The pains of being mixed descent

The issue of racial categorization has always been a site for contestation, and even more so with the increasing inter-ethnic marriages today. The required film ‘None Of The Above’ shows the struggles of people of mixed heritage; in a sense that one parent is of another ethnicity and the other of completely different ethnicity than the first one. In the film, there were people of Japanese-African American descent, Indian-White as well as a person with a string of ethnicities ranging from Irish to American Indian to French descent. As depicted in the film, their hybridized ethnicities do not fit in with the conventional societal notions of race and ethnicity. They are caught in a limbo; whereby they are neither here nor there and many of them illustrated problems that they have encountered with while growing up.

I feel that the same issue can be applied in the Singapore Peranakan community. A Peranakan refers to a person that is not only born to a Chinese father and Malay mother but also subscribe to Peranakan culture in terms of language- Baba Malay, dressing, food- especially the ‘Ayam Buah Keluak’ as well as the music and melody of Dondang Sayang. The dilution of the Peranakan culture today relative to colonial times may be attributed to Singapore’s multiracial policy of categorizing its citizens into CMIO- Chinese, Malays, Indians or Others. The fact that a Peranakan of Chinese and Malay descent can only be one presents a significant challenge and dilemma to the individual. A Peranakan would have to, at one point or the other, choose to become a Chinese or Malay. Since ‘Chinese’ and ‘Malay’ are already recognized categories established as the ‘official’ races so to speak and that being Malay or more so a Chinese would thus confer greater political power; the choice to become the racially ambiguous and thus politically inferior ‘Other’ is possible but irrational.

Consequently, as many Peranakans declare themselves as Chinese and renounce their ability to speak Baba Malay and adopt Mandarin instead, there would inevitably be an erosion of Peranakan culture. In fact, instead of being the real, way of life that Peranakans used to practise in the colonial period, the culture now becomes increasingly commercialized in order to boost Singapore’s touristic value.
Hence, being of mixed descent myself, I feel that the issue of hybridized ethnicity is a pertinent one especially with the incidences of increasing inter-ethnic marriages today. Despite the fact that inter-ethnic marriages only make up a small percentage of marriages in Singapore at only 17.4% in 2011, one cannot deny its upward, positive trend (Singstat, retrieved on 26th October 2012). The issue then is whether the size of the ‘Other’ category would grow so much that the CMIO racial categorization would eventually phase out in the future. And if it phases out, what are the significant political implications on a country that has been historically built on racial categorization? What type of framework would then replace the CMIO as a form of identification?

Statistics Singapore (2011). Retrieved on 26th October 2012 from