By Maria “Tzing Fung” Baker
I remember many years ago after summer break, when I returned for another year at school, my friends and I, as we always did after a tediously hot summer, placed our arms in the middle of our circle, lining them up to compare the shades like a very uniformed and homogeneous foundation ad you would see on TV.
“Argh we’re all still so pale, But Maria, your arm is a different colour to mine still. Look how different it looks.” One of my friends would mention to the others.
I was genuinely perplexed, Why was I so different? Why were those aspects always picked out?
Back then I feared to be different, it was high school, after all, I had enough on my plate and being naturally different was difficult as it is, I used the fact that I was white passing (though I didn’t know the term back then) to my advantage, the little bit of me I could potentially control the outcome of, shield myself from more insults. It was a pseudo sense of security, knowing well I was kidding myself but I was finally the same as everybody else. If you looked at my photos back then and compared them to me now, you would see what I mean: Freckles dotted my nose and cheeks, my eyes were wide with innocent youth and my teeth jarring, kind of like most teens but what caught me off guard was how Western and white I looked.
“I looked so white back then!” I exclaimed to my family over my old photographs about a year back. They inspected such and agreed, looking back and forth between past and present me. Again, I was perplexed, how can this be? What a big change!
Was it really just a psychological trick I played on myself?
Back then I didn’t know what it was to be mixed race, I didn’t know I was such. All I knew was my mother and her side of the family are Malaysian Chinese (not “Just Chinese” but “Malaysian Chinese”) which only added to the mystery, and then my dad was English. Mixed wasn’t in my dictionary or anyone’s in my school. They would call me Chinese but when they did it, it always sounded like a jab at me. “Well, you’re Chinese, how would you know about the stuff I’m talking about?” Kind of thing.
I wanted to say I wasn’t completely different to them, after all, my dad was like them. But then I considered, really how much like them? No, I didn’t get it. Not for a while anyway.
A lot changed since. Maybe it was the internet or as maturity sleuthed on by as time passed, year after year, I realised something, I wanted to be different. And I was very much different already, that much didn’t need changing for such a wish to come true.
I saw everyone wearing the same clothes, owning the same names, having the same background, traditions and holidays. I had praised myself for such an interesting background.
I finally noticed the twinkle in someone’s eye when I mention my Chinese name to them. “Oh! What does that mean? In English?”
“Golden Phoenix” I puff out my chest proudly. Their mouth turning into a big ‘o’, the amazement of this fact settling on us like a blanket. That’s it. That’s the feeling I should have felt all along.
It wasn’t just that, Chinese New Year had always been special to me but it was like a small secret that I let the occasional friend in and even then I kept thinking, they’re using us for our money.
Now I’m the one begging my own family to do something grander, let’s go out, let’s celebrate and show the world we’re celebrating.
I had made a magazine about my culture in university, I used my Chinese name wherever possible when there’s something to show my culture in a movie I proudly inform my white friends after they puzzle over what it is. So what changed?
It wasn’t as simple as to say, one misty morning I learnt who I really was and who I was meant to be, no, it was stepped upon steps to feel different about myself.
The racism held me down like a surfer swept up in a huge stormy tide. I felt like I was drowning in their comments, people’s thoughts about me, who was I kidding? They’re right, I thought to myself. When I was in first school my old-timey teacher picked me out from the small waddling crowd of kids and said “well Maria’s skin is yellow” we were talking about different skin colours I guess but that didn’t give it much excuse. How these boys that bullied us shouted at me “well you’re Chinese!” And my friends, how little they were, looked at me as if I was punched in the face. What an insult!
But as I grew up and as I took a different outlook on my culture, realising how important it was to be different in a world filled with herding sheep. Because it wasn’t enough to be the same, to be forgotten. But really it was especially the fact that all these years I felt like a fraud, then I felt in touch with my culture and suddenly nothing could stop me.
What else, there were those that represented me on the big screen or behind the scenes that expressed issues that I never noticed were a bigger problem to the rest of the world, I wanted to be them, I wanted to help others that had struggled through the same insecurities I went through. There are those that represent me now that I feel like I must list a few down: Jackie Chan, Sandra Oh, Steven Yeun, Jessica Gao.
I had to show the racists and the ignorant that their rude comments didn’t feel much to me, it powered me through life, even, drove me forwards, gave me the strength to show them that this wasn’t my weakness, they were wrong, this was my power to make a difference. How the current state of our society we’re in, if you’re not straight, white and male you have something to worry about but power is in the difference, in being different and making a difference.
Meet Maria (or Tzing Fung) the lovely writer of today’s post. I’m so happy to finally be able to share this beautiful piece with you, now send her all the love and support ❤
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