Making the best of both worlds


Amirah: Through empathy and understanding, we can create a more inclusive society.

WHO am I?

Growing up, I always felt torn between two worlds: my father’s Indian heritage and my mother’s Melanau roots.

While this unique cultural tapestry gifted me with a plethora of enriching experiences, it also presented complexities as I constantly found it difficult to define my identity.

For years, I struggled with the feeling of not belonging, of being a stranger in my own skin.

As a child, I found myself unable to explain my background. It was tiring having to answer the same question repeatedly and being unable to find an acceptable response.

The initial reaction from most people I met was scepticism. They looked at me and asked, “Are you Malaysian? Where are you from?”

“I am Malaysian.”

“You do not look Malaysian.”

I would reply with a practised smile, “Really?”

Each time, they would ask, “Where are you actually from?”

I would answer again, “Malaysia is my home country. I was born and raised in Sarawak.”

Often, this would lead to further confusion, and they would start guessing where my parents and ancestors originated from.

Other times, they would stubbornly assume that I’m Malay even after countless explanations. I could only sigh and mutter, “It’s complicated.”

At school, I was labelled as “different” because of my mixed heritage, while at family gatherings, I sometimes felt like an outsider because I couldn’t fully relate to either side of my extended family.

My younger self felt excluded due to her limited fluency in Tamil and the Melanau dialect. These experiences left me feeling fragmented, as if I didn’t belong anywhere.

The pressure to choose between my Indian and Melanau identities only compounded my confusion, leaving me questioning who I truly was.

Maturing, I realised that my identity is not a one-size-fits-all definition. I began to understand that my dual cultural background was not a source of conflict, but rather a source of strength.

I learnt to embrace my uniqueness instead of downplaying my differences by rejecting my background.

With this newfound understanding came a sense of empowerment. I realised that I didn’t have to choose between being Indian or Melanau; I could just be both.

I started embracing aspects of both cultures in my daily life, from participating in Deepavali festivities to celebrating Pesta Kaul with my extended family.

I also began to incorporate elements of each culture into my usual day-to-day outfits. Embracing both sides of my heritage allowed me to embrace my authentic self, free from the constraints of societal expectations.

I found myself opening up to the beauty of diversity in all its forms. I began to appreciate the richness of Malaysia’s cultural tapestry, seeing it not as a source of division, but as a source of unity.

I found joy in sharing my experiences with others, whether through storytelling, food or music. Through celebration, I found a connection with my family, community and country.

My journey is not wholly unique. It is a shared experience among many Malaysians who, like me, straddle two or more cultural worlds.

In a country as diverse as Malaysia, our multicultural identity is our greatest strength; it is a testament to our ability to embrace differences and find common ground.

Our identities are complex, shaped by a myriad of factors, including culture, heritage and personal experience.

Through empathy and understanding, we can create a more inclusive society, one that celebrates the richness of our diverse backgrounds and embraces the beauty of our shared humanity.

I have found liberation from the confines of societal expectations and from the pressure to conform to a single identity.

I am Indian. I am Melanau. I am Malaysian. And I am proud of the tapestry of cultures that make me who I am.

Amirah, 17, a student in Sarawak, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. For updates on the BRATs programme, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

With the theme of the article in mind, carry out the following English language activities.

1. How much do you know about your cultural background? List as much information as you can, including language, food, clothing, music and customs. Then, present it to your friends.

2. Malaysia is a melting pot of diverse cultures. What is another Malaysian culture that you can introduce to a foreign friend? Write an email to him or her.

The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

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BRATs , Star-NiE

   

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