Malaysians in US mark a new beginning

PETALING JAYA: Like many Malaysians living in the United States, lawyer Martina Sagayam felt a huge sense of relief when the inauguration of President Joe Biden was completed without any of the dramatic scenes recently seen in the country.

“There was so much tension and discord leading up to the inauguration, so it was gratifying to experience an uninterrupted and momentous event that takes place every four years in American history, ” said the 50-year-old attorney.Martina SagayamMartina Sagayam

She said there were concerns about disturbances occurring during the inauguration, which led to heightened security in many cities.

“I live in Minneapolis, where George Floyd’s death occurred, but thankfully, there have been no reports of violence here, ” she said.

A massive security presence took over parts of Washington DC this week as Biden was sworn in on Wednesday at the US Capitol.

Kamala Harris was sworn in minutes before Biden as the nation’s Vice-President, becoming the first woman, first African-American and first Asian-American to serve in the post.

Extra security precautions were taken in the wake of pro-Trump supporters conducting a deadly mob attack on the US Capitol building earlier this month during a joint session of Congress.

Anuar Fariz Fadzil, 40, a Malaysian living in Washington DC, said the ceremony marked a new beginning, despite the Biden administration starting in the midst of a global pandemic and rising national tensions.

“You can’t help but compare this year’s inauguration with the last ceremony, ” said Anuar.

“President Biden’s inauguration ceremony showcased hope, inclusivity and dignity – a constant message during his election campaign.

“It was also a stark contrast to his predecessor’s scandal plagued single term, whose inaugural speech was dark and defiant, pledging to end ‘American Carnage’.”Anuar Fariz FadzilAnuar Fariz Fadzil

Anuar added that the usual pomp and ceremony of the inauguration was missing amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and increased security.

“Certain traditions such as the parade was carried out without any spectators present, there was no inaugural luncheon at Statuary Hall in the Capitol, and crowds were discouraged to gather for the inauguration, ” he added.

The other major break from tradition this year is the absence of Donald Trump. The outgoing president did not take part in the symbolic transition from one administration to the next.

Malaysian retiree Gangadaran Arumugam, 75, who also witnessed the inauguration of two prior presidents – Barack Obama in 2013 and Trump in 2017 – said this year’s event might have been much quieter, but it was equally significant.

“I was most impressed when Kamala Harris became the first woman VP, being a person of colour, specifically with South Asian heritage, ” said Ganga.

“It was truly a historic moment to see such representation among top elected US officials.”

Ganga also found Biden’s speech to be very memorable.

“The emphasis Biden placed on fostering unity, equality, and cooperation was inspiring. It would be great to see him practice what he preaches and move the nation forward to become more progressive and inclusive.”

The phrase from Biden’s first address as president that stood out to Ganga the most: “Let us end this uncivil war.”

Being a former history teacher, Ganga said this was a strong yet meaningful choice of words, marking the severity of the current political climate in the country.

Malaysian tech consultant Paggie Tan, who lives in New York City, said she was happy Biden won the election and likened it as “taking off your contacts at the end of a very long day”.

“A major sigh of relief and liberation. The streets, this time, literally sung with cheers, champagne popping, and the clanging of pots and pans, ” she said.

She hopes that ties between Malaysia and the US will continue to be strengthened.

“I think this speaks for both bidirectional diplomatic relations and the larger immigration landscape. We have tonnes of international students and workers who gave up a lot to be here but yet can never take our time here for granted, especially last year.

“It is difficult to find your place in a country when you’re waking up to new immigration measures.

“I hope that with this administration, people who call America their temporary home can feel less afraid every time they cross customs at the airport, ” she said.

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