By Natasya Ong

Being a fourth-generation Malaysian, I am blessed to be born and raised in a culturally rich country. Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia has a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian culture, and I have two cultures running in my blood because my father is Chinese and my mother is Malay.

Photo by Scott Jenkins

Every year during family gatherings, I never get tired of listening to the story of how my ancestors from my father’s side first came to Malaysia. More than 100 years ago when Malaysia was still colonized by the British, the parents of my grandfather migrated from Fujian, China, in a ship. Fujian is a southeastern Chinese province where Hokkien was widely spoken.

Back then, China was overpopulated and was in an economic downturn so jobs were scarce. They came to Malaysia looking for a better life with better opportunities.

My grandmother’s family also migrated to Malaysia for the same reason. Her grandparents emigrated from a city located in southern China called Guangzhou.

Both sides were brought in by the British to work in the mining industry in Perak, Malaysia. My great-great-grandfather, Ong Hoe Seng, worked at reservoirs while his wife, Lau Chin Poh, stayed home to take care of her seven children.

I wish I knew more about my mother’s ancestry but that side of the family was unfortunately left estranged. My mother died when I was six years old, and since then, we rarely kept in touch with her side of the family.

However, I do know that the story of her side of the family was more straightforward because her family were natives of Malaysia, where the Malays make up half the population.

During the British colonization, the Malays worked in the administration offices. All I know is that my grandfather served in the military and my grandmother was a housewife. They resided in Kelantan, a state located on the northeast side of the Malaysian peninsula.

My Immigration Story

Although I truly adore my country, I’ve always wanted to study and start a life overseas because, just like my ancestors, I wanted to increase my opportunities. I want to gain enough knowledge and skills so that when I return to Malaysia, I can help make a change. So on Jan. 1, 2015, I made my first trip to the United States on a 36-hour flight.

When my paternal great-great-grandparents migrated to Malaysia, they were on a ship for several days, enduring vigorous tides and storms. Some fell ill and did not make it. The worst part of the transition, according to my family, was that my great-great-grandparents were not familiar with the language, so they had difficulty conversing and asking for help. My 36-hour journey was nothing compared to the hardships they had to go through.

Moving to a new country alone with completely different cultures can be scary for most but I was excited. Yes, I do miss home, and yes, I do wish I could go home more often if it wasn’t for overpriced plane tickets. But at the end of the day, I am doing this for my family.

Thinking back to the time when my ancestors migrated to Malaysia, I believe that this drive that brought me to the U.S. runs in my blood.