You’re A Kinder Surprise, Too.
Before we go down the rabbit hole together, let’s find a commonality. How about chocolate? OMG you’re addicted, too?! Great, we’re best friends now. You’ll totally get where I’m coming from.
Did you have Kinder Surprises when you grew up? If you didn’t, I’m sorry to say your childhood wasn’t complete. In kindergarten and prep, when I was allowed to accompany my Mum on the greatest adventure of all (i.e. grocery shopping) and behaved myself, I would be rewarded with a Kinder Surprise. A hollow, egg-shaped chocolate with a toy inside. Sometimes they were little figurines, other times you had to figure out how to assemble them. It was the best treat, chocolate, and a toy! But I digress, the short answer to this month’s question, 'where are you from' is: my mama. The End.
Ok, fine, I’ll give you a ‘real’ answer. I = Chinese-Malaysian born Australian who spent her childhood in the Philippines. It took me a good identity crisis and a half to nail that one down and even then I still need to elaborate. Truth be told, I thought I was well assimilated into Melbourne but every now and then I’ll accidentally say ‘toe-may-to’ and my cover will be blown. Your eyes will widen, my cheeks will flush and we’ll have to unpack this ‘ol chestnut for the next five minutes.
For the longest time, I felt ‘ethnically’ distant to my parents, whose cultural experiences had witnessed a Malaysia during political instability (although what’s new); Dad fled to Queensland during the 70s when ethnic Chinese were being persecuted, and my mum’s story is the classic ‘left home for a better life’ after high school. I can’t relate to either of those. Born of immigrants, I grappled with the typical ‘neither here nor there’ syndrome of not being Malaysian enough, not being Filipino enough and not being Australian enough when I came back ‘home.’
I do take some responsibility. I’ve loved being different and used being from ‘somewhere else’ as a paradoxical way to fit in. We all label people, so when I was in Manila or Malaysia, I was ‘the Australian’. When I first came back to Australia, I was the ‘one with the American accent.’ The uniqueness I once felt came as a detriment later when I was trying to ‘identify’ with others. My lack of self-understanding (then) caused me to overcompensate and try instead, to relate with everyone else; resulting in diluting my sense of self.
I’m personally relieved, however, that I now have a spiel that I can stick to when someone asks me where I’m from. It’s something I can latch on to so I can accept it’s OK when I think or wake up from a dream that was in a different language. It’s OK that I’m not ‘enough’ of one place because I don’t have to fit into a box (and neither do you).
Although my explanation hasn’t really changed in the past five years, (I can expertly roll ‘Chinese-Malaysian born Australian who spent her childhood in the Philippines’ off my tongue); what I’ve enjoyed most is witnessing the change in response people have given me over time. Taking this longitudinal study with a sample size of one: Melbourne, from my singular perspective has become a lot more…cultured (for lack of a better sweeping statement). Now it seems, I’m not so different. Many people I encounter nowadays have a well-travelled story of intertwining cultures and that makes us same-same but different.
At the end of the day, didn’t we all come from eggs without instructions?