In my Bahasa class last week I learned the word Bangsa which means race. When they teach you how to talk about your background you can say saya orang perensi (Perensi meaning French) or saya asal peresnsi or saya bangsa perensi and according to my teacher it is more or less the same. That is when I had a click. Bangsa vs asal (which has the same meaning in Arabic – roots/origins) and orang (meaning people) appear the same if not similar. To be Chinese in Malaysia is an orang, an asal and a bangsa but in the US for example orang may be America or Ireland, asal could be Swedish, Italian etc, and bangsa becomes anchored to skin color.
As the conversation progressed I tried to understand how I could talk about my situation but my teacher said I didn’t have to. I began to explain WHY I do and that is when I realized it’s an explanation everyone needs to hear. Saya campur (pronounced ‘champur’) and in Malaysia people do not talk about it. Plural marriages happen but people only explain their backgrounds as such when asked. I explain when not asked because being mixed or plural is more common place than people realize and it needs to become normalized within the human psyche. It’s a bit frustrating when you say something like “I’m Belgian/American” and the person who asked you says “But you are originally from where?”. YES it is in part a Visible Other thing but I’m not a spy so why would I waste me time lying about my background? Hold that thought…
I read a blog post by Sarah Carr recently which served as a little reminder. While my situation is nothing like those of half/double/plural Egyptians as I plural I empathize because I get lumped with black or American stereotypes regularly. And people like to use super glue. This was especially true in Egypt where as I have mentioned before there are no black people existing off the continent. Patriarchy landed me a double whammy as further support that I MUST be African, and you know where they are on the Egyptian food chain boys and girls.
YES my father is African. HALF African and not with the connotations people commenting on Sarah’s blog gleaned. I mean his father was Nigerian and his mother was Portugese. Just like I am HALF American. Now some may ask why any of this is important. Why the need to distinguish? Simple: I was lied to and I think lying is bad. Thanks to my father the histories of my grandmother and mother were erased because as women their contributions to the gene pool were irrelevant. Some may call it omission. That is just as bad. When I finally found out my father behaved as if it was some big dark terrible secret and a whole section of my life SUDDENLY MADE SENSE.
So when I meet people I explain my story because I want it to be acknowledged consciously as part of human evolution. Mixing existed before national borders did and yet it is denied, more specifically along gender lines or one is bullied into choosing a side. For me there is nothing to choose and I think it should be the same for everyone.