Porpor and I: the interview

By Dylan Goh from Recipes for Resistance, 2021.

“Porpor and I: the interview” was recorded around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival (龙船节). This day typically involves the gathering of family to eat zongzi (粽子) – a glutinous rice dish stuffed with ingredients and wrapped in bamboo leaf. In the time of COVID-19, this dialogue between my grandma (婆婆), mum (媽媽) and I (我) was from a phone call. 

婆: 

So you’re very lucky. That’s how it is.

媽:

Lucky, lucky.

我: 

That’s true.

婆: 

Hello?

媽:

Hello, mum?

婆: 

Yes.

媽: 

Is everything ready?

婆: 

Nothing to fix up. Just a plate in the sink.

媽: 

Dylan will interview you now. I wanted to brief you first. He will ask you questions and if he doesn’t ask clearly, then I will add on. It’s only a few questions about food. Not too long. Okay, Dylan will start asking you questions.

我: 

Hello grandma!

婆: 

Yes, what is it?

我: 

Can I record you?

婆: 

That’s fine. Just ask and I’ll answer.

我: 

When you were a child, who did you eat with?

婆: 

At that time, it was with your great-grandpa, great-grandma and your granduncle. That’s my younger brother. Just us four. 

我: 

What did you like to eat? 

婆: 

At that time, there was no say about what you like to eat. It’s just if there’s something to eat, then you eat. 

我: 

Usually what did you eat?

婆: 

I don’t remember. It was some years ago. 

我: 

Haha…seventy years ago. 

婆: 

At the same place I lived at, there was a classmate around my age. The two of us would buy ingredients and cook.

我: 

Making zongzi and sugarcane water needs a lot of work…

婆: 

Sugarcane water needs a lot of work. Grandpa cuts the sugarcane. Then you have to shave the dead leaves around the sugarcane. Each stick is still dirty, so you have to peel the outer skin with a knife. After you peel it, you have to cut it into even smaller segments. Take it to the sink and get the brush to scrub off the powder; the sugarcane has a lot of powder, you see… Scrub it even more. Grandpa will cut it into a few inches long and take it to the kitchen upstairs. Then it’s boiled for 2-3 hours. Put some Chinese almonds, carrot and rock sugar. So don’t waste it. After I boil it, you have to drink it!

我: 

Of course I won’t waste it!

婆: 

Because our garden has a lot of sugarcane, we don’t want to waste it. 

媽: 

And he wants to ask, making zongzi needs so much work. Why do you have to make it? Why don’t you buy it?

婆: 

The ones you buy doesn’t have as many ingredients Dylan. Doesn’t have as many ingredients inside.

媽: 

Ingredients (in English).

婆: 

When you make zongzi, it needs a lot of work. But if I have your aunty, then it isn’t so much work. Buy and prepare everything – prepare the meat, cut it up and put it into the fridge first. Then when you need to wrap it, take everything out. But even after you wrap the zongzi, you still need to cook it for 4 hours. So when I make zongzi, I want everyone to eat some. There are more ingredients inside. The ones you buy outside doesn’t have many ingredients.

媽:

Yeah…the homemade stuff (in English).

媽: 

Then he wants to ask, normally on every Friday in the dining room we eat together. These days for the past few months, we can’t eat together. He wanted to ask what thoughts you have.

In the past was happier. On Fridays, you would all come back to eat. Grandpa remembers who came and who didn’t come. If you come back, grandpa will be more happy. Sometimes when it’s just us two eating, its simpler and quiet.

媽: 

Simple and quiet (in English).

Sometimes if there’s already a dish, I might as well not cook anymore. Because if I cook more, we can’t eat it all.  

媽: 

Cook very small amount (in English).

我: 

Of course. Two people would be what? Two dishes? Three dishes?

Two dishes at most! Sometimes 1 dish. If you all come back to eat, I want you to eat more. So I’ll cook more! And boil some nice soup for you to drink!

我: 

When we can all eat together, I will come earlier to help you cook.

(laughs) From when you were small till now, you were always so well-behaved.

我: 

For making food all these years and for your time today, thank you.

No need to say thanks. What’s most important is that you’re happy.

我: 

You too. 

Turning the kitchen into a feminist space

By Nirmitee Mehta from Recipes for Resistance, 2021.

For the first 23 years of my life, the kitchen was a no man’s land as far as I was concerned. Ask me to fetch anything from there that wasn’t a finished product or put anything together and you’d be met with a blank stare. A little odd, you’d say, considering I’d always been a chubby kid – courtesy a general sense of contentment derived from putting food in my mouth and childhood spent relishing fine Italian food from my family’s chain of restaurants. Even an undergraduate education in hospitality wasn’t able to change this, and I have no memory of anything I learnt in the mandatory culinary modules in college. My thorough detachment during that time has ensured that to this day I don’t have any recollection of anything learned in those sessions outside of cutting vegetables. Though I’d always loved food, it was the taste of the end product, the feeling of it on my tongue and the filling of the empty space in my stomach that called out to me. Nuances of taste, like knowing the names of spices and recognizing herbs, seemed to come easily to other food lovers but were strangers to me.

As a young girl, whenever my grandparents visited, I’d be called to help in the kitchen. I’d often overhear reproachful remarks that went “oh she still can’t cook? Who will marry her?” or “She doesn’t even make tea? What will her in-laws think?” I bristled at these remarks, stung by the assumption that there was only one expectation of me. I would retort back “I’ll hire a cook” or “why would I learn how to make tea if I don’t drink it?” It was cute when I was little but became decidedly less so as I grew older. Still, I stubbornly maintained my distance from the kitchen, associating it with everything about being a woman in a patriarchal society that made my insides ache. I shied away from anything that would connect me to cooking.

I was forced to make a change when I got accepted into grad school in the US and my mother finally put her foot down. Now, she mandated, I was to start learning how to cook from her every morning and evening until I left. Needless to say, after a lifetime of cultivating an identity where I was far removed from domesticity, I wasn’t excited in the least. However, I saw her point since I’d only recently painstakingly lost my excess weight after a long struggle and didn’t want to bring it all back by eating out constantly in a foreign country known for obesity.

We started with simple dishes– basics that I felt embarrassed not knowing but my mother taught me now step by step and patiently, so I’d remember. Right from the start I learned how to make the healthier alternative and cook with minimal oil. Eggs – fried, scrambled, boiled, omelettes. I learnt how to separate whites from yolks so I could stick to a low fat diet. Hummus with yogurt instead of tahini. Mushroom and spinach ‘risotto’ using pearl barley instead of rice. I learned that I could toast bread on the stove if I didn’t have a toaster. I started paying attention to the sound of crackling of cumin seeds on the stove indicating that it was time to add the next ingredient. I learned to always sprinkle salt after adding chopped onions to the stove and wait for them to change colour and texture before proceeding. Every burnt ingredient or cooking fail was something I’d be careful about the next time and with every dish I mastered, I felt more accomplished and more prepared for a new adventure.

I arrived in America to a house which had a kitchen fully stocked with all the utensils and cookware I would need. Still, I put off going to the grocery store until about a month after I arrived because I was still overwhelmed and not yet confident that I’d be able to do it. Along with basic kitchen skills, my mother had also armed me with a large stock of prepackaged food in individual sized portions. I only had to add boiling water and a vegetable of my choice to the curry packet and about 20 minutes later I had a ready meal. These packets proved to be a great building block to my fledgling kitchen skills, teaching me to observe the size and speed of the bubbles, and the way the water changed colour and started thickening to understand when a preparation would be complete. My early grocery runs had me buying only the things that I knew for sure how to work with and then slowly but surely I started building up my pantry. As my confidence in my abilities grew, I started buying new ingredients and trying my hand at making things I enjoyed eating. I bought avocados to make my own guac like the basic millennial I am. I bought pumpkin to make pasta sauce out of. Persuaded by a Buzzfeed article, I became an avid proponent of the non-carby wonders of spaghetti squash. As my experiments grew more elaborate, so did my new reputation among my peers as a talented chef. I’d now turned into the kind of person who always brings something homemade to friends’ parties and cookouts. I was also increasingly harbouring fantasies that veered into domestic territory: dreaming about baking a cake together with a boy I liked, or bringing him some of the hummus I’d made. These fantasies always came with a twinge of guilt, feeling betrayed by myself at having given in to traditionalism and domesticity after having run away all my life from being a woman only valued for her time in the kitchen. At the time, I pushed these feelings down for the most part, moving on with only trace amounts of internal conflict.

A few months after graduation I moved to a new country once again. This time I was moving to Singapore and here I was faced with the challenge I’d side-stepped during my previous move: an unstocked apartment. A few near faux pas (almost buying a baking dish without checking if my house had an oven – it didn’t, almost not buying a saucepan for boiling things) and an IKEA trip later I was set up with a basic but functional kitchen. This move also marked a new beginning in the sense that I didn’t have any of my pre-cooked crutches. For the first time in my life I was doing everything myself: work, managing expenses from my earnings and looking after myself in a city where I had a few acquaintances but was largely starting afresh. Eating out in this city, known for its hawker centres was cheap and convenient most days of the week but on my free days, I started building up my repertoire of things I could make from scratch. Shakshouka – a Middle Eastern preparation of eggs in tomato sauce that was healthy and easy, became a favourite on weekends after working out. I started exploring more locally available products, buying a jar of black bean sauce and experimenting with various types of stir fries.

After the pandemic hit, stay at home orders had me start to eat both meals at home. Now, in an effort to have an activity that did not require staring at a screen and to have something to look forward to in the long days of isolation, I started bookmarking recipes from photos of meals that called out to me. Inspired by an Instagram recipe I made my own granola. One long weekend had me spending a full five hours making my own ravioli from scratch. With all this too, came missteps and greater awareness of where these lie. My vegetable cuts remain rough, I still can’t manage to cook asparagus and I’ve messed up egg fried rice more times than I care to remember. But with every new trial that goes well, I feel a sense of accomplishment over being able to not just feed myself to stay alive but also satiate my rather demanding palate. Now, with every step that I take in the direction of what I’d lazily compartmentalized as domesticity – making my own curd and paneer, soaking sprouts days in advance, on the surface level I am coming a few steps closer to the person my traditional family wanted me to be from the get go. But I don’t shy away from those associations entirely anymore.

At some point, in between restaurants being shut and remembering that I hadn’t been home in close to a year, my cravings for the food from my childhood had me decide to try my hand at them. I made dal, the Indian meal staple, from scratch for the first time despite always having classified it as too boring for me. The day I made dhokla – a Gujarati steamed snack made from chickpea dough, I made sure my grandmother saw a picture and I beamed with pride when I got her approval. I’ve now rid myself of a lot of the negative connotations I’d ascribed to cooking and the perception of it. Now when I go into the kitchen after hours spent in front of a laptop and in the space of a few minutes, I’m able to concoct something delicious, it serves the dual purpose of clearing my head and nourishing me. Knowing that me getting here was largely my own doing with skills I worked on myself for myself – not to satisfy the whims of a hypothetical future husband, is what has made a difference. I now know that I don’t need to run away from certain areas of life anymore just because I don’t like what they conventionally stood for. I can still forge my own path, be my own person and not bow down to dogmatic ideas and traditional gender roles if I don’t agree with them. I don’t need to feel guilty of cooking for people in my life, be it my friends, family or a boy. I’ve now realized that the time and effort I spend in the kitchen is a way of showing that I care by creating something that will bring joy to them. Now when I go into the kitchen, feeling a sense of liberation that comes from doing something because I want to – not because it’s expected of me, I know that actively spending time here is not a backward step. The kitchen can be a feminist space if I allow myself to make it one.

A Seamstress and a Green Dress

By Ivanova Anjani from Unwritten Stories, 2019.

It was the early 70’s in Indonesia. In a military man’s humble home in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, a little girl had just made a wallet out of fabric scraps from her mother’s sewing projects. A large grin formed as she held her first ever labour of love, which she constructed by carefully following the instructions found in Femina (a popular girls’ magazine at the time). The modest wallet was a craft project for her elementary school art class. Surely none of my friends in class thought of something like this, she thought proudly to herself. 

Sewing had always been impressive in her inquisitive young eyes. She’s seen handmade clothes modeled in the magazines, on the telly, and even worn by her mother. One day she would like to make a dress for herself, but right now she’ll gladly accept the wallet, which was empty apart from the gratitude that she’s filled it with. 

It wasn’t until years later that the girl, now a young lady in college, was able to make her dress. She has graduated from the scrap wallet and tablecloths she used to make with her mother’s sewing machine, to pretty frocks and button-up shirts. It took her some time to get to where she was now. Forced into a gap year because she was not immediately accepted into the government universities she applied for, she sat wondering what to do before the next application period arrives. After finishing a short course on computer science, she wished to go to sewing school rather than university. 

“No,” her dad sternly said to her, effectively shutting down her idea. “What use is a seamstress?” 

Sometime later, the young, educated lady, who is now well into motherhood, was also interested in clothing someone else: her children. At this point, she had moved to the tiny town of Kisaran in North Sumatra after her husband had earned a promotion from his job in Jakarta. She looked forward to the days where she can go to Tanjung Balai to buy fabrics of all kinds by the kilo. From those she fashioned the clothes my sister and I wore when we were toddlers. 

The girl with the scrap wallet, Singer sewing machine, and two daughters clothed in handmade tunics is my mother. 

Growing up, I remember one of the most impressive things my mom did that even my six-year-old brain could acknowledge was how she made costumes for our kindy recital. With the help of her friend, she put together half-a-dozen dresses made of sheer green chiffon and ribbons for my sister’s dance routine. She was so thorough, she even made the headbands and lace corsages, and went out of her way to find matching socks for everyone. The design is reminiscent of the Princess dresses from the Disney movies my sister and I were fond of, with the puffy sleeves and two-tier skirt. 

Ever since then, my mum has finished many other projects, from cross-stitched flowers to colourful hijabs. However, I’ve hardly ever heard my mom say that she’s a skilled seamstress to anyone. Only a handful of people, mostly family, probably know how competent she is at it. I was lucky enough to have been taught how to do needlework by her, and from there I learned how to make embroidery myself. 

Although sometimes my mum and I clash, our common interest in crafting and sewing fills those gaps that can’t be filled by words. That gap between us has become wider and more literal in recent years now that I’ve moved away from my home in Indonesia to Christchurch, New Zealand. But I’m still really close with my mum and we talk about our projects from time to time. I also realize, from seeing her years of experience and just from being her daughter, how patient and humble my mum is. No matter how much of my mum’s skills I inherit, I can never match how careful she is with her projects, and how she easily forgives herself for making mistakes before trying again. That’s why I look up to her so much, and why I hope I can pass on the same skills and message to my kids in the future. 

My sister’s Green Dress still resides in my sister’s wardrobe in my teenhood home in Tangerang City, where I hope it will stay for more years to come.

Beware of the old white grandpa at point chev beach

By Aiwa Pooamorn from Have You Ever Been With An Asian Woman Before?, 2019. Full title: Beware of the old white grandpa at point chev beach, he walks there every afternoon.

If you go to point chev beach

the one with the glory hole toilet

an old white grandpa in a faded polo t-shirt

grey slacks and leather jandals will tell you he is:

  • lonely
  • single
  • divorced
  • neglected by his two kids

He will stare

through thick gold-rimmed glasses at you

you in your saggy warewhare one-piece

your half-empty bottle of $8 red wine

He will ask if you are:

  • Filipino
  • Malaysian
  • Indonesian
  • Chinese
  • Thai

He will tell you he knows Thai women:

  • Thai women they love to drink
  • Can’t roll their r’s
  • Thai women tell him they not ‘postitute’
  • They give him good massage
  • They ask to have a glass of his wine
  • They drink the whole bottle

Grains of Truth

By Roxanne Richards from GEN M #1 “Generation Migrant”, 2017.

One of the first things my dad sought out when he arrived in New Zealand were fellow Filipinos like him. When our family followed him a few months after, another thing he sought out were fellow Filipino families like us. It wasn’t until I was looking for a picture that captured my experience as a migrant child that I realized how important the community was to me.

I found that growing up with loyalties to two differing countries put me in a position of conflict. It often meant that I always felt different and never had my own sense of self. I could never fully relate to my cousins when I visited the Philippines, but I could also never fully relate to the experience of ‘growing up Kiwi’, whatever that happened to mean. Being told to ‘go back where I came from’ is an annoying puzzle. I could, in theory, because I was born in the Philippines and it’s ‘where I’m from’; but my whole family is here, I have nothing for me in my homeland.

To me, it felt like navigating my childhood and teenage years was like walking a tight rope, and a lot of the time it meant I just had to accept that I was just a Filipino who happened to be living in New Zealand, and not an established individual in New Zealand who happened to be born and bred Filipino.

Photo Context: Hosting the Wairarapa Filipino Society 15th Anniversary Celebration. Pictured with the then Mayor of Masterton.

But as I stepped into adulthood and saw the world through different lenses, I found that my point of view was unique. What once isolated me as a child became a bridge for two worlds to collaborate. Language barriers, cultural sensitivity and behavioral patterns opened my eyes to a critique of my origins. It allowed me to understand why Filipinos do things, and sometimes, why it’s not quite the right thing to do. I give back to my community not to berate my elders but to learn from them and pass their and my own knowledge on to a younger generation.

As globalization surges on, I know that many of my parents’ generation will say that my generation is abandoning our ‘distinct Filipino-ness’ for the appeal of ‘Westerners’. But that’s not true. The children of my generation, pushed into these ‘Western worlds’ for a ‘better life’ will be the carriers of an adaptable culture that will survive.

How Much Longer?

By Divya Gurung from Musubi “An Exploration of Gender in Hong Kong”, 2017.

As a child, she often outran the boys, my mother. Fearless, she was swift to protect herself, or to defend her elder brother from the tussles of tormenting neighbourhood tyrants. The first to swing from tree to tree, as she took on the persona of Tarzan, my mother was unafraid. She took on challenges with fervour, standing shoulder to shoulder with boys and refused to indulge in any constraints to her freedom of both body and mind. 

Yet tyrants never cease to exist, do they? They take on different forms and encroach your space unabashedly. With womanhood approaching, my mother found herself fighting still, with even more tormenters than from her childhood. Not only was she incompatible with the prescribed mould of expected behaviour and demeanour, her perspective too was questioned by the invisible strings that tend to control women. The looming cloud of expectations would smother her perpetually; a plethora of roles to fulfil whilst quelling her thoughts and voice. 

Decades after, her daughter persists to fight with such tyrants, albeit in a different form, a different flavour, but intolerable still. Despite long due strides of improvements, much still remains amiss. 

How much longer? 

How I Found My Name

By Linda Lew from GEN M #2 “移民一族”, 2017.

I had thought I lost my name. The one I was given at birth. The one written in Chinese. 刘凌达 or in Chinese pinyin, Liu Lingda.

It’s always been there, used by my parents and extended family who speaks Chinese. But after we moved to New Zealand and as was usual for new immigrants keen to assimilate, a new English name was chosen for me.

Linda.

“Oh, your English name is already really similar to your Chinese name! That’s so convenient,” new friends would tell me.

But not really.

The Mandarin “ling” chimes like a bell. The “lin” syllable spoken with a Kiwi accent falls a bit flat.

The first day I went to school in New Zealand – Hamilton East Primary – I was 9 and couldn’t understand any English other than “hello” and “Linda”. Or so I thought. People would call me and I wouldn’t respond because I was Liu Lingda. Linda was another English word I hadn’t yet learned how it sounded in my ear.

But children learn fast. Within a couple of years I was speaking accented but somewhat fluent English. When I met new people, I introduced myself as Linda.

Scared that I’d lose my Chinese, my parents sent me to weekly Chinese lessons once I grasped English. Along with two or three other family friends who were also sons and daughters of Chinese immigrants, we’d visit a church every Saturday where classes were held for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

On the first day Teacher Luo taught us, she asked us to write down our Chinese names for her and she would try to explain the meaning of the characters in our name.

“Your parents have big dreams for you, Lingda. See “凌” or “ling” is part of “凌云壮志” or ambitions that soared beyond the clouds and “达” or “da” is part of “到达” which means to arrive,” explained Teacher Luo.

I beamed.

“Linda” the name is Germanic and means soft or tender. It also coincides with the Spanish and Portuguese word for beautiful. The first definition I looked up in a baby name dictionary but the second definition I learnt from men who knew a bit of Spanish complimenting me and saying that I lived up to my name.

I smirked.

Dad properly explained the whole history behind the names of the Liu family to me at the end of high school or when I first started university. I couldn’t remember when because it just happened to come up in a conversation one day.

“We didn’t pick “凌” or “ling” because it meant 凌云壮志 or “ambitions that soared beyond the clouds”. It was already picked, a couple of hundred years ago. Our family follows this poem that the ancestors wrote and every generation takes one character from the poem and use it as part of their name. So your mum and I only picked the “达” or “da.”

“Oh?” I tried not to gape.

“You never notice how your sister’s Chinese name is Linghua, and your brothers are Linghao and Lingfeng?”

I had thought my parents were trying to be quaint and doing what would be akin to Western parents giving their children names that start with the same letter. A la the Kardashians. I bit my tongue because I didn’t think dad knew who the Kardashians were.

Dad wrote the poem down, which he had memorized by heart and explained what it meant:

“Our family began in the Ming dynasty, all the descendants would maintain our golden tombs. Every generation will contribute to the strength of the country, they will achieve prosperity.”

Chinese names usually have three characters: the family name, the middle character and the third character. Our naming convention was that children of each generation all used the same character from the poem as the middle character in their names. Parents would only need to pick the third character. Then the next generation would use the next character in the poem, the generation after that would use the character following the previous character, so on and so forth. This had been going on in the Liu family for…

“12 generations. I think they’re up to “宗” or “zong” now.”

Even having left China 10 years ago and living at the end of the world, dad was very up to date with everything that happened in the big, extended Liu family back home.

“Hang on, the character in the poem isn’t the same as the one in my name,” I pointed out “陵” or “ling” which sounds the same but is written differently to “凌” or “ling”.

“Yes, this “ling” or “陵” means tomb or grave. The ancestors thought it’s a bit morbid to be used in names, so they changed it to “ling” or “凌” He wrote (凌) in brackets next to the poem and two other characters that had also changed through time.

“I didn’t tell you this sooner because I didn’t think you were interested.” Dad looked a bit sad.

No ambitions that soared beyond the clouds, not even soft and tender or beautiful. My name means the tomb.

For Qingming or the tomb-sweeping holiday in May this year where you’re supposed to go clean the graves of your ancestors, I went back to dad’s hometown in rural Guizhou. I’m doing my Masters now in Beijing and thought I’d go pay my respects to granddad who passed away last year. My siblings have school in New Zealand and so my parents didn’t come back this time. I returned with my uncle who happens to live in Beijing as well.

Potou is a village of a few hundred people, one of the many poor villages that make up the underdeveloped Guizhou province in China. However, world-class high speed rail network has reached the region and it is possible to take an 11 train hour ride from Beijing to Guanling station then drive for half an hour to Potou.

The last time I visited Potou was when I was 11 for a couple of days, so I don’t remember much. This time, the village was still novel and fascinating as ever. I took photos of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping posters that hung on the wall, next to the family shrines where burning incense emitted wisps of smoke.

This year, the extended Liu clan decided to do Qingming as a whole family. They’d clean the ancestors’ graves together and prepare a community reunion meal. The day before Qingming, the adult and teenaged men in the family who returned for the holiday or happened to be in town gathered at the Liu hill in the village to clean up the gravesite. The women went to do grocery shopping for the reunion meal while the kids just ran around.

Uncle helped me to get acquainted by pointing out different relatives to me, this is your cousin, this is your uncle once removed, this is your nephew, this is your grand-niece – 

“Grand-auntie! 姑太婆!” The little girl politely called me.

I jumped. I had no idea I was old enough to be a grandparent.

“What’s your name?”

“Liu Zongting.” She answered. Suddenly, I realized the middle character of her name “zong” comes two places after my character in the family poem.

Then whenever I met a new relative, I’d start by asking their name. The middle character in their name tells me exactly how they are related to me in the family tree. I met a lot of “ling” cousins, a few “dai” nieces and nephews, some “Jing” uncles and aunts and the occasional “zong” grand kids.

When we finished the ceremonies of paying respect to our ancestors and granddad, and laying out the offerings, we sat down to enjoy the reunion meal on the hill. The clan filled out seven or eight tables. I challenged myself to the delicious yet very spicy local foods while the busy chatter of the Guizhou dialect was all around me.

It was magnificent.

It was belonging.

It was how I found my name. 

Home.

By Jasmin Singh from GEN M #1 “Generation Migrant”, 2017.

As a migrant and member of the Indian diaspora, I find the notion of home to be confusing and loaded. Disjuncture’s of identity are common to migrants and those from diasporic cultures.

Where are you from? Is often tied to difficulties in explaining my identity, I often pick the lie, the easy way out ‘I’m from Malaysia.’ But it’s never as simple as this.

Where do I belong? The question that is always in the back of my mind. The question gnawing at me as I prepare for a trip home this year.

I often call Malaysia my home. I say ‘I’m going back home for the summer’, but this is a lie. When I leave Malaysia, I have a sense of relief coming home to Auckland, a sense of comfort and home is often both places.

Home is Auckland and Ipoh and my mum’s village in India.

Taiye Selasi’s TED Talk ‘Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m local’ talks about how coming from a country, is suggesting you come from a changing concept. It is not based in experiences and complexities of belonging.

It is tied to notions of statehood. And often tied to notions of patriotism and nationalism.

It privileges conceptions of coming from a singular notion of a state as opposed to the large patterning of human experience that often forms the identity of migrants and members of diaspora

It resonated with my experiences of being asked where I’m from.

Often when Indian people around Auckland as if I’m Indian I respond, ‘No I’m Malaysian.’ Then they say but you look Indian and I retort ‘I am Indian but I’m from Malaysia.’

How do I explain an identity I don’t fully understand?

I don’t feel fully Indian, because I have never lived in India, but my mum’s family is from india, some of my fondest memories of my grandparents are from India, my cultural experiences are Indian.

I don’t feel fully ‘Kiwi’, I have lived in Auckland for 6 years and call this home, but for many I am a guest. But some of my most important formative experiences of being independent, learning who I am happened here in New Zealand. Most of my closest friends are from here. I am tied to this place through these.

I don’t feel fully Malaysian, even though my passport says I am. I again have fond memories of my childhood and adolescence there, I love the family I have there and I love the food. But even there I am unwanted, immigrant, foreigner, pendatang.

I am a jumble, a mix, a rojak, with my American accent, my crop tops, jeans and bindis, my love of rice and mee over chapatti.

The question of where are you from Selasi suggests is tied to power. Stating which country, you’re from tells people how much power you have. All these notions of identity are tied to nationhood and is something that migrants of colour need to learn to disentangle.

As Taiye Selasi says I am multi local, I come from my complex deeply layered experiences and not from the changing borders of nation states, but from the fragmented experiences of place that make me who I am.