Children of mixed parentages in this part of the world often get the question: ‘What are you?’. If you answered ‘Chindian,’ 80 years ago, most would respond with a blank look.
Today, as the first and second generation children of mixed Chinese and Indian parentages come into their own, being Chindian is no longer novel or exotic.
Kuala Lumpur-born Kevin Bathman started The Chindian Diaries two years ago, collecting stories from people with similar mixed-parentage as his.
He has collected close to 50 photo stories in this mix-media web project, which we perused over the weekend!
Once you get over the exoticism of the happy faces in the pre-Instagram-filter photos, a slight tinge of guilt sets in as you realise that these are real stories, real people, and real families.
On a superficial level (like, skin-deep), inter-racial marriages are quite commonplace in today’s society, and the stories of strife and poverty are quite universal.
But here’s where we pause for a quick historical recap as it seems quite incomprehensible that people of the world’s two largest populations should marry!
REWIND: to the 19th century when large populations of Chinese and Indian migrants came to the British colony of Malaya in the 19th century. Many settled, adapted, assimilated and made their homes in the British colonies.
But unlike other cross-cultural populations who have assimilated in Southeast Asia (the well documented cultural identity of Southeast Asian Peranakans, for example), the Chindian culture, customs and identity are not quite fully formed because it’s a little bit more complex than just adapting to local culture.
There’s no glossing over what it’s like to be disowned for not marrying someone of your own colour, the looks other people give you and being refused service (story of Francissca Peter), there are stories about being bullied in school (story of Lina Tan).
It’s tough enough growing up looking (and being) different and reconciling cultural clashes, but the stories are also very empowering and hopeful.
WATCH: The Perfect Chindian Couple (Sherlyn Yap Chai Gek & Achu Nair)
AND: a touching tale about two newly-weds that gave us the fuzzies:
Featured photos used with permission! Thanks, Kevin!