By Rashmira P.Thiagarajan
Advance Tertiary College, Penang
First prize winner, Category B
Asli-Star Merdeka Essay Writing Competition 2017
“Oh, which part of India are you from?”
“No, I’m actually from Malaysia.”
“Then why didn’t you say so?”
Undeniably, that query from a Dutch couple I met on my recent trip abroad struck a chord in me. Why didn’t I introduce myself as Malaysian? What prompted me to identify myself based of my ancestral backgrounds rather than the place I was born, raised, and have been calling home for the last twenty years?
As far as I can tell, I crave for extra sambal on my nasi lemak in the mornings, have friends who berate me in multiple languages when I am late to our mamak gatherings and have a tendency to relate every elderly man I meet to my family by addressing him as “uncle” (aunties too). So it is without question that I am Malaysian through and through.
But ever since I left school three years ago, a place where Monday assemblies were synonymous with the singing of the national anthem and recitations of the Rukun Negara, I have felt disconnected. When you no longer have visual cues, such as the waving Jalur Gemilang as you pass by your school field every other day, what other signals do we have left to symbolise our connection to the nation?
How does one remember that we belong?
These questions are anything but exclusive, much pondered upon by my fellow Malaysian millenials. For you see, we weren’t there when our forefathers fought and developed our nation. These tales of struggle and patriotism are distant and only familiar through the pages of history textbooks, that to us now, it seems to have happened a 100 years ago. As such, the youth of our times struggle with an “identity crisis” and the problem is no mere lint that can be easily brushed aside.
From the same textbooks we learn that the golden thread running through Malaysian history keeping our people together has been the spirit of unity. This spirit stems from a common identity that we are all as of 1963, Malaysians and it is the one thing that prevents our peaceful country tearing at the seams. Without it; our differences become lethal cyanide capable of destroying our current existence inside out. With it; these distinctions are the greatest weapons in our arsenal!
The 2017 SEA Games that has us roaring louder than Malayan tigers is testimony to our strength in being united. Emerging overall victors, our very colourful and diverse Malaysian athletes made achieving 145 gold medals seem like basic target practice. Yet, we all know that each bulls-eye was first an arrow of grit, resilience and perseverance in doing our nation proud. This event was a peephole into greater things a united Malaysia would be able to achieve given time.
Thus it pains me to see such promise being tainted by people who can’t seem to see this bigger picture, so narrow is their sight and mind. Call them what you will, fanatics,extremists or highly opinionated, their pursuit of certain and often shallow minded thinking threatens our fragile harmony. Fueled with this mentality they bang against pillars to have them heard, not knowing their bare fists are shaking the foundations of what our country is built on, splitting apart our people who now think they have to choose sides. Some do it more subtly where their ideas recently bubbled in the unlikely place of a soapy laundromat. Let’s just say that most of us slipped in disbelief.
When you have people who are hell bent on discriminating one another for their differences (made up or otherwise), it pushes away others who might not fit into their club. We stand outside looking in and social media being one of the many windows, shows us how our fellow citizens, our so called family, have now made us “homeless”. If we don’t respect one another with not only tolerance but also open-hearted understanding, it is going to make it very difficult for all of us to share a single roof.
Therefore, picking up the lint, I strongly believe that unity comes after everyone of this country, old and young, identify as Malaysian first. I especially call to my gen X and Z comrades when I say that we can redefine what it means to be Malaysian and create the identity that extremism is trying to take away from us through their false interpretations.
The true meaning in being Malaysian is in practicing moderation. Moderation ensures that we have the freedom to live as we choose without the oppression of someone else’s extreme opinions. It allows for us to believe what we will without having someone else dictate which of those believes and faiths are right and wrong. At the same time it calls for these behaviors and believes to have extents as to not have the excess evade the rights of another. In essence, moderation is practicing self control in our day to day living which calls for mutual respect, tolerance and a whole lot of understanding.
So to answer my first question, one remembers that we belong because of this identity of moderation we carry with us, more so than with our blue IC. It forms a bond between the people by reminding us of our shared past that has brought us here and hopefully, inspiring us towards a united and prosperous future.
As for my love of this country (which extends but is not limited to the good food), the next time someone asks, I am sure to answer without doubt when I say “I’m Malaysian”.
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