People Travel

Story: Embracing my Malaysian-Filipino Heritage

Multiculturalism is a growing and significant part of the globalized world. In due course, we find more and more people with mixed heritages, be it ethnic or religious. This month, we interviewed Neelia Fuad, a young adult living in Canada, who has shared heritage as a Malaysian and Filipino through her parents. In her own words, Fuad shares her story about the good, the bad, and the unique aspects of being someone with mixed heritage.

My Multilingual Childhood

Juggling two cultures can be challenging not only for oneself, but for everyone else globally, who consider themselves multicultural. As we move forward, intercultural relationships and marriages are becoming more prevalent across the world. Growing up half Malaysian and half Filipino, I had a hard time fitting in when I was younger. At home, my father would make us speak in English while my mother would speak Tagalog to us – especially when she would get angry. As I got older, I picked up my Tagalog from Filipino soap operas that my mother would watch during the afternoons. My father did not teach us Malay at home, but my siblings and I picked it up at school with the help of our Malay friends. Languages always affect how we connect with different cultures and people. However, the duality of cultures that one holds also plays a role in the connections that we create in life. As a Malaysian-Filipino, I was able to navigate through my school years and engage with my peers and family by picking up various languages.

A photo of the two famous landmarks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Neelia Fuad
A photo of the two famous landmarks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Neelia Fuad

Best of Both Worlds

One may say that the Malays and Filipinos have contrasting values and cultures. Malaysia is considered a Muslim nation while the Philippines is considered a Christian one.

Ethnic Cuisine Fiesta with Nasi Lemak, Chicken Rendang, Lechon and Paellas

In terms of cuisines, the two countries vary heavily. Malaysian cuisine is influenced by its multiculturalism since Malaysia is populated with Malays, Indians and Chinese people. Nasi lemak (coconut rice with fried chicken, anchovies and chili paste) and chicken rendang (coconut gravied chicken) are among the two famous dishes that people must try when in Malaysia. On the other hand, Filipino dishes are influenced by their neighbouring Asian countries, Spain and America. Depending on the occasion, Filipino cuisine ranges from simple dishes like salted fish and fried rice to lechon (roast pork) and paellas for Filipino fiestas. Besides the strong contrast in state religion and cuisines, I feel that the values and cultures that both Malays and Filipinos hold are quite similar.

The Communal Hierarchy

The Malaysian culture focuses on collectivism and this idea of respect called budi. In English, budi bahasa means etiquette which Malaysians keep very dear to their heart. They show this through their treatment and behavior towards their elders. For instance, they traditionally view the elders of the family as authoritative figures who need to be treated with great respect.

Similarly, the Filipino culture has a similar sense of respect towards the social hierarchy, and that is depicted in the way they communicate, the gestures that they make, and how they address certain individuals within this hierarchy. This is also paired with the idea of kapwa,which means togetherness, as it creates a shared bond between Filipinos. To extend this shared bond, Filipinos make sure to term fellow Filipinos as kababayan which translates to countryman.

Kamayan (communal Filipino) feast from the Philippines. Photo Credit: Neelia Fuad

Embracing My Roots

As a third-culture kid (an individual who has been raised in other cultures outside of their own), these two identities have shaped who I have become today. Being raised at home with Malaysian and Filipino values, I have linked the similarities of both cultures to help me create and strengthen my own sense of identity. From these two cultures, the most important lessons that I still hold dear are perseverance and maintaining a positive attitude despite going through hardships.

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