Irene Goh

At the end of the day, we are family.

Living in multicultural Malaysia, we are used to seeing people of different races and culture living close to each other. Interracial marriage is so common that most of us know somebody who is in an interracial relationship or born of one.
This is partly why I am quite surprised by the fact that many of my friends and colleagues are often surprised when they hear about my family history. But from what they’ve told me, my family is better mixed than what most people would encounter.
You see, my father is a Malaysian Chinese while my mother has peranakan roots and we are basically a Chinese family living in a Malay fishing village in Pontian, Johor.
My father’s side of the family is relatively small during those times as he has only three siblings. On the other hand, my maternal grandmother had twelve children and almost half of them were married to Malays and have converted to Islam. In my immediate family, two of my sister-in-laws are Malays and my brothers have also converted to Islam.
As the different family members converted to Islam over the years, it has been very interesting to see how my extended family has evolved over time. Each year we become further from the Chinese culture and closer to the Malay culture.
When my mother was still alive, she kept the Chinese New Year spirit alive with decorations and festive goodies. After she passed away and my eldest sister-in-law started managing the household, and understandably, more emphasis is placed on Hari Raya and before I knew it, I actually look forward to Hari Raya much more than CNY as most of my family now celebrates Hari Raya.
In fact I make it a point to book my bus balikkampung for Hari Raya way in advance to make sure I can get a ride; something that I no longer do for CNY and I would not mind skipping CNY if I could not make it back. We still put up decorations and cookies for CNY, but the scale is nothing compared to what we do for Hari Raya.
Some of my friends have asked me whether it is difficult adapting to the changes. To be honest, I don’t remember it being difficult at all.
All it takes is a little more respect and awareness for the differences in culture, and most of the changes boils down to getting used to the choice we have to make. But to be honest, it is more difficult to find non-Halal food in Malaysia and there is really not that much sacrifices to be made.
On the other hand, what I have gained from my evolved family is so much more. It is only when you live with those with different cultural backgrounds that you truly start to learn about each other.
I’ve learned the minute differences between true Malay cooking and Chinese cooking from watching my sister-in-law perform her culinary magic in the kitchen. I’ve learned also that the Chinese post-natal confinement is so different from what the Malays do. I’ve observed the minute differences between how the children are brought up in the different cultures. But most importantly, I also saw how my sisters-in-law love my brothers wholeheartedly and am delighted in their happiness.
Both my sisters-in-law also learned to speak Mandarin and we communicate with each other at home in a rojak of Hokkien, Bahasa and Mandarin. They’ve also learned to make rice dumpling with chicken and mutton instead of pork and we get to eat a variety of food that we traditionally do not get. Such is the enrichment to our lives that my father will even visit different children to get a taste of different food.
Following my brothers’ conversion, my father also removed the ancestor altar to respect my brothers’ religion and our house is now decorated only with Islamic verses.
The house may look different but the family is still the same, and this is the most important point I hope to share; the bonds of the family go beyond any race and religion.
I love my family regardless of their beliefs or the culture they practice. I am proud of our collective heritage and would not wish for anything different.
As Malaysians, we are more alike that we are different and we all call this country our home.
At the end of the day, we are family.
Irene Goh
Irene Goh