Of identities

Perhaps I am sensitive. Perhaps I get offended easily.

Growing up (and even now), I never could understand how people could so callously comment on your identity, as though they know you so much better than you. Growing up, I had to contend with regular remarks that seemed accusatory – things like,

“Oh you are such a fake Taiwanese – how can you not know anything about Taipei?” [Not sure how someone who’s from Tainan should know about famous eateries in Taipei – it is like asking a Sarawakian what’s good to eat in Kelantan.]

“You call yourself Malaysian when you don’t even eat durian? Are you really Malaysian?” [Just because I don’t eat a certain food excludes me from certain nationalities?]

“Please, you are not Taiwanese. You grew up in Malaysia.” [Yes, I grew up in Malaysia but are you asking me to disregard half of my family who are based in Taiwan?]

There were more to the list – each sounded more and more self-righteous from these seemingly know-it-alls. When I confronted some of them, they exclaimed that they were just joking, wondered why would I be so uptight (oh I like this one – why can’t you take a joke?) and circled back to me – perhaps I was only triggered easily due to my insecurities. Well, I will tell you honestly – I was insecure growing up. Imagine having to fit into both places and understand the unspoken nuances, the jarring cultural differences, the chameleon-like adaptability to fit in, oh, to fit in, the glorious and painful socialisation, of becoming one and of the norm. Malaysia remained foreign for the longest time and even today, it befuddles and confuses.

I grew up with a complex. Even today, the complex remains. Who am I, really? Am I really what they say I am not? But I am all of these, and even more. Identities are complex manoeuvring of history, social backgrounds, cultural norms, and bloodlines (no matter how archaic sounding it may be).  I am not one. I am not singular. I am not bound to a place. Today, three places define me. If I have to be defined by the passport I hold, so be it. Yet, I am more than the definition of a book. I am the bulk of my experiences, the sum of my interactions with family and friends, the seasons alternating between here, there, and here again – and to say I am one but not the other, or the other, but not one is to discredit my life experiences and my identity and I do take offence – greatly, seriously; and unfortunately, for individuals who have commented time and again, so callously against someone else’s life experiences, I do discredit them much easier and hold less respect for them.

There are, after all, very slight differences, between respect and jest, humour and rudeness, and ultimately, these differences determine a finality of one’s upbringing.  This post’s focus isn’t about my disappointment or judgment towards said individuals. I have grown past that. People who are closest to me, and whom I hold dearly in my heart have never jested in such manners.

This post is a reminder to myself, yours truly, that

My identity (in terms of race or nationality) can’t be given or taken by anyone. It is my own and anchored. It took a long while to realise this. As a child, I was oftentimes confused and felt lost due to the noises made but one realises that the world produces so much crap and bullshit half the time, that really, words and sounds do come cheap and easily. Does it really matter what people say at the end of the day? No. What matters is what I say, think, and feel. I stopped bothering to explain. I stopped seeking understanding. There is no approval more important than my own, the rest are just white noise.



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