Which is more important to Malaysians - Ethnicity or nationality?


  • Family
  • Sunday, 08 Feb 2015

Are Malaysians more concerned about their ethnic roots than their nationality? Star2 looks to the people for answers.

The decision by the Sabah Cabinet to do away with the “Dan Lain Lain” option in the race section of official forms has been lauded as a step in the right direction for the sake of unity by many Malaysians.

Now, members of indigenous communities are allowed to specify their ethnicity, an endeavour originally adopted by Sarawak, which means the Kadazandusun, Bajau, Iban and Bidayuh tribes, among others, can now state their ethnicity loud and proud. Of course, the “Melayu”, “Cina” and “India” options still exist. So, questions still beg to be answered: since we’re all Malaysian by nationality, what need is there for us to be identified by our ethnic makeup? Doesn’t this go against the grain of the 1Malaysia ethos? And what does it all say for the Malaysian identity?

A street poll revealed a mixed bag of opinions and some ingenious ideas on how the nation can truly come together, instead of being subjected to divisive details.

Raffi Thng, 24: If for example, an Indian won an international competition, it should be of national pride, instead of an Indian-Malaysian thing, right? We’re all Malaysians, that’s far more important than what race and religion we are.

Operations manager Yuwaraj Kumar Balakrishnan, 36, views this as an important milestone, feeling it bodes well for the minority in getting due recognition.

“If you wish to divide by ethnicity, then by all means include everyone in the list or just remove it. There should not be partial identification and ‘dumping’ the rest as ‘lain lain’,” he asserted.

The good in this move is apparent to marketing executive S. Tarsh, 24, who feels certain ethnic communities stand to benefit. “This will preserve each group’s special demands and needs in the community, instead of being rounded up as a whole, where specific needs could easily be overlooked,” she said.

Some opine that the move exhibits that the identity and history of Sabahans and Sarawakians have been added as an afterthought to the history of Malaysia.

While lecturer Catalina Rembuyan, 32, sees a positive in this recent development, she finds it hard to ignore a potentially underlying ulterior motive; “I suspect that most of it is politically motivated, an attempt by political parties to capture the heartlands of Sabah and Sarawak that have long felt neglected by the Federal Government and West Malaysian dominance in general.”

Yuwaraj Kumar Balakrishnan, 36: If you wish to divide by ethnicity, then by all means include everyone in the list or just remove it.

Malaysians feel the question of filling in race or religion in an official form is irrelevant and inconsequential to any type of application, unless religious in nature. “We are Malaysians, so the question of ethnicity, race or religion should not even arise. Isn’t it true that united we stand, divided we fall?” questioned retired pharmacist R. Narayanan, 77.

YouTuber Raffi Thng, 24, echoes Narayanan’s sentiment, debating the need for ethnic identification.

“If for example, an Indian won an international competition, it should be of national pride, instead of an Indian-Malaysian thing, right? We’re all Malaysians, that’s far more important than what race and religion we are,” he said.

After all, haven’t we all celebrated Datuk Nicol David’s success as the longest reigning squash queen in the world, or Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s many successes, even his silver medal at the Olympics against China’s Lin Dan? Or even our Harimau Malaya bagging the Suzuki Cup in 2010?

Lecturer Winston Lim, 38, has reservations on collating data in this manner, saying it leaves room for unscrupulous manipulation. “Our ethnicity or our religious convictions should not be quantified and put into some form of data, computed, and this data used against us in any way. As long as we are law-abiding Malaysian citizens, and each person is culturally aware of his or her upbringing and roots, it should not be used or abused in any way,” he said.

Winston Lim, 38: Our ethnicity or our religious convictions should not be quantified and put into some form of data, computed, and this data used against us in any way.

Opinions might vary on the need for the inclusion of race in official forms, but Malaysians are single-minded and on the same page where the desire for true unity is concerned.

“Anyone can be a true Malaysian, people from any race or background. A true Malaysian is someone who applies Malaysian values in their everyday living,” said architecture student Jervinn Lim, 24.

Retired chartered accountant S. Santha, 61, is compelled to think likewise of the Malaysian identity. “Basically, someone who is comfortable in a multiracial society is a true Malaysian.

“After all, we are all similar in nature, just ‘different’ because of our cultural and ethnic backgrounds,” she said.

“I always think of myself as Malaysian first. I was born and bred a Malaysian although ethnically, I am Chinese. I married a Malay and that makes my children half Chinese and half Malay. This makes us all more insistent in wanting to identify ourselves as Malaysians,” said home-maker Nurazah Yong, 55.

The aspiration to be a true Malaysian invariably means we are unafraid and accepting of the religions and practices of the various ethnic communities who have been woven into the fabric of Malaysia.

“A true Malaysian should be someone who not only understands other cultures, but also embraces and takes part in their practices. It is about solidarity and the desire to defend one another against inevitable problems that we face,” said Siron Pereira, 26, director of Training and Development of the Malaysian Institute for Debate and Public Speaking.

Nazlin Amirudin, 21: ‘I think that teaching kids in school that all the stereotypes are not true, or through activities that don’t alienate one race from another, is the way to go.’ 

So, how does Malaysia head towards being a nation that celebrates its differences instead of one that’s divided by it?

“I think that teaching kids in school that all the stereotypes are not true, or through activities that don’t alienate one race from another, is the way to go. I also think we have to start with the young for it to really work and have full effect,” suggested communications student Nazlin Amirudin, 21.

Real estate negotiator Nigel Lin, 24, believes that with all Malaysians accorded equal opportunity, the nation could genuinely progress in the name of national unity. “If the day comes where we are judged by our abilities rather than our skin colour, Malaysia would have finally made use of its greatest asset: our diversity,” he said.

The various ethnic groups in this country will and should always embrace their culture, be it language, the arts or food, but this diversity is a source of celebration, rather than separation. And while they distinguish us from one another, they also bring us closer together.

Don’t most of us add the suffix “lah” at the end of our sentences? Don’t we all enjoy nasi lemak, char koay teow, thosai and otak-otak? We might be less of a melting pot and more a salad bowl, but salads are recognised as healthy meals, so there’s definitely cause for celebration.

Next: Salad bowl or melting pot? -->


Salad bowl or melting pot?

The cultural metaphor of a “melting pot” came about in 1783 when a Frenchman called Crèvecoeur answered the question “What is American?” by saying “Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of men”. The term “melting pot” was later coined by Israel Zangwill in his play The Melting Pot in 1908, which illustrated how people from different nations all “melted” together into the larger American society. In a melting pot, all the ingredients melt down into something new.

The “salad bowl” metaphor, on the other hand, refers to an immigrant possessing both an ethnic identity and a national identity. In the “salad bowl” each culture retains its own distinct qualities (e.g. the romaine lettuce, croutons, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, egg), but has a sense of common national identity in the country of habitat (the Caesar salad). In the salad bowl example, distinct cultures do not merge into a single homogeneous culture.

So what do you think we are? And what should we strive to be?

Send your thoughts to star2@thestar.com.my

Source: NDLA.no, wikipedia


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