When I was at Phuket, these questions came back to me. I know that all citizens in Thailand considered themselves to be Thai, regardless of who they are or where they are from. It reminds me of the situation I faced when I was having my exchange year in Switzerland. Whenever someone asked ‘Where are you from?’, I would answer ‘Malaysia’, which only led to the next question ‘Ah, so you are a Malay?’ and I would say ‘No no, I am a Chinese.’. That is the moment they would give me a weird and confused look, then they would either ask ‘But you said you are from Malaysia…’ or ‘Oh, so you are from China?’ and finally I would say ‘I am a Malaysian Chinese.’. After a few times of experiencing the same scenario, I just said ‘I am a Malaysian’ which saved all the troubles explaining, unless they asked.
Undeniably, we have been categorized since young in Malaysia. Whatever forms that we fill up, we are asked about our race and religion. It has been common to just say I am Chinese or Malay or Indian or etc, instead of Malaysian. Although I was born in Malaysia, I am not very patriotic. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like home. Being brought up in a state with only less than 5% of Chinese makes it worse. The unfairness was obvious and we could sense the prejudice. It is considered very lucky if the other minority races are given a chance to represent the state in any competitions! Unlike competitions like public speaking and debates, sports are usually the only transparent and fair competition for all as the judges can’t say that you are not the winner when you crossed the finishing line first or when you jumped the highest! But for the rest, it is usually very abstract and the judges decide who wins.
People always say go out and have more exposure as it helps you to see things from different perspectives! During my one year in Switzerland, I had the opportunity to learn and experience a foreign culture, life, language and etc. More important is I started to see our Malaysian’s culture and life from a different view. As I mixed around with students from other countries, I realised one thing. People from other countries usually considered themselves to be the citizen of a country, for example, people from Switzerland are Swiss, regardless of their race or origin.
I don’t really get it why is the difference so obvious in Malaysia? I thought being born in Malaysia, we are all Malaysians and shouldn’t we all deserve the same thing and have the same rights? Wouldn’t it be fair not to have quota for every races and start treating all Malaysians with equal opportunity? There are times I feel blessed being a Malaysian. We don’t have natural disasters here or crazy terrorism going around. Despite all the differences, we do learn to live in harmony. Well, give and take! But wouldn’t it be better if we put aside our race and treat everyone fairly and equally? I met up with a few of my relatives who migrated to Australia centuries ago. It was when we brought up the topic discrimination that they mentioned that in Australia, they are not asked for their race when they fill up any forms. In Malaysia, we still do. That is the reason why we are so particular about our names even though it is just a name for others to know who we are. The moment we see a name, we would definitely know the race of a person.
When I first heard of 1 Malaysia, it is indeed wonderful! As usual, it is always easier said than done. There is so much more to do to create unity among Malaysians than just shouting ‘1 Malaysia’. Being on the bright side, I believe that most Malaysians are open-minded nowadays. It might take years or centuries for us not to be labelled based on our race but it is our race that defines who we are. I love being a Malaysian as I can experience the cultures and celebrate festivals of other races! The best part is we actually have all kind of delicious food and more public holidays!
All I can say is I see things differently now as I used to when I was younger. I do not blame the government for not giving us more opportunities because we can always work for something we truly want. The satisfaction of gaining something though our own efforts is greater than receiving it for free! When there is a will, there is always a way!