Of traditions and cultures, here’s a piece of my mother that I wear

Estranged in connections and emotions but never in the language of traditions and clothes

I am an only child that was born and raised in Malaysia, a country that’s a melting pot of different races, religions and cultures. Therefore, every year without a doubt, individuals of different faith and races will come together and celebrate their designated traditions.

However, growing up in an interracial family, I always had the advantage of celebrating not one but multiple festive occasions and, a holiday that I have always held dear to my heart has always been Eid or better yet known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri from where I come from.

A family portrait of my family celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri in 2009

In Malaysia, Hari Raya Aidilfitri is all about the bright lights that glimmer and glow from each and every house in your neighbourhood, the money packets that we receive from family members, the mandatory special festival food and music that’s eaten and played once every year but the most important of all, it’s all about the outfits that we wear that bring us together too.

A compilation of my baju kurung throughout the years

For the first day, it’s an unspoken rule to dress up and look your best and for the longest time, I’ve always made the effort to be the belle of the ball, so you can imagine my reaction when my mother, Valentina entered my room and said:

“I can’t fit into them anymore because my body is not the same. Also, I don’t have anyone else but you, so you can have them and wear them every year because I know you’ll look good in them as much as I did back in the days.”

With her head leaned against my bedroom door, in both of her hands, she held out a stack of old baju kurungs (a traditional Malaysian outfit worn every year during Eid) after clearing up her wardrobe on a sunny weekend in 2018.

Some of the baju kurung that my mom has worn in the past and given to me

I still remember the day as if it was yesterday, as I got out of my seat to examine and touch the pile of vibrant silky coloured clothes. I felt like a magpie who’ve just found a treasure trove of shiny items but out of every piece of baju kurung, a particular set that had truly caught my eye was a silky puffed sleeve baby blue set.

A family portrait of my mother wearing the blue baju kurung when pregnant with me in the 90’s

I picked the top half of the set and admired it closely, it was by far one of the most unique clear cut pieces that I’ve ever seen in my life, nothing and no other brand could compare to this immaculate design and, it was shocking enough to know that it was my own mother who designed it.

“Is that your favourite set? I remember I wore that Baju Kurung when I found out that I was pregnant with you,” my mother said. “I did not have a belly yet because it was in the early stages but I remember just feeling happy especially while in that.”

A picture of me wearing my mother’s blue baju kurung during the first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri

I automatically smiled and knew deep down that this particular set was going to be the one that I’d cherish for a long time. Truth be told, I did not have the most perfect family in the world, my father was rarely around and, my mother was a woman who rarely expressed her emotions to me because she had to be strong for the family.

As much as I wished that sometimes, she could just let her guard down for me, I also remember how much I take off from her too. However, seeing her being open on that one fine day about her past was nice and it’s crazy to think how some old pair of traditional clothes was a step to bring us closer.

I wear a baju kurung because it’s a symbol of my culture and identity, but I wear my mother’s baju kurung because it’s a piece of her, no matter where I go and no matter how far I’ll be from home.

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