Scottish/Cape Malay | Javanese-Indonesian/Cape Malay

Photo credit: provided by subject

Photo credit: provided by subject

I identify as mixed-race, atheist & straight. My Mom and Dad were both born in South Africa and they met in Johannesburg when they were in their late twenties. My Mom was best friends with my Uncle and met my Dad through him as they all hung out together back then. My Mom’s side of the family has Cape Malay heritage and there is Scottish blood on her side. My Father’s side has Javanese-Indonesian, and Cape Malay.   

Because South Africa is such a diverse country racially it seems very natural for many people here to be of mixed decent. During the 16th century there were European colonizers who settled in Africa and in search of new markets. People from Indonesia (then known as Dutch East Indies) as well as Japan and other countries were sent into exile and brought to the Cape (now known as Cape Town) by the Dutch. A group of these people were later called Cape Malay and were seen and treated as slaves by the Dutch. It’s amazing how today these cultures are still being preserved through traditions and food like bobotie and frikkadels (meat balls) which came from Malaysian dishes.  

Interracial relationships are the beginnings of combining two cultures together that may never have had the chance to understand each other until then. I think it is a fantastic way to ensure that people are introduced to things that they may have previously looked beyond or been reluctant to understand such as different ideas of how we live our lives and how our communities differ in the values that we keep. My generation is a lot more open-minded than my grandparents generation, we see each other as born-frees who were born after the Apartheid was abolished. In a way we all has to start a new world together, one that has remnants of a toxic and grief-stricken past, with a new one of optimism and excitement for blended cultures. I have lived my life based on the idea that I am racially ambiguous, which initially I was ashamed of because I was bullied for it growing up but now I finally accept it and see it as being beautiful and unique. The people I choose to date are normally nonchalant about my ambiguity and often I see myself talking about it much more than they do, as I grew up being quite insecure about it. My partners find it intriguing initially and then they see it as just being a part of me – an eclectic combination of multiple worlds.

I have been able to adapt incredibly easily to many groups and cultures because often people are unsure of what I am so struggle to box me in their stereotypes. Stereotypes prevent people from opening up and allowing you into their world, it is a terrible habit that many people subconsciously impose on others, but I have somehow avoided it due to my ambiguity. You can’t box what you can’t fully understand at a first glance. When I was growing up my race has been a huge influence on my early development. It was quite strange at times when I think about it now but almost every huge milestone that I experienced grown up was directly linked to my race. My first long-term boyfriend’s family was hesitant at first upon finding that I was not white, his friends told him not to date me because I was mixed, they never spoke to me at his family events and I often felt as if my skin was burning whenever I was around them because it was my skin that they were judging the most. Later, I felt ashamed, I was so pale but my features were indistinguishable. When I had done well at school, received awards or become one of the schools leaders, the head girl found out I was mixed and said that she would start viewing me different because I was not white as she assumed. I felt like my value was being pulled away from me with every year that passed until I reached university where everything changed.     

I have a tattoo of a Javanese emblem, to remain close to my dad’s side of the family. Although I haven’t seen my dad in years I have remained close to my uncle, and his family. Whenever, my mom and I spend time with them we dance to music that my grandfather would listen to, we eat Cape Malay food, and we dance and drink together having fun when I’m not travelling. I haven’t visited my native countries, I’ve been to countries surrounding them, but I have never had the change to go to the Java Islands or Malaysia.

I think the older I get the more there is to learn about myself as a human rather than what my skin signals to people or what my feature suggests about who I am. A lot has changed from when I was younger, curly blonde haired me to now - a photographer living in South Korea still sometimes an enigma to people. There will always be so much to learn about myself but for now I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been with myself.

I think if I were to be born again, I would want to return as I am and live out every experience I have because it shaped me to be as fearless as I am today. If none of the things that happened to me as a child occurred, I wouldn’t have been forced to learn about myself and find beauty beyond the surface. My photography would look different, and I wonder if I would paint as a form of therapy. Everything I am is a combination of the experiences I’ve had and the early emotions I was forced to deal with. It was extremely difficult but because of the strong mother I have, she taught me how to look forward at all times and move beyond those who judge me to create an artistic world that is created by me for me – a home and a shelter for the creation of me and anybody else I invite in.