By Joannah Bharose September 20, 2000

I'm lucky with Chinese men

Marlon and Maria Austin
Mixed couple Marlon and Maria Austin with their twins
Sean Lee and Daniella Li-Maria a few months after the babies were born.

SHE is obsessed with the Chinese culture and he is fascinated by mixed women. Five years ago they got married and it turned out to be match made in heaven. Marlon Roger Gabriel Austin laments the fact that he was not given a Chinese name and the only reminder that he is Chinese is his reflection in the mirror.

"I always say to my mother that she should have given me a Chinese name. She is proud of her culture, but I would have liked a Chinese name," Austin said. "My family, except for an aunt, is very un-Chinese," he said with the firm belief that his family is a perfect example of racial integration in action.

His wife, Maria Contant-Austin, describes herself as a "real callaloo" and believes that she was destined to join a Chinese family. She said: "I have always been fortunate and had better relationships with Chinese men. I just love their culture."

She said her only regret was not being able to add a Chinese name to hers. "I married a Chinese man without a Chinese name," Maria jokingly pointed out. Maria's sister is married to Austin's brother. Maria doesn't think that her obsession with Chinese men and their culture is racist.

"A lot of people might think that because of my preference for Chinese men. It is simply my preference." She has never doubted her decision to marry Austin. Austin on the other hand has mainly dated mixed women. "It is my choice and my preference. I have never gone out with a Chinese woman, so I don't think that makes me racist.

For Maria the only dilemma about her heritage is that she can't say positively that she is Indian, African or Spanish, or Caucasian. "My great-grandmother from India had a negro husband, I bet at the time her relationship would have been considered a big scandal."

Austin's mother is mixed with Chinese and Spanish and his father is Chinese. Except for a Chinese aunt, Austin said there were no questions and doubts from his family concerning his marriage.

"My aunt believed in marrying your own kind that it would be a mistake to do otherwise. But it did not matter to us." Maria said: "My family had no reservations about my marriage. I have always been around Chinese guys and I guess I'm just lucky with them. I don't know what makes me so attracted to Chinese guys."

Austin also admitted: "I have always liked mixed women. I never wanted a woman of pure race. It's just my preference." But he is adamant that he is not racist: "To which race am I prejudicing myself?"

He recalled stories from his parents about the first set of Chinese men who came to Trinidad. "Most of them had negro wives. My grandfather who could not speak a word of English left his wife and kids back in China seeking greener pastures here and took a local wife."

He also pointed out that up until two generations ago many Chinese families "imported wives and husbands for members of the local Chinese community". He does not regret losing a lot of the Chinese culture in the process of integration, but feels his family should have kept their Chinese name. He said it would have been nice to pass on the Ng Kim or Apang names.

"My mother is a staunch Catholic and believed in strong, healthy Christian names. Many Chinese adopted the names of the priests who first baptised the family on arrival. That's how we lost our real names and ended up with Austin." Austin was never really exposed to the full-blown Chinese traditions. He said his childhood was like a huge cultural exchange.

"I'm more local than Chinese. We were the only Chinese family on my street and we mixed with everyone. The only thing Chinese in our house was food and faces." He added: "My old man cooked all kinds of Creole food too." Now only Austin's parents and grandparents participate in events put on by the Chinese Association of Trinidad and Tobago.

Marlon said he wanted to clear up any doubts about the Chinese community and integration. "We are not like other communities, where they just stick to their own race." But when it comes to their children, the Austins have a totally different agenda. The Arima couple would prefer their children marry Chinese. They have twins who are now two years old.

Maria explained: "At the risk of sounding racist, I want them to help preserve their culture and heritage." Austin added: "If I had a choice I would like them to go back and marry Chinese to keep the traditions alive."

But the couple insist that this is not their first priority, but want their children to find well-educated and equal partners. Maria said: "I don't want then to get stuck with some waste-of-time person. I just want the best for them."

When asked about her own culture, Maria replied: "What is my culture. I'm so mixed up. I don't have one. My children look so Chinese people often ask if they are mine." "When I was pregnant I hoped that the children looked Chinese."

Maria pointed out that she no longer sees her husband as Chinese, "he is just my husband". The happy couple said their racial differences have never been thrown into arguments, but has often been the butt of many jokes. Maria confided that she is not happy about people who call each other names even in jokes.

"If I must put a label to my heritage it would be Spanish, but I don't appreciate being called 'red ting' or any such name. Sometimes when I relax my hair I get called Indian in a very condescending manner. That irritates me. Any name makes me feel degraded." The couple freely admitted that they have never really encountered any real racism in this country except for the workplace.

Austin said: "You get the 'chinee chinee never die, flat nose and chinky eye' teasing, but that has never offended me. But what is offensive are attitudes at the workplace." He quickly added that his first experience of local white culture occurred when he first walked into Fatima College. He said: "I thought that this school could not have been in Trinidad, it was so predominately white. But I could see no racism. Segregation only occurred under your financial standing."

He explained : "There was the rich and not so rich and you were ranked according to your financial status and not colour." "There were those that got into the school based on merit and the rest on money." Austin said the first time he actually encountered racism in Trinidad and Tobago was in 1991 when he started working in the steel industry in Central. "Now I see it all the time."

He went on to explain: "I remember in 1991 I worked with some negro guys. We had this job to do and I my boss told me 'you leave that, let the f****** n****** do the work. You not suppose to do that.' I was so shocked. I was the maintenance guy and was supposed to be showing the guys what to do." Marlon said that was the first time it happened and it has certainly not been the last.

"I get the same thing all the time. The manager always chooses the negro guys to do the heavier work. I am so shocked in this day and age that someone could have said that. It took me three weeks before I told the guys what had happened." Austin said he has found a lot more racism in Central companies than North. He also said that he has witnessed on many occasions Indians who have been promoted over Africans because of race.

"I have seen it in the industry where Indian guys are promoted over negro guys who are much better on their own merit. After talking with other workers from other industries they say that happens all the time." He continued: "It is so hard as an individual to see somebody who works less and is less qualified, less competent than you, to see that person get promoted because they are the 'right' colour."

Marlon also said that it has happened to him, where he was recognised over another person because of his race. "Presently in my job I have seen that with myself in terms of recognition over other guys, who deserved it more than me."

"But my company is making attempts to deal with this type of situation, we have a new managing director with a new body set up to deal with this," Austin added. He pointed out that problems like these only help perpetuate the situation. "If people can't speak out for fear of victimisation, then the problem can never get better. If you are afraid you might lose your job, then you won't talk."

"I feel that recruitment should be a just and fair system. We are so biased in this country it is devastating to people. This can only serve to widen the gap, because it festers in victims who have no where to turn, you certainly can't go to your boss." As for his family, Austin hopes Maria and his children never have to stare racism in the eyes.


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