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.
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.
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.
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
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?