Obama: Draw strength from ethnic, religious diversity for better future


  • Nation
  • Saturday, 26 Apr 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: The US and Malaysia can draw strength from their ethnic and religious diversity and hope from history to carve a brighter future for the next generation, President Barack Obama said.

In his remarks at a state banquet hosted at Istana Negara in conjunction with his three-day state visit to Malaysia, Obama noted that while the US and Malaysia may be different as nations, their people shared similar hopes and aspirations.

"I believe that whether we come from a remote village or a big city, whether we live in the United States or in Malaysia, we all share basic human aspirations - to live in dignity and peace.

"(We want) to shape our own destiny, to be able to make a living and to work hard and support a family. And most of all, to leave the next generation something better than what was left to us," he said.

At the banquet graced by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Hajah Haminah, Obama said these were the aspirations that can illuminate a new era of partnership between the US and Malaysia.

The American leader sprinkled his remarks with a few Malay words, a gesture that was well received by the audience, as shown by their appreciative applause.

At the start of the speech, he wished those present "selamat petang" (good evening) and ended it with "terima kasih banyak" (thank you very much).

In between, he used the word "bekerjasama" when touching on the partnership between the US and Malaysia, as well as "boleh spirit" in reference to the "Malaysia Boleh" mantra which loosely translates as "Malaysia Can Do It".

Obama flew into Kuala Lumpur at about 5pm Saturday for the visit to Malaysia as part of his four-nation tour of Asia that started in Japan followed by South Korea while his final stop is the Philippines.

His trip here was the first by a sitting US president in 48 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson's trip back in 1966. 

Recalling Johnson's trip here nearly 50 years ago, Obama said the former president had written in his memoirs "of how impressed he was by the extraordinary vitality and eagerness he saw in the faces of people here and throughout Southeast Asia". 

 "And I'm eager to see that same 'boleh' spirit tomorrow when I have the opportunity to speak with young people from across Southeast Asia at Universiti Malaya," Obama said at the event which was also attended by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor. 

Turning to Najib, he said: "Mr Prime Minister, I look forward to our work together, and I pledge to infuse our efforts with that same spirit.

 "Tonight, I simply want to express my gratitude for the generosity that you've shown us today a generosity the people of Malaysia have extended to my family since I was elected (as president)." 

Obama also shared with his audience an episode in his life, relating to his mother's love for batik, a material that is common to Malaysians.

The president alluded to a batik exhibition showcasing some of his mother's batik collection organised at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia two years ago.

 "My mother loved batik. I remember when I was a boy growing up in Jakarta, she'd come home from village markets with her arms full of batik and she'd lay them around the house and look at them, and make dresses out of them," he said.

 "And I was a young boy so I wasn't as excited as she was," he quipped, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Obama pointed out that for his mother, batik was not about fashion but was representative of the work and the livelihood of mothers and young women who had painstakingly crafted them.

 "It was a window into the lives of others their culture, and their tradition, and their hopes. And it meant so much to her and it was part of her spirit.

 "And so I'm deeply grateful to the people of Malaysia for celebrating that part of my mother's life. It was very kind of you," Obama said.
He took the opportunity to say thank you for the "extraordinary hospitality" shown towards him and his delegation.

 "And on behalf of my country, I want to thank the Malaysian people for the wonderful welcome that you extended to us today," he said, expressing his delight at being able to make the historic visit to Malaysia.


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