WHAT’S A CHINDIAN?
You might be wondering what the heck is a Chindian. No, its not some new curry dish or the latest dance craze from Bollywood.
In keeping with the theme of dualities, I’d like to introduce to you a new term.
‘Chindian’ is an informal term to refer to person of both Indian and Chinese ancestry. I’m not quite sure of the origins of the word, but from as far back as I can remember, I distinctly remember Mum explaining to me why Chindian fits my term more than the official race on my birth certificate: Indian.
Chindian marriages, predominantly between Han Chinese women and Tamil Indian men, are characteristic in Malaysia and Singapore, where large populations immigrated during the 19th century.
The Malaysian government, considers Chindian to be an unclassified ethnicity, using the father’s ethnicity as the informal term. As the majority of Chindian marriages usually involve an Indian male and Chinese female, the majority of Chindian offspring in Malaysia are classified as “Indian” by the Malaysian government.
As a result of that, the Chindian culture is often, a forgotten and unrepresented subculture.
There are a sizable number of Chindians living in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, UK, United States and smaller numbers in other countries with overseas Chinese and Indian diaspora, such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.
Most Chindians lean towards the Indian culture, only because there were more Indian men marrying Chinese women from the 1950s till today. For families with an Indian father, it was common to see the children follow the more dominant paternal culture. This paternalistic pattern is a remnant from older Colonial times.
Thankfully, in 2010, the Singaporean government allowed parents of mixed race to record both races on their children’s identity cards. As a Chindian child, many would have trouble identifying themselves as one particular race.
In Malaysia, Chindians are a minority within a minority. Being Chindian has made me look at the issue of race differently, and it has allowed me to find common ground with people from all different races.
Reflecting on my life, I was intrigued with my grandparents – my paternal Indian-Tamil grandfather and Chinese-Nyonya grandmother. My father used to tell me about their union and how my grandmother was disowned by her family for marrying my grandfather, a dark skin Indian man.
I started The Chindian Diaries project in mid 2012, after participating in a weekend storytelling workshop to dig deeper about my ancestors. It had forced me to delve into my family history as I learnt new things about my ancestry.
The Chindian Diaries project is aspiring to collect and document stories from Chindians and Chinese-Indian couples. It is focused primarily at the Chindian culture but is open to stories from other mixed marriages. By gathering these collective stories, it is hoped that they will form a greater, overarching cultural narrative.
The project was born from the lack of documented Chindian stories. By capturing these stories and photos, The Chindian Diaries hopes that these stories will act as a resource for future generations, and ensure they are never forgotten. The stories featured on the project vary from identity crises, cultural clashes, struggles and misunderstandings to stories of love and acceptance.
Below is a sample of stories from the project. To read more stories,
THE RACE CONFUSION
“When filling in my School Report Card, my teacher wrote “Eurasian” in the race section. When I took the card home for my Dad to sign, I remember him making a remark about the Eurasian race section. Being 8 years old, I had little understanding about race at that stage.
My teacher later had to white-out the section and fill in ‘Indian, as ‘Chindian’ was not a common term then. She had assumed I was Eurasian because of my surname and skin colour.”
OF CHARITABLE AUNTS AND DIFFICULT UNCLES
“Going out with that Indian man again? Mary, Indians are known to be wife-beaters and drunks. They will spend all their money and won’t help in the household. Why don’t you find a nice Eurasian fella?”
When she told the family she had wanted to marry Dad, her uncles objected strongly. Despite their objection, Mum stood her ground and made the call to get married. No one could sway Mum to do what they wanted her to do – to her, its either they accepted it or they didn’t.
Renee Marcia Chandran
“Over the weekends, my mother would take me swimming at the Bukit Batok swimming complex. Dorothie, my maid, would also tag along with us.
I remember one incident when some people thought that Dorothie was my mother, and my mother, the maid. They had assumed that because I was darker in my complexion that my Mum couldn’t possibly be my Mum!
Sai Amrita Balachandran
A MARRIAGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
“After Mum and Dad moved into their new neighbourhood, some of their neighbours started talking behind their back and sniggered that Mum was a kept lady and even worse, that she was his personal maid!
When she couldn’t stand the gossip, she started to carry her wedding photo with Dad, so she could prove it to them that they were married. This eventually stopped the rumours.”
Pushparani Adeline Mary Ho
THE BLACK SHEEP
“As a child, I was always blamed and punished for things I never did by my aunts. I recall an incident when my brother and sister broke a fragile item but I was punished for it. Joey, out of love for me, finally admitted it was his fault but he didn’t receive any punishment by them.
Being more Chinese looking, my aunts took better care of them. Another incident revolved around food. As a child, Joey loved seafood, even though I am allergic to it. During meal time, my aunts would cook prawns, fish and all sorts of seafood, knowing I could not eat any of it. I remember only being able to eat rice and vegetables then. It took awhile before my Dad found out about it, and reprimanded my aunts about it.
I could tell I wasn’t liked by them as after getting a scolding from Dad, they did cook something for me to eat. It turned out to be LIVER!”