I am a Nyonya. I belong to the Peranakan community, a unique ethnic group which evolved a long time ago in Old Malacca on the west coast of Malaysia. The Peranakan means ‘locally born’ in Malay. We are also known as Straits Chinese, with the terms ‘Babas’ for the males and ‘Nyonyas’ for the females.
This community evolved in the ﬁfteenth century when traders from China arrived in Malacca and married local women.
The Peranakan culture is a rare and beautiful blend of two cultures – Malay and Chinese – in a fascinating synthesis with elements of]avanese, Batak, Siamese, British and Portuguese cultures. We were, and continue to be, the epitome of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘fusion’ long before the terms were invented.
In 1996, I went to live in Texas, USA, and stayed there for more than three years. I lived there in many capacities – a postgraduate student pursuing a doctoral degree, an expatriate wife, a mother, a homemaker, a writer, and a university don on study leave. Just as foreigners visit ‘exotic’ countries and cultures in the East and document them, I realised the reverse was also necessary. As an outsider, a woman writer from Asia, now living as an insider in the US, I encountered many fascinating and unique cultural differences as well as similarities between two peoples living on opposite sides of the world. Some of the articles were written while living in Texas and some after my return home to Malaysia.
Here is my story of a Nyonya in Texas.
About the author: Lee Su Kim is a writer of Straits Chinese parentage. Her father is a ﬁfth generation Baba from Malacca and her mother a Nyonya from Penang. She is currently Associate Professor at the School of Language Studies and Linguistics, Universiti Kehangsaan Malaysia where she teaches Language and Culture. She lived in Texas from 1996 to 2000, and obtained her Doctorate in Education during her stay there. She is the author of seven books including two bestsellers, Malaysian Flavours and Manglish: Malaysian English at its Wackiest. She was a columnist for The Star (a leading English language newspaper in Malaysia), for three years. She is also a corporate trainer for cross-cultural awareness and communication skills.