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“Chindian” Relationships Show That There Is More To Mixed Relationships Than Just Asian And White

By Erin Chew

Alekhya Dega and Justin Shum

By Erin Chew

Asian social media platforms buzz when the topic of “mixed relationships”/”interracial relationships” is discussed, and it usually revolves around the themes of racial and gender dynamics between Asians and Whites. What these discussions ignore and omit is that interracial relationships are more than just the Asian and White. I personally think it is time we start talking, sharing and discussing other mixes as well.

Relationships between Chinese and South Indians are known as Chindian.” Culturally there are stark differences between the East Asian and South Asian cultures.

Kevin Bathman
Kevin Bathman

Interestingly, outside of Malaysia and Singapore, stories of “Chindian” relationships are now popping up on social media showing that inter-Asian relationships are growing and those in these relationships are proud to share their stories. Malaysian born creative and “Chindian” himself, Kevin Bathman in a bid in exploring his own “Chindian” roots started a Facebook page called “The Chindian Diaries”, which is a platform for “Chindian” couples to share their stories of love, life and what it means to be “Chindian”. In a speech he made back in 2014 when launching “The Chindian Diaries”, Bathman spoke about why he felt compelled to create this project:

The Chindian Diaries project was primarily to trace my own roots and explore my cross cultural identity. Some of you might be familiar with coinages like Indo-China, Sino-Indian and Indian-Chinese, but what is Chindian? The term is relatively new and loosely refers to families of mixed ethnicity, who trace their ancestry to both China and India.

By capturing them (Chindian stories), I hope it acts as a resource for future generations, and ensure they are never forgotten. The stories typically range from identity crises, cultural clashes, struggles and misunderstandings to stories of love and acceptance.

From my own observations, most Chindians experience an identity crisis in their lives as they have to straddle between the two distinctly different cultures – Chinese and Indian. And by sharing these stories, I hope there will be less isolation and prejudice from other people on mixed children.

The vision is to someday turn it into a performative piece, documentary and videos to put the stories out there. Today, the project on Facebook has become a much-needed forum for Chindians worldwide to share their experiences. 

Alekhya Dega and Justin Shum
Alekhya Dega and Justin Shum

His project has a huge support base with the Facebook page generating over twenty six thousand likes with the stories of “Chindian” love being frequently posted. One such story which has caught my eye is the romance between Indian American Alekhya Dega and Chinese American Justin Shum. Dega recently shared her story on “The Chindian Diaries”, and it hit a nerve in me because despite all obstacles (including the initial disapproval) from parents on both sides, both Dega and Shum persisted with their love winning at the end. I had the opportunity to interview Dega and it was such an awesome experience to learn about their relationship. The good news is that their story has a happy ending and a bright future with Dega sending me photos from their recent engagement ceremony ( shared in this piece). But before I talk about our interview, here is an excerpt from the story she shared on The Chindian Diaries (click on the original Facebook post to read their entire story):

 Alekhya Dega and Justin Shum

In 2017, I decided to tell my parents about Justin. I was afraid of telling them as he was not of the same race, caste and cultural ancestry. They had previously met Justin but had only known him to be a friend. When I told my parents that I had been dating Justin for some time and that I wanted to marry him, there was complete silence as they were shocked by the news. With my Mom sobbing, they accused me of deceiving them and called me a “horrible daughter” for lying to them. In a moment of anger, they said if I chose to marry Justin, I would be disowned and would not receive any family support. It was one of the most miserable times for me.

Adamantly, I told my parents I would wait as long as it took to get their approval. From that day onwards, my parents didn’t even want to meet him or speak of his name, Justin became “that boy”. I am thankful that Justin had always had a profound interest in religion, language and culture. He understood my situation and did not hold any grudges against my parents. During this time, Justin even helped me understand where my parents were coming from.

My interview with Dega focused on how they overcame some of the cultural obstacles and what it means to be a proud “Chindian American” couple. It was interesting to know that her grandparents and other family members back home in India took the news of the relationship better than her own parents did when she first introduced Shum to her parents.

I believe my grandparents took the news better than my own parents, because at the end of the day I am not their child but their grandchild. Parents tend to project their dreams and wants on to their child while grandparents look to make sure their grandchildren are happy and at peace. It took about a year and half for my parents to come around to talking about Justin and accepting the fact that I would marry him.

Justin’s parents have always respected me and treated me like a daughter ever since I dated Justin. Both sets of parents live 10 minutes away from where we are so we would see Justin’s parents every weekend. We would have dinner and talk about things going on in our lives. I felt like I was part of their family from the beginning.

I wondered if there are more visible “Chindian” relationships in the USA? Is this inter-Asian mix growing and what advice would Dega give other Indian/South Asians who are in “Chindian” relationships but are unsure how to make it public to immediate family:

I do feel that Chindian relationships are growing in the US but they are still below Indian-Caucasian relationships as far interracial relationships are concerned. Indians and Chinese have similar values morally and culturally so this should be an easier transition than most people fear.

I spent the majority of my 20s dating only Indian guys and I was sure I would end up marrying one too. What I found was not someone who was necessarily not Indian or Chinese but someone who was good for my life, who I knew would be a good husband, and a good father. Those qualities are not ones to find on paper. I would suggest looking at someone for their character, values, and not what society necessarily tells you. At the end of the day now, each individual has to live their life on their own. You reap the fruits and deal with the consequences, while having parents in your life is important, it is not selfish to care and want happiness.

It is important to note that the purpose of this piece is not to objectify “Chindian” relationships, but it is to bring awareness to the fact that this interesting union is growing and is inevitable as the global economic and social growth of Asia continues. When relationships deal with different cultures there are always beautiful stories of love and romance, but it also brings in a whole new set of challenges and obstacles when narrow ideas and close minds about cultural mixes arises. The wonderful part about this story is that the ending is a happy one and after interviewing Dega it is clear that love can transcend all obstacles and prevail.

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