islam. She was disowned by the family for many, many years. We only see her at official functions like this wedding.
Similar to Malays, Turkic and Arab peoples are not homogeneous. Turkic peoples occupy central asia from the XingJiang province jn China to Kazakhstan, Turkmenstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbijan, Iraq, all the way to modern day Turkey. They are a mix of tribes from the steppes of central asia mixed with the Mongols and other peoples they inter married with along the expansion of turkic empires westward. Ancient Anatolia which is now modern day Turkey was actually greek. In fact, the greek city of Troy is now in modern day Turkey. What binds these people together is their turkic language. Same with the Arabs. There can be no real genetic classification of an Arab. The arabs of peninsular arabia are different in customs from say the arabs of Sham (the region of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan) and in turn different from the Arabs of Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco). Even in peninsular Arabia, the arabs of the Hijjaz (Saudi Arabia) have slightly different cultures to Arabs of Hadhramout and Oman. The Arabic language also varies from region to region, a fact made known to me at University when my Iraqi friend could not understand a few words from my Omani friend and my Omani friend unable to understand the Algerian music I was listening to.
The next generation. My brother's merisik. He is marrying a Javanese Malaysian. We welcome another culture into our family.
So, as a wrap up to my lengthy rambling on race. The take away is, there is no real homogeneous race anymore. Maybe Japanese people are still homogeneous and probably some Africans and Australian aboriginals. Your race depends on what language you choose to speak as your mother tongue and what culture you choose to follow. Unfortunately, these things you cannot choose but by adopting the popular culture i.e in our context the Malaysian culture we can all be Malaysian. Ceh, macam iklan satu Malaysia lah pulak! for this to happen, we must not be so defensive with our norms and must be aware of other people's cultures. And ofcourse there's the issue of one binding language - Bahasa Malaysia. When everyone can speak the same language and practice the same culture or at least are well versed in the popular culture of the day, only then will we have a nation. In a world of peoples struggling to retain their identity one must remember that at some point in time more likely than not, our ancestors did not share the same customs and languages as you do now. The adopted the popular culture of the place they settled down in. It is a must for people to enjoy "normal" life. cultural over zealousness and pride has no room in modern society. This goes out to everyone, Malays included. Segregation can only last so long.... So, what are you?