People Like Us

Hello there. My name is Melissa De Silva and I’m a writer. I’m also a Eurasian of Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and Indian descent.

My maternal great-grandad, Victor Valentin Sequeira, was a Eurasian from Goa. His job as the superintendent of the MacRitchie reservoir was exciting and rather dangerous – patrolling the thick jungle with his rifle to keep away illegal loggers after free timber. His wife, my great-grandmother, was also a Eurasian. Their daughter, Patsy Sequeira, married Cyril Pinto, also of Portuguese descent, and they became my maternal grandparents. After WWII, my paternal grandparents, Magarita Pereira and Harry Alphonso Maria De Silva, decided to try their luck in Singapore and moved here from the Portuguese settlement in Malacca.

Wedding portrait: My maternal grandparents Patsy Sequeira and Cyril Alexander Pinto with their sponsors, 1941.

Centre: My maternal grandparents Patsy Sequeira and Cyril Pinto on their wedding day, 5 July 1941.

 

When I travel in Europe, people in France, Italy and Spain who hear my surname say, “Ah, you are Portuguese!” They immediately recognise a part of who I am and this makes me so happy. Yet, it saddens me sometimes that despite being Singaporean and living in Singapore my whole life, my surname is alien to many Singaporeans. Some look at me and ask me if I am Singaporean. And when I try to explain what a Eurasian is, often they still don’t understand that we have been here as long as their ancestors have, that our community is just as much a part of the fabric of Singapore.

So I wanted to create a space where Eurasians could come together and just talk and hear – about being Eurasian.

Hanging out with friends (from right to left): Geraldine Minjoot (Dutch, Portuguese, Indian heritage), myself, Melissa De Silva, Zeehan Jaffar, Nicole Batchelor (English, Portuguese, Indian and Japanese ancestry) and Michelle Tessensohn (Dutch, Singalese, Chinese, English, German, Indonesian, Portuguese heritage). Far left: Amanda Murray. Back: Kamal Samuel.

Hanging out with friends (from right to left): Geraldine Minjoot (of Dutch, Portuguese, Indian heritage), myself, Melissa De Silva, Zeehan Jaffar, Nicole Batchelor (of English, Portuguese, Indian and Japanese ancestry) and Michelle Tessensohn (of Dutch, Singalese, Chinese, English, German, Indonesian, Portuguese heritage). Far left: Amanda Murray. Back: Kamal Samuel.

For the benefit of those who may not know, a Eurasian is a person of mixed European and Asian heritage. Why a special name for this group? It apparently was first used in India in the mid-19th century, and is linked to the phenomenon of European colonisation in this region of the world – the Portuguese, Dutch, French and English in places like Malaya, Indonesia and Indo-China and the influx of European merchants and individuals to Asia then. The offspring of mixed partnerships were initially called Europeans, after their European fathers, but as generations passed, the colonials wanted there to be a distinction between the Europeans and the local population for the purposes of rulership and administration. So the term “Eurasian” was born.

I just want to point out here that when I say “Eurasian”, I’m speaking about the people who were the result of the unions between the colonial Europeans and the local Asians in history, who, despite their various combinations of European and Asian heritage, formed their own distinct, cohesive community over time. In my mind, I think of us as “heritage Eurasians.” Please note that I’m not referring to people born in contemporary times from European and Asian parents.

Happy times (From left to right): Aggie >, my maternal grandparents Patsy Sequeira and Cyril Pinto. aunt Veronica Pinto, godparents Maureen Singh-Pinto and Victor Pinto.

Happy times (from left to right): Auntie Aggie De Souza, my maternal grandparents Patsy Sequeira and Cyril Pinto, aunt Veronica Pinto, my godparents Maureen Singh-Pinto and Victor Pinto.

Today, the Eurasian community in Singapore numbers about 18,000. Living in Singapore, as I do, it is officially a multi-ethnic society but since Eurasians comprise less than one percent of the population, in daily life, we are faced with the languages, and stories, of other cultures. I for one, am always curious to learn about other cultures and communities. But the question remains: how often do we get to hear our own?

I would like to do something about that.

One way is to create a kind of bank, a repository for our Eurasian memories, so we can share them and be enriched as a community. These memories don’t have to be huge things, like of WWII (though those would be welcome too). They could be things like sharing your family’s history or your experiences growing up, or the way your mum, grandma and aunties would gather before Christmas to make pineapple tarts from scratch (like mine did) or how your uncle taught you to fix your bicycle or memories of language.

By language, I don’t just mean kristang (the Portuguese-influenced creole that developed in Malacca during the Portuguese colonial times). Eurasians speak in a certain way, with certain inflections and phrases that no other race does (hilarious example: “you bleddy fool”) and I love it. After my grandmother died, I wrote a story about the kristang my grandmother spoke and the food she would make, which was published in a US literary journal this April. You can read it at http://www.whlreview.com/no-9.1/fiction/MelissaDeSilva.pdf

 

Family (from left to right): My aunt Veronica Pinto, cousin Kenneth Pinto and maternal grandmother Patsy Pinto nee Sequeira, circa 1983.

Family (from left to right): My aunt Veronica Pinto, cousin Kenneth Pinto and maternal grandmother Patsy Pinto nee Sequeira, circa 1983. The kristang nursery rhymes my grandmother told me when I was growing up inspired me to write a story based on my memories of her (link to story above).

Sometimes, when a few weeks pass and I don’t see another Eurasians except my own family members and the few close Eurasian friends I went to C.H.I.J Toa Payoh with, I can feel like I’m losing my Eurasian-ness. I don’t know if others feel this way but that’s part of why I would like to create an online space where we Eurasians can revisit the memories and experiences of our own community, and soak in this poignant, funny, complex, wonderful thing called being Eurasian.

This blog is dedicated to Eurasian stories – big, small, sad, scary, funny, odd – and I hope to feature more stories from Eurasians across the community, whether photos, quotes, accounts, audio clips, videos or anything else, really, so we can remember and celebrate our identity as Eurasians. I’d love to hear your thoughts and invite you to share them in the comments (just click on ‘Comments’ at the left) .

What is your family history? Where did your  ancestors come from? What are your thoughts on being Eurasian?

 

28 thoughts on “People Like Us

  1. Hopefully this community builds up on this blog , haven’t met any other Eurasians for awhile now (Only Eurasian in my cohort , probably the school too) so I can relate to ya.

    Like

    • hi Zinho, oh wow you were the only Eurasian in your cohort? And in the school even? Sounds like it could have felt lonely! I know someone who was the only other Indian in Chinese High. What school did you go to?

      Like

  2. I get that all the time too – people question if I am Singaporean. My maiden name is “Cornfield” – I am of British, Chinese (Canton) and possibly Eastern European (Jewish) descent. My ancestors came with the East India Company via Fort Bencoolen with Raffles as well as from British India. I am so glad that you are doing all you can to preserve our Eurasian heritage.

    Like

    • Dear Linda, thank you for your encouragement and support. So you get those questions too eh? What can we do but try to gently educate. I find having a sense of humour helps! That is so fascinating to hear your ancestors travelled to Singapore with the East India Company with Raffles and from British India! I would really love to hear more about your heritage and your family story, like what work did your ancestors do with the East India Company? Forgive my curiosity and excitement… it’s so wonderful to learn about the histories of fellow Eurasians and your family story sounds so colourful! May I chat with you sometime for a guest post perhaps?

      Like

      • I have only been able to trace my paternal great-grandmother’s side so far. Just found out a few years ago that my paternal great-grandfather was Jewish, possibly with roots in Eastern European. My mother is Chinese (but then again not 100% I think as my maternal grandmother was born in Borneo and brought to Singapore as a ¨bondmaid” to serve a rich Chinese family in Singapore (a jockey apparently with 3 or 4 wives) – I suspect that she is Dayak or some other native). My grandmother is from Penang – the Scullys. Sure – no worries – always love to chat!

        Like

      • hi Linda, your family threads from Eastern Europe (possibly), Borneo/ Dayak are intriguing additions to the previous British one you mentioned. I will email you soon about meeting up for a chat! 🙂
        Melissa

        Like

    • hi Antonio! Thanks cuz!! Glad you like it! Yes, your mum’s pic with Nanny and Kenneth is brilliant. And I think your mum (in her secondary school days in the photo, tanned from playing netball) really looks like Valerie now!! 🙂

      Like

  3. Hi Melissa! We should organize an event for Eurasian gathering on monthly bases or every 2 or 3 months! Take this opportunity to share in depth and in person our life story being Eurasian…etc

    Like

    • Hi Marie! That is a great idea!! I know a couple of Eurasians who would love to do something like that, to get to know more Eurasians. I will email you 🙂

      Like

  4. “Bleddy fool!” – more proof that us Peranakans – by way of Melaka of course – are related to you folks. My late great-granny, the typical Bibik / Nyonya who wore the traditional baju panjang + sarong – used to utter the following: “Lu ni betul bleddy fool, kasih orang makan!”

    I second what Marie said – if you folks do welcome me to join in? 😀

    Like

    • Hi Angie, love the words your grandmother would say, “Lu ni betul bleddy fool..”! Of course you are more than welcome to join us! The more the merrier 😀

      Like

  5. Hey Mel, it’s brilliant that you’re unmasking the mystery of our often obscure and somewhat elusive group of brethren. It’s amazing that locals still have a problem grasping what Eurasian is in this 21st century despite our heritage being woven into the fabric of Singaporean history. The beauty of being Eurasian is our intrinsic cultural diversity in itself. Thanks for sharing and raising awareness. Hope all your endeavours meet with success!

    Robbie Desker
    I, Eurasian ; )

    Like

  6. Hey Mel,

    it’s brilliant that you’re unmasking the mystery of our often obscure and somewhat elusive group of brethren. It’s amazing that locals still have a problem grasping what Eurasian is in this 21st century despite our heritage being woven into the fabric of Singaporean history. The beauty of being Eurasian is our intrinsic cultural diversity in itself. Thanks for sharing and raising awareness. Hope all your endeavours meet with success!

    Robbie Desker
    I, Eurasian ; )

    Like

    • Hi Robbie, thanks for the support! Yeah, I think it is important to try to spread some awareness of our culture and heritage and to keep telling Eurasian stories, cos our voices need to be heard. Yes indeed, we are an integral and beautiful thread of Singapore’s history! Hey, maybe you would like to share your own family’s heritage or story? You could email me privately through the contact portion here. I’d love to hear about it 🙂

      Like

  7. Hello Melissa,
    So glad to come across your blog and read all that you and other Eurasians have to say. I can relate to so many things like ‘bleddy fool’ for example. In 2006 I wrote a book, “Looking Back” about my family history and my early memories. It was self-published because publishers I approached said there was no market for such books. Subjects like ghost stories or love stories were more marketable. The book is available in all branches of the National Library (ISBN 981-05-6271-3). The book can be bought from me.

    Like

    • hi Martha, thank you and it’s great you could relate to some of the stuff here. I think it’s great you self-published your family memoirs. Our Eurasian stories need to be documented and circulated. Thanks for telling me about it. I just looked it up and NLB has a copy at the library near my home! I’m looking forward to reading it. I really have a hunger to read/ hear more about Eurasians and their family histories. Every family and their experiences are fascinating. By any chance, is there a photo of you from 1950 as a flower girl at a wedding (she looks very sweet) at the National Archives online? I just came across it and wondered if it might be you!

      Like

  8. I can back up Angie’s comment about ‘bleddy fool’ being a Peranakan phenomenon as well. My grand aunt says that all the time. Actually, living overseas, I’m always struck by the familiarity I feel when I encounter an older person with an Anglo-Indian or Ceylon Burgher background. I find their accents to be remarkably similar to older Eurasian and Peranakan Singaporeans.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s