When my daughter was born and we had to register her birth certificate, I wondered what exactly we should list under the field, “race”?
My husband is Javanese and I’m ¾ Thai, ¼ Malay, so what does that make my child?
Do we write down Javanese-Thai? Or just Javanese? We certainly weren’t allowed to put in Javanese-Thai-Malay as the most we were only allowed to choose was a double-barrelled race option. There was also the possibility of selecting “Others”.
We eventually chose “Malay” because this is the racial group we both closely identify with in Singapore — and not to mention that there are certain perks to being the supposed bumiputra (indigenous people of the land).
Now that my daughter is four years old, it’s still too early to tell whether she feels more Javanese, or Thai or Malay (or neither one), but she is aware that our families speak different languages and that her golden caramel skin is a perfect blend of her daddy’s brown tan and mummy’s honey olive tone.
But bringing up mixed race children in Singapore is complex. It’s not just about physical appearances and is far more skin-deep than that.
Are there any benefits to being biracial in Singapore? And what are the challenges that one might face here?
Benefits of being mixed race
On a superficial level, there are many who feel that mixed race people are generally more attractive than those who are not of mixed race.
You might even become a chameleon of sorts as people struggle to correctly guess your ethnic blend (which can actually be a pretty fun party trick).
A recent study also shows that mixed race children are actually taller and more intelligent!
Most Singaporeans can speak at least two languages (English and their Mother Tongue), but if both parents speak different languages, chances are that your kids will be able to pick up on it too.
Augustus M., who is of mixed heritage, can speak five different languages all thanks to his Malay-Chinese father and his Indonesian-Dutch mother.
“I can speak English and Malay, I took Mandarin in school, and I learned Javanese and know a little bit of Dutch from my grandparents. Because it’s a little hard to tell what exact race I am, I find that many shopkeepers here are impressed when I converse with them in their native language and will even give me discounts. It’s awesome!”, he tells us.
His wife is Norwegian and they are currently expecting their first baby and plan on letting their little one learn as many languages as he can.
“I think the poor little guy might be a little confused at first and probably wouldn’t know which words to say to which parent or grandparent, but I’m sure he’ll quickly get the hang of it and hopefully grows up to become a multi-linguist like me!”, says Augustus.
2 year old Shanika is a mixed race child — her father is Indian-Chinese and her mother is Chinese (Photos courtesy of Sanjay Jegatheesan)
Depending on the race as stated on your NRIC, you can use the Housing Development Board’s (HDB) Ethnic Integration Policy to your advantage when trying to obtain a flat according to the racial quota of that particular estate.
Sanjay Jegatheesan, father of one, says, “My wife is Chinese, and I’m Indian-Chinese. Our daughter, Shanika, is registered as Indian at birth. We made the choice to register her as Indian, as I personally believe that she can enjoy the minority privileges later on in life, for example, applying for a flat.”
Just by living in Singapore it is already a great way to learn more about other cultures from your own, as the local population here consists of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Others.
But being a mixed race child will give you the wonderful opportunity to absorb even more culture and learn first-hand about the various customs and traditions of your parentage.
Not to mention getting to eat all the delicious cuisine from both sides and being able to celebrate the many cultural festivals.
Unfortunately, racism still exists in this day and age, even in Singapore.
Challenges and disadvantages
Odd one out
No matter how exotic you think you look, there will still be people out there who have difficulty accepting the fact that another human being can be of mixed race.
Once when I told someone I was Thai, they were surprised and asked me, “Are you sure? But you don’t look Thai!”.
I am not sure what is the stereotypical “Thai look” they were expecting, but when such similar incidents happen to you so often, after a while it does kind of wear you down and make you feel quite confused about what exactly you’re supposed to look like in the eyes of society.
Augustus remembers when he was still in Primary School and there was a new Mandarin teacher who took one glance at his tanned complexion then promptly told him he was in the wrong room, and tried to shoo him out to the Malay class down the hall.
He recalls, “It was so embarrassing. Everyone was staring at me and I just replied to him in Mandarin that I was in the correct classroom. He looked so confused because here I was, a little brown boy, rattling off in his language — after that, he was the one who looked a little embarrassed.”
As multicultural our society is, according to a recent survey, racism still remains an issue and as many as six in ten people have heard racist comments here.
When Founder and CEO of theAsianparent, Roshni Mahtani, who is Indian, and her husband Darius Cheung, who is Chinese, were searching for a new home, they were shocked to discover the blatant discrimination against her.
Her husband was told by a housing agent, “Sorry your wife is Indian, landlord won’t rent to you. Next time please indicate earlier so we won’t waste time.”
She even contemplated dropping her last name from her daughter’s IC, thinking that it might be easier for her down the road.
Sanjay agrees and says, “I am aware of the disadvantages that [my daughter’s] race can bring her later on in life. Being Indian myself, I can safely say that racial prejudice still exists. I can only hope that it is less prevalent in 10-20 years [from now].”
Other recent events which were racially offensive also caused an uproar with netizens, which shows that unfortunately racism still exists even in our modern society.
It might get confusing for your mixed race child to figure out where exactly she belongs
Choosing a side
During the recent Elected Presidency review, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam was asked whether someone who was half-Malay would still qualify in the reserved election for Malay candidates.
His response was, “There is a two-step test. First, what do you consider yourself as? So let’s take a Malay-Chinese, or a child of Malay-Chinese parents. Does he or she consider himself or herself primarily Malay or Chinese? That’s the first criteria. If he considers himself Chinese, then he cannot qualify as Malay. So culturally, what is he, how does he consider himself? Then there is also a committee that looks to see whether – you say you are Malay, but are you accepted by the community as Malay? So that’s the two-step criteria, because people can try and game the system.”
It’s tough being a mixed race person at times as you struggle to figure out where exactly you belong, if you’ll eventually have to “pick a side” some day, or whether you’ll even be accepted by your own race.
Lila Anderson, who is English-Filipino shares that although she embraces both cultures, she does feel lost at times.
“I don’t think I truly belong anywhere. I’m either too Asian to be English, or too ‘white’ to be Filipino. I’m not sure which exact race I belong to, because I identify with both. Why do I even have to choose though? Why do we even have to label each other according to our race? Can’t I just say that I belong to the human race?”, she laments.
Forgetting their roots
Sometimes due to certain circumstances, more emphasis might be placed on one particular race and your child might forget about his “other side”.
Although this isn’t necessarily a big issue, it is a little sad that your little one is out of touch with his roots and won’t get the opportunity to explore the other culture too.
Let your child embrace both cultures and discover his or her own identity
Tips for parents to raise mixed race children in Singapore
Population SG reports that as of 2016, one out of every five Singaporean marriages are interracial, so we can expect more mixed race children to be the next generation of our country.
So what can you do to help raise a happy biracial child here?
Explore both cultures
It is important for parents of mixed-marriages to expose your child to both cultures and let them learn more about their heritage so they can remember their roots.
If one parent is from another country, it would also be great learning experience for the whole family to travel there on a holiday together.
Teach your kids NOT to be colourblind
Some parents might make the mistake of trying to teach their kids that all skin colours are the same or are equal, which is also known as being “colourblind”.
The fact is that we are all different and that is something which should not be ignored because children should be aware of the many wonderful races found in the world.
It is recommended that you talk to your child about racism and teach him how to defend himself against it, so as to avoid any long term negative effects as a result of any unpleasant racist experiences.
You can also help prevent your child from becoming a racist in future.
Teach your child to be proud of her mixed heritage
Cut out any negativity
If you hear any friends or family members making a negative comment about your child’s race, even if they meant it as a joke, its important to tell them to be more sensitive and to refrain from any derogatory remarks.
Your child might even repeat negative certain things that he has heard that has been said about his race and put himself down, so remember to nip this in the bud and teach him to ignore such comments.
Be proud of being mixed race!
Teach your little one to be proud of who he is and to accept everything that makes him so unique.
Being a mixed race kid may have it’s pros and cons, but what’s important is that your child grows up to become a happy and loving person who is confident enough to embrace his differences and be proud of who he is.