As part of Parramasala 2014 (17-19 October, Parramatta), over 250 people had encountered a beautiful and intimate exhibition of a community and culture they may have never heard of; The Chindians.
Some of you might be familiar with coinages like Indo-China, Sino-Indian and Indian-Chinese, but what is Chindian? The term is relatively new and loosely refers to families of mixed ethnicity, who trace their ancestry to both China and India.
Chindian is a term most commonly used in Malaysia and Singapore where the two communities coexist and mingle. The project is a photo and video exhibition exploring the stories of Chinese Indian mixed marriages, celebrating an intertwining of cultures, religions and families.
The project was born from the lack of documented Chindian stories. Kevin Bathman the project founder, a Chindian himself was passionate about the stories of his family.
Chindian marriages, predominantly between Han Chinese women and Tamil Indian men, are characteristic in Malaysia and Singapore, where large populations immigrated during the 19th century.
Back in the mono-racial era, when marrying outside the caste let alone your community was considered taboo, it was his paternal grandfather, Mahalingam Pillay, an Indian-Tamil from Thanjavur, Southern India who fell in love with and married my Chinese-Nyonya grandmother, Ang Ah Hee in 1930.
They faced a number of hurdles in the name of love, their union was frowned upon, and his grandmother was eventually disowned from her family.
The Chindian Diaries project was primarily to trace Kevin’s own roots and explore his cross cultural identity. In the South East Asian melting pots of Malaysia and Singapore, the experience of growing up biracial is not uncommon, particularly in the last five decades. The experience however has not been an easy one.
It was a difficult journey of cross-cultural integration for them, and an even more painful search for personal identity for my late father and myself.
What started out as a deeply personal project for him, exploring the many cultural strands of his extended family, eventually turned into a project that reached out to Chindians.
Kevin’s story is one of many that vary from identity crises, cultural clashes, struggles and misunderstandings to stories of love and acceptance.
Reflecting on his own identity crises and cultural confusion when he was younger, he decided to embrace his mixed heritage and tell the world about it – by telling it, he hope that it may help another young person who may be confused about their identity.
From his own observations, most Chindians experience an identity crisis in their lives as they have to straddle between the two distinctly different cultures – Chinese and Indian.
I chose to perform this piece at this event, since the whole exhibition was based on the theme of love and determination. And who else showed this more than Goddess Andal herself?