I was out and about today with an uncle who came for my talk at Columbia University a few days ago. He was from Penang and, like many Penangites, had lived overseas. He chose to stay here in New York City and had done so for 40 years now.
Like me whose family too came from Penang (some would say from some desert faraway), he was a Hybrid. He told me stories about the fact that his late dad was Indian and his mum was Chinese. I too had my fair share of Arab-Indian parentage and journeys of life to share. We both laughed over how people tend to get our nationalities or ethnicities wrong, sometimes, or maybe, all the time. He has been mistaken for being a Vietnamese or a Thai or Filipino. And me, as always, anything but Singaporean. More importantly, we both speak Malay and are proud of it.
After having Indian food at 94th street, we then proceeded to his apartment to get English coffee while watching news items he had recorded about Singapore and Malaysia especially about how our own countries have yet to learn to celebrate True Diversity. Midway through the exploits, I excused myself to do my mid-day and evening prayers at the apartment. The uncle was cool about it and even prepared a place for me.
We then went for dinner to get something a bit more American before heading off to Barnes and Noble to buy some novels. On the way back, we were caught by surprise in a snow storm.
Life is full of surprises. We meet interesting people each time and erratic weather too. But our lives would be more meaningful when we learn to accept and respect each other differences and try to understand and make spaces for the beliefs and practices of others. This is something I hope to inculcate in our young ones and even the older folks up there when I am back home. We can do more to Celebrate Hybridity in An Age of Diversity.