I was always the new girl in school because my family moved around a lot. Every two or three years, I would walk into a classroom and everyone would stare at me while the teacher tried her best to pronounce my name. I used to wonder what was so hard about blurting out “Bridget?” At times, I had to correct her and say no, not Brigade, or Brigitte, just Bridget. By the time I reached the fourth school, I simply went by my middle name, Emily.
But the mispronunciation of my name did not torment my schooling years. In fact I had lots of friends because of my name. Everyone was so curious to know if I was a Malaysian and where I came from.
I changed addresses and schools a lot but one thing remained unchanged, my love for English. I had big visions of becoming an English teacher or writer and I started writing short stories and poems, just for fun and for my own personal collection. I loved going to school simply because I enjoyed the subject. Most of my peers didn't speak English so I was their go-to girl but no one bullied me into finishing their English homework.
At a particular secondary school where kids were known to be violent, I found myself the new girl once again. I was scared of being bullied because the school was famous for thugs, males and females alike. But the students were angels compared to the real devil who made my life hell.
As usual, I was looking forward to meeting my English teacher but unfortunately, that feeling was not mutual.
As he walked pass my table, he glanced at me and laid his book down and asked if I was a Eurasian and I said yes. What happened next was totally unexpected - I heard him murmur disappointedly, “Oh great!” - then he ignored me for the rest of that period.
The days that followed were torture. He never caned me but he would simply pick on me. I was told to erase the blackboard or arrange the chairs, even on days when it was not my duty. There were times he would ask for a volunteer to represent the class for storytelling or writing and I would volunteer. I would be so excited about it and as the big day drew near, he would pull me out and replace me with someone who couldn't speak English to save his/her own life.
I never knew what my English teacher's problem was. I did my best and I always scored the highest marks in English and yet, he still looked at me with so much hatred and disappointment. After almost a year of trying to be on this good side, unluckily for me, I caught the flu and was absent for no more than two days. When I returned to school, this teacher gave me a harsh, long and sarcastic lecture about how useless my future was going to be because I skipped two days. Then, he said, “Aiyah … typical Serani (Eurasian) girl.” It was at that moment that I began to suspect he hated my guts because of my race. But I didn't know where to turn to and at that time, I didn't know you could get into trouble for passing remarks like that on any race. As such, I never reported it.
Every day was like walking on egg shells and he became more and more bold with his racial remarks. If I made a spelling mistake, his favourite phrase was “Yeah lah … typical Serani!” If I came to school late or was absent, he would still find some way to bring my race into his insults against me. I thought, bear with it, maybe … who knows, soon, I might be the new girl in school again. Boy, was I wrong, my daddy did not transfer me to another school as my PMR (Penilaian Menengah Rendah) exam was nearing.
Every day I dreaded going to school. My love for English began to die slowly. I was never picked for any talentime or writing contest. I was not picked for anything to do with the English subject. My teacher never even allowed me to be a member of the English Club.
Itching to write again, I brushed up on my Bahasa Malaysia. I thought, if I was not going to be appreciated for being good in English, I might as well work on my BM. I represented the school and my class many times and won. If the contest was on a weekend, the following Monday would be my glory day because my principal would announce to the whole school my accomplishment despite BM not being my first language. I was very proud of myself and of my race. My BM became perfect but my English standard went way down and my mum was not impressed.
Just months before my PMR, my mum and principal talked to me. I told them what was going on and my mum agreed to transfer me out of the school after my PMR. I don't know what action was taken on the teacher but I still saw him in school. He still taught my class and very, very slowly got me involved in the lessons. He stopped calling me by my race and instead called me “Emily.” My grades slowly improved and I started to score as high as I used to. Still, I was not confident of myself and feared that he was just putting on a show.
At the year-end gathering, I played the guitar and sang. Surprisingly, I saw him clapping. But after my performance, he told me, “That's all these Seranis are capable of - making music and causing trouble.” I chose not to react because I knew I would be transferred to another school soon.
At my new school, I submitted my story for English Week and won. Then I was selected to tell my story and compete with my old school. I won. My former English teacher was there but I avoided him the whole time. I went home that day feeling proud and complete. I felt like it was a big slap on his face watching me go up and receive my prize. I am glad that it's now over. I wish I spoke up earlier so that more pupils like me would not be tormented by him.
We should always respect each other no matter what our religion or race is. I proved him wrong. Now, when we bump into each other, I simply look the other way and completely ignore him. Although he is old and fragile, he does not deserve even an ounce of respect from me.
I was brought up thinking that everything happens for a reason and that God himself has planned my life. The only conclusion and consolation I had from this ordeal was believing that if it was not for the racial torment, I wouldn't be fluent in both English and BM.
Today, I am a kindergarten teacher and I still go up on stage to sing part-time. I am still very much a Serani in every possible way - I am musical, I still love English and the only trouble I cause is spoiling my two kids with lots of hugs and kisses.
I believe that there are many more teachers like this in the education system. My parents never knew what he was doing until my principal called my mum to talk about my falling English grades. I also thought no one would believe a teacher could bully a student like that. If it was a student bullying me, I am sure the school would have taken the proper measures. In my case, it was a teacher and this would surely have raised a lot of eyebrows and caused much controversy.
We normally hear off bullying amongst students, not teacher-student. Even though I am a much better person than him, today, I still have this feeling like I should've done something to make him stop.
Bridget Emily Mowe