My Asian Heritage

Last week, after church, mom got me to snap an old pic of Grandma Susan. You see, there's an old Peranakan Shop/ mini Museum on East Coast road , just before Chapel Road where Holy Family Church is. The owner, Peter, who is this really nice (and I am assuming very rich too... seeing that collecting bits of Peranakan history and culture and having your own mini museum is not something the average Joe can afford) man, pointed out to mom that he had just acquired a very old photo of her mother (My grandma Susan Chan).

Grandma Susan (Girl on Far left)

Stepping into that mini museum of Peranakan Heritage inspired to do a post on my own heritage.

PERANAKAN? What's that?

My Asian heritage. The Peranakans (meaning Descendants) were the Straits Chinese, they were the very early Chinese immigrants to the Straits of Malaya. My Chinese ancestors were of Hokien origins and they settled in the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca, Malaysia.

The Peranakans had to adopt Malay customs and language in order to assimilate into the local cummunities. This is why they eventually lost the hokkien dialect and now I cannot understand a word of chinese. (There's always someone to blame other than myself for the lost of heritage and culture isn't there...)

My Grandma Susan is Peranakan, born and raised in Malacca. But as a young woman, she ran off and came to Singapore. I remember her stories as a child of being restricted and brought up strictly because she was a girl, and did not have equal rights.

But I am not Peranakan, I am Eurasian.

EURASIAN? Now.. What's That??

A mix of European and Asian ancestory. Boy did I hate the term Eurasian when I was a kid in Primary school! Such a minority, an oddity and in the clique-filled-surroundings of a government primary school... I found it hard to find a place. Malay girls ate together during recess, Chinese girls picked chinese counterparts to be in their project groups, Inidan girls (also a minority among the chinese and malays) knew who they were and stuck together. But me... I was the only one. (Maybe I would have had an easier time if mom had sent me to Katong Convent instead where all the Eurasian girls went to school... where mom herself went to school...but I think perhaps,I would not be who I am today).

I remember my first horrific day at school when it was time for "mother tongue" class, and all the pupils assembled in lines of chinese, malay and indian. I stood there looking at everyone and for the life of me... did not know where go. Then the teacher looked at me curiously (whe couldn't tell what race I was) so she asked me - "What are you?" and I said "I am Eurasian".

And she looked at me as if I were stupid and did not understand her question, and asked rather impatiently, "Are you Malay , Chinese or Indian?!"

"I am Eurasian" (By this point, I was almost in tears.. very confused and traumatised)

"What is your race? Chinese, Malay or Indian?!"

I think the bitch did not even know what Eurasians were.. fancy her being employed to Educate!

Anyway, the first Europeans to land in Asia were the Portuguese, followed by the Spanish, British, Dutch, etc. They married asian women and their descendants were Eurasians.

When Malacca was colonized by the Portuguese, the men were encouraged to marry local women as portuguese women were barred from travelling overseas due to supersition as well as practical reasons.

My heritage is a mix of Portuguese (from the Portuguese settlement in Malacca) and
Peranakan. This group of Eurasians are collectively known as the Kristang (Cristão), or Serani (from the word Nasrani, meaning followers of Jesus the Nazarene), or Gragok (because the majority of the Malaccan Portuguese were shrimp fishermen).

So there you go. Bit of education for ya ;)


  1. Hey Holly

    Thanks for the heritage journey. My grandparents were Peranakan as well and I can't speak Hokkien (or Mandarin) for nuts - you see the prob we have teaching in a n'hood.

    In fact, we speak Cantonese among ourselves (when it's used as a weapon while travelling - haha) because the amahs in those days only spoke Cantonese in the house.

    I used to get mixed up about Peranakans being married to Malays or Portugese etc.... hah! Thanks for the info, Holly!

  2. Anonymous5:33 pm

    I chance upon this post and it is an interesting write up. So what did you take for your 2nd language since you don't speak mandarin? Is that malay?

  3. Anonymous8:08 pm

    Hi Holly, I'm just curious. What is the race of you dad and mum?

  4. Hi anonymous

    both my mom and dad are eurasians. both the same portuguese chinese mix.

    I once dated a boy who was the same mix as me... small world huh! But it didn't work out. Looks like I am destined to start a family of mixed parentage. UNless I find another postuguese+chinese man! which is unlikely, so I'll just stick my my Jewish darling. :)

  5. Anonymous12:34 pm

    Faced the same problem with you in school (government school) and everyone kept asking, "what's your race?" Me:"Eurasian" Them: "So your parents are what?" Me:"Eurasian lah!" Them: Confused looks.
    Plus, I'm darker, so people thought I was Malay, them kept getting questions about why I didn't fast blah blah blah. Just wore a big cross. Even then...

  6. Anonymous12:51 pm

    i thought that u're a wonder u look, i know that u're an eurasian..

  7. Anonymous3:51 pm

    dat teacher of urs dat u mentioned...really had smth going on with her =P after reading i oso hav this feeling she doesn't know the meaning for eurasian(s)?
    hMmm ur heritage is a cool one though to me... dont u find it u r special in a good way? maybe caus im not one myself dats why i also find eurasians to hav smth special about them~! but dont misunderstand though i meant smth special in a good term/way. ^^

    & i have i say, this is really one edcuational topic! i learned smth new in here! ^^ thanks to u~

  8. I've been studying overseas for 4 years now and I get the "what are you" question a lot. People tend to just group me with other chinese from China and when I start explaining my peranakan (mom's side) and hakka (dad's side) heritage, they get so confused because to them, chinese people are either the mandarin or cantonese speaking people. I'm really happy Singapore has this trend of cultures, I remember in primary school Teochew culture was pretty hot then a bit of Cantonese culture then now Peranakan. Singapore rocks, can't wait to come back. And sadly, I'm one of those who discriminated against malays and indians when I was in a catholic primary school... bt am not now! Great post!

  9. Autymn Joan3:16 pm

    Hey there! First time commenting but I've been stalking your blog! Such good reads. Kudos to you!

    Similar to Daisy Rabbit above, I'm also of a Peranakan (mom's) and Indo-Chi (dad's) heritage. Strange thing is that my Hokkien and Hakka is pretty much fluent. Guess it's because my grandparents neither spoke Malay or Javanese to their grandkids and instead conversed in dialects with us. Amongst us cousins I'm the only one who's well-versed in them though, since I live with my grandparents (dad's) or visit them (mom's) a lot. But alas! I've been studying overseas for awhile now so everything has gone sideways.

    It's really great to see Singapore putting in effort to preserve and educate the masses on the heritage.

  10. Ah, I'm Eurasian AND dating a Jewish boy too! Haha.

    Just wondering, is your bf particular about marrying a fellow Jew. As you know, the children take after the mom. I'm pretty sure you know the deal. Have you given much thought about how the children will be raised?

    Just some of the thoughts I have in the event my Jewish boy and I make it to marriage :) I'm not willing to convert!

  11. :)

    I don't think marrying another Jew is vital for him.

    but we have spoken about it and I feel tht he does want his case to be raised Jewish.

    which isn't a problem for me (I'm catholic)... I'm not going to convert, but I think I can manage to raise my children aware of both religions.

    Won't just cut one out for the other.


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