“Where are you from again?”

The reality of having a mixed cultural background.


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To this day, my rich cultural background shocks me. When I ask people where they think I’m from, the usual answer is a blank stare: no-one can figure me out. The real answer to this simple question is much more complex than most people expect.


My maternal grandparents were both born and raised in different areas of Hungary, finally meeting in the early fifties, a few years after the Second World War. Despite a large age gap of ten years, the two soon fell in love, swept up in a whirlwind of youthful ignorance and fuelled by the adrenaline rush that accompanies any great forbidden romance. As tensions rose in Hungary between the civilians and the soviets, both of my grandparents joined their countrymen in a fight for freedom known as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. After the revolt was crushed, my grandparents concluded that the situation in Hungary had become too dire, and decided to leave everything that they knew behind in search of a better, safer life. With heavy hearts, and an especially heavy load for my grandmother who was pregnant at the time, the pair made the pilgrimage to a refugee camp in Yugoslavia accompanied by a close friend of my grandmothers. With only one bottle of jack between the three of them and a few heavy winter coats, it is a miracle that they managed to survive the journey relatively unscathed. It was there, in that Yugoslavian refugee camp, that my uncle was born, and that my existence was made possible as they made the crucial decision to settle in Melbourne, Australia.


On the other hand, my paternal grandparents, both Hakka Chinese and having had generations upon generations grow up in the Guangdong Province, had an arranged marriage. After hearing of the impending Japanese invasion of China, my grandfather migrated to the small island of Borneo in Malaysia to start a new life where my grandmother would later join him. Together, the two were unstoppable: their determination to survive and succeed was admirable to say the least. As the Japanese forces advanced into Malaysia, my grandfather found himself a victim of great discrimination, and was tortured various times for petty crimes such as not bowing low enough. Having been awarded free land by the government, he and my grandmother opened a tofu factory about an hour away from the town center- more or less, in the middle of the jungle. As years passed, the couple found success once more, solidified by my grandmother’s fertility. In a matter of twenty years or so, my grandmother gave birth to fifteen sons, my father being one of them, and one daughter. As I’m sure you can imagine, my uncles caused absolute havoc growing up, but simultaneously held great respect for her.


Putting together all of their savings, my father’s family was able to send him to Canada for his higher education. Wide-eyed and ambitious, my father took his first plane to an entirely foreign land where he would be forced to fend for himself. Miraculously, he settled in quickly, although having adapted to the oppressive Malaysian heat, the harsh Canadian winters were a real shock to his system. After graduating from high school, my father went on to study business at the University of Western Ontario before moving yet again, this time to work in New Zealand.


Simultaneously, at the other end of the world, my mother was born and raised in suburban Australia. At a young age she developed a love of reading, and learning languages, passions that lead her to pursue a career in teaching. All the while, my mother made sure to nurture and appreciate her Hungarian heritage, visiting occasionally in her early twenties. It was from these trips that she developed a love of travel. Filled with youthful curiosity, my mother then embarked on a trip to Hong Kong with my grandmother. It was this trip that determined my family’s fate.


On the flight back to Australia from Hong Kong, my father, a young and upcoming executive, and my grandmother found themselves seated next to one another. In true Hungarian fashion, my grandmother attempted to befriend my father by offering him an array of snacks that her and my mother had picked up in Hong Kong. Captured by the sweet older woman’s kindness, my father and grandmother exchanged details for later contact. Funnily enough, my parents didn’t speak at all during the flight, although my mother has since told me that she remembers admiring his shoes.


Two years later, my grandparents are repainting their house, and the phone rings: it’s my father. Surprised to say the least, my grandmother hands my mother the phone saying that it’s for her. True to his determined nature, my father then confidently asks my mother out to dinner as he is in Melbourne for the weekend. Dumbfounded, my mother agrees in spite of the fact that this man, although having impeccable taste in shoes, is more or less a complete stranger.


Countless dates and piles of letters later, my mother decided to go and visit my father in New Zealand. It was on this trip that they fell in love, persuading my mother to pick up stakes, and move to be with him, much to my disapproving grandparents’ dismay. Soon enough, the two were engaged. Unhappy with her job in New Zealand, my mother then convinced my father to move back to Melbourne with her to be wed and begin life as a young married couple. Despite their initial misgivings, my father won my grandparents’ love and acceptance little by little until he became an integral part of their lives. Five years later, my brother was born, and eight years after that, so was I.


Throughout my childhood, I was constantly taught to appreciate my diverse cultural background, as I celebrated Chinese, Hungarian and Australian festivities annually. I feel as though it was this encouragement that made me more accepting of other cultures, and made the transition from Australia to Hong Kong so seamless. Although undergoing such a large change in environment at the ripe age of six should have been extremely confusing, I found that it really wasn’t. In retrospect, I attribute this to my rich cultural upbringing. Four years after settling in Hong Kong, we moved once more, this time to Seoul, South Korea. This move, although more difficult than the last, was also relatively easy, and I soon found myself immersed in the rich Korean culture. Having spent my formative years in Seoul, the move to Japan, where I presently live, was made all the more difficult. Despite my initial hatred of the move to Japan, I have since learnt to adore the country for all of its quirks. Once again, I feel as though this was inspired by the appreciation for other cultures that I had gained as a child through my mixed heritage.


Furthermore, as the product of an interracial marriage, I sincerely feel as though this merging of cultures should not be frowned upon- quite the contrary. I feel as though interracial marriage should be embraced, as it is the embodiment of acceptance, something that all humans strive for. Every day, I wake up and feel blessed for having the opportunity to see and be a part of so many different cultures thanks to my parents, and feel extremely disappointed for those who oppose interracial marriage, as they are depriving the world of a new generation of culturally aware, open minded youths.


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