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  • Most people know me as Fran. But my full name is Francissca Peter.

    When my sister, Bibiana and I were first enrolled in a co-ed school in Selayang, Kuala Lumpur, there was excited chatter from our classmates that they were expecting some ‘Mat Salleh’ (white) students. This was because of our surname, Peter.

    Much to their disappointment, when we arrived, we looked just like the rest of them. Many of them were puzzled and tried to guess our racial background.

    “You don’t look Indian, you don’t look Chinese, you also don’t look Malay - definitely not 'Mat Salleh', what are you?”, were some of the common phrases we heard when we were growing up.

    After our Dad abandoned us, the family had to look for ways to earn a living. Despite my Mum working long hours washing clothes and cooking food, and some extra help from the nuns, it was extremely hard to get by with four mouths to feed and cloth - there were my brothers, Joe and Michael, my sister, Bibiana and me.

    With no other options, I convinced my Mum to allow me to work to help support the family. In 1975, I left school at Form 3 to earn some money for the family.

    I started working in a sales department of a souvenir factory called Chong Batik. Thankfully, my boss and his wife were a kind couple, and they took good care of me, as they knew how young I was.

    With the income I made, I gave some to my Mum and the remainder, I used it to enrol myself in a secretarial course.

    I had always loved singing, and it all began in my Taiping church.

    I then suggested to Mum that I could make a living with my singing when I showed her an ad from an entertainment agent in Malay Mail who were looking for pub singers.

    Feeling extremely worried, my Mum was concerned that the entertainment business could lead me to a world of drugs, alcohol and prostitution.

    After much persuasion, I convinced Mum to make the trek to Federal Hotel for the audition. After I sang, the agent said to my Mum, “This girl is very talented and she will go far.”

    He requested Mum's permission to allow me to sing in a pub called The Shack in Petaling Jaya - that was my very first gig.

    After a few months, I was then moved to The Esquire in Damansara and it was here that I was first discovered by Michael Veerapan, the lead band member from a local multi-genre band called The Windjammer.

    He was on the look out for a female vocalist and after listening to my classic renditions, he said he liked the clarify of my voice. He would later pair me up with a solo singer called Royston St Maria, and it was hereon that we became known as 'Roy and Fran'.

    Being a non-Malay girl singing local Malay songs did have its ups and downs.

    At times, I have encountered some prejudice but amongst the Malay community, they were surprised that a non-Malay singer could carry Malay songs extremely well.

    Being a Chindian does have its challenges, where many incidents with regards to skin colour bias still happen till today.

    For some in the Chinese community, I am not light skin enough to be Chinese and for some in the Indian community, I am not dark skin enough to be Indian!

    At the end of the day, I have succumbed to the fact that skin colour does play a big part in the entertainment world.

    Many people, till this day, find it hard to believe that my sister Bibiana and I are sisters, as I am tanned and she is light skin.

    When asked, I have resorted to telling people, “I was born at night, and my sister was born during the day.”

    My Mum even had random people ask her if some of her children were her own. Feeling fed up with these seemingly insensitive questions, she had even turned her response into a joke and said, “I picked Fran from the garbage dumpster”. That usually shuts their mouth.

    At times when shopping, whether it was because of my skin colour or too-casual dressing, I often hear Chinese sales girls remark sarcastically in Cantonese, “This type won’t buy - no need to serve her, look at the skin colour and dressing.” They would follow me around thinking that I would shop lift and all this while, think that I could not understand what they were saying.

    Before I exit and if I had a chance, I would tell them in Cantonese, “Don’t think for a second I didn’t understand a word you said. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t be spending it here”.

    They would look at me in disbelief and embarrasment, as I walk away.

    After all these years hearing those comments, I have yet to hear any of them apologise for their snide remarks.

    Story of Francissca Peter for The Chindian Diaries
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