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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Who am I?

"Daddy, who am I?" My youngest daughter asked, tentatively, puzzled and confused.

"I mean, am I Australian, or Malaysian, or... Ch-Chinese?"

I said, "Why, honey?"

"Well, the other day at school, the teacher asked all the Chinese kids in the class to go forward for a meeting. I didn't go forward because I thought I was Australian, and you and Mom were Malaysian, but not Chinese."

I wasn't sure why the Chinese students were called out for a meeting. Perhaps the school wanted to survey the Chinese students to see if any were interested in attending special Chinese language classes, but the real problem was my daughter's confusion.

I spent some time explaining to her that she is ethnically Chinese, that her parents were born in Malaysia, and grew up with Malaysian nationality. However I assured my daughter that indeed her parents are Chinese ethnically and that all her grandparents were also Chinese, as are their parents and grand-parents. So we are true-blue Chinese (I was going to say true yellow, but that might not be appropriate, even if it is coming from me). As for my daughter, I explained to her, because she and her siblings were all born in Australia, she was definitely true-blue Australian as well as 100% Chinese!

This uneasiness about our heritage seems to run in the family. A few years ago, when my oldest daughter was just eight years old, she had a similar conversation with me. She was sitting next to me as I was reading. She had this contemplative look on her young face.

"Daddy, I have a question."

I put my book down. "Yes, honey, what is it?"

"Grandma and Grandpa... they are real Chinese people right?"

"Yes, dear, they are."

She nodded slowly, still visibly thinking hard, she pointed to her chest, "And, me.... I am a real Australian, right?"

"Oh, yes, you sure are!"

She nodded again.... "Now, I don't know about you and Mom."

"Why is that?"

"Well, sometimes, you are Australian, and sometimes you are Chinese."

I couldn't help but break out in a huge smile on my face. "Yes!" I chuckled, "you are right! Mom and Dad are confused people!"