Two weeks ago, on the same day Dave Parkash’s post went viral, I was scrolling through Facebook when one response to the video caught my attention – it was a photo of a group of smiling people with a humorous and compassionate caption that nevertheless made a evocative point about acceptance and racial harmony.
In the post, Raj Joshua Thomas, a Chinese-Indian acknowledges that the man in Parkash’s video, whom he respectfully refers to as “Uncle”, isn’t an isolated case.
He says: “Even on the face of it, the video is bizarre and racist. Such incidences, while not common, are not isolated. I have encountered this myself, for example, when a female Chinese friend and I were innocently having teh tarik at a roti prata shop, and an elderly lady shouted in our direction gou nan nu (literally “dog man woman” in Chinese, referring to a shameless couple). I was tickled by the aunty’s retort, my friend not so much.
He goes on to say that “Uncle” is entitled to his opinion and that it is not an uncommon view, especially among the older generation. He explains why he feels that resorting to a legal approach isn’t the best solution and concludes that the best way is simply to have a conversation and to show “Uncle” how he is wrong.
He adds: “Perhaps a conversation with Uncle would be useful. Perhaps exposure to happy Chindian families would help him change his mind. Uncle: here’s mine. Four generations of Indian-Chinese marriages. No disgrace, only Love. ❤️”
Four generations of happy Chindians
It is a simple idea, not to argue, but to show and not tell how interracial relationships work. So the Pride reached out to Joshua, and his cousin Isabel Peter, to find out more about their family tree.
The top of the tree starts with their late Indian grandfather, Peter, and late Chinese grandmother, Regina.
Their grandparents’ love story is almost straight out of a 60s movie: He saw a photo of her and knew she was going to be his wife. They went on to have seven children.
Their son, Isabel’s father, Paul, married Serene, a Chinese woman — and they had Isabel, 29, and her brother Timothy who is 27 years old.
Joshua’s mother, Josephine, married Joseph, an Indian who had grown up with her as neighbours from across the road. Joshua himself is 41 years old and his brother, Raj Isaac, is 37.
“So I am one-quarter Chinese, three-quarter Indian. And lastly, our fourth generation Chindian is my brother’s daughter who is three-eighths Indian and five-eighths Chinese. Go figure,” Joshua jokes.
Embracing their differences and overcoming challenges
Cultural differences were never much of an issue with the Peter family. They have learnt to embrace their differences by assimilating the additional practices instead of butting heads over them.
“In particular, we have been very quick to adopt more festivities to celebrate and get together!” says Joshua.
That said, the language barrier was a challenge, especially for Isabel’s parents during their courtship days.
Isabel’s maternal grandmother did not speak a word of English and her father could not speak Mandarin or Cantonese. That made courting challenging to say the least! Eventually, after help from both sides translating for one another (and a lot of patience!), they learnt to communicate in their own simplified and colloquial way.
Isabel adds that her Chinese grandparents did not have any reservations with their daughter marrying a person from a different race. In fact, it is their differences that added spice to their lives, she says: her mother made the effort to learn how to cook all her father’s favourite food to keep up with their Indian traditions.
“I’d say my dad has elevated her taste buds!”, she laughs, saying that she feels lucky to be exposed to two different cultures and being able to experience the best of both worlds.
Says Isabel: “How privileged are we to be able to call one grandmother ‘po-po’ and the other ‘amatchi’, all in the same family!”
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Celebrating festivals together
A 2016 survey on race relations in Singapore by the Institute of Policy Studies showed that most Singaporeans are comfortable interacting with people from another race but still preferred their family members to marry someone of their own ethnicity.
That survey, and recent incidents have shown that as a nation, we still have a way to go to deal with racism in Singapore — casual or otherwise.
That said, we are on the right track. Parkash is right when he said in his video that “love is love”. Ultimately, no one can choose who you fall in love with. Especially when you live in a multiracial country like Singapore, it is inevitable that people of different races will cross paths, form lifelong friendships or partnerships.
Over the years, Joshua, Isabel and the rest of their family would gather regularly at one of their uncle’s 5-room HDB flat to celebrate occasions like Chinese New Year, Christmas or simply for random dinners to enjoy rassam and curry.
Before the pandemic, the cousins would even go on annual holidays together.
“Our family is quite close. Even amidst the Covid measures, we have met up on Zoom for gatherings that would have otherwise been in person. One interesting phenomenon is how we all somehow gravitate to the kitchen during family gatherings, where we chat and laugh. Our family can also get quite loud; people outside may think we are fighting when we are just having a jolly good time,” Joshua elaborates.
Looking at how smoothly their family could assimilate both cultures and get along so well with one another, they sometimes are not able to grasp why society is still unaccepting of interracial relationships.
Said Joshua: “Sometimes it is a little difficult for us to understand when we hear people say that cultural differences are insurmountable challenges in a relationship. They really aren’t, and we are more alike than we may realise.”
“Honestly, race or culture has never arisen as an issue in our family. Maybe we are lucky or blessed that way.”
Isabel does however acknowledge that in reality, not all interracial couples have it as lucky as them.
“But if they have worked it out and they are willing to make that commitment, why should anyone get in their way or judge them. Our family is enriched by our Indian and Chinese heritage, and we would not have had it any other way!”