THE Malaysian identity is crammed into four categories: Malay, Chinese, Indian and lain lain (others).
What divides us, according to The Rojak Projek co-founder Lim Sheng Feiyan, is that we limit the non-Malays, non-Chinese and non-Indians to dan lain lain.
“In the earlier days, unity was advertised by showing the three races sitting or standing together. After many years, they added two more – Iban and Kadazandusun,” she said.
“Who are the dan lain lain in Malaysia?” she asked.
The Rojak Projek is a social enterprise that focuses on creating positive understanding and awareness by promoting our unity, culture and diversity.
In 2016, it embarked on a journey around the country to document young Malaysians rediscovering our ethnic and cultural diversity.
In the group’s travel, its members found that we are all rojak (mixed), which speaks of the beauty and diversity of the country. They realised that decades after Malaysia was formed, Malaysians were still ignorant of other Malaysians.
After travelling around Malaysia, it was an awakening for Lim to realise that there is no Malaysia without Sabah and Sarawak.
She pointed out that because people in Peninsular Malaysia mostly celebrate National Day on Aug 31, few understand that Malaysia Day commemorates the formation of the federation comprising Malaya, North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak and Singapore on Sept 16, 1963.
The Rojak Projek organised a Rojak Party (an excuse to meet Malaysians of different ethnicities) in the places they visited.
And the members discovered that the names or faces of those who attended the parties didn’t necessarily reflect their races.
“We assumed that a person is Malay due to his name. Nope! We were wrong! They had a mix of heritages we’d never thought of. They were Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Lunbawang, Lundayeh or Kadazandusun,” she said.
For Rachel Lee, another co-founder of The Rojak Projek, the biggest takeaway from her Malaysian journey was that “we are actually all the same in our hearts but are given extra value added in our culture and heritage”.
“I learnt that maybe this is where we start to define what it is to be Malaysian, a diverse people in a peaceful country with beautiful cultures united at heart,” she said.
What unites Malaysians, according to Lee, is “our brotherly and sisterly bond that is formed over our shared understanding and uniqueness in food, language and humour”.
“What divides us is power play and puppet-mastering. I don’t need to elaborate for most people to understand the undertones,” she said.
During her travels, Lee saw a collective narrative of stories and experiences that come up over and over again.
“Malaysians love each other from the heart. We know we are being divided. Unfortunately, most people feel hopeful yet helpless about it,” she added.
(The Rojak Projek has several events from Merdeka Day to Malaysia Day. To find out more, go to www.therojakprojek.com/phase-2.)
Also going around the country to meet Malaysians is the Projek57 team.
Co-founded by Collin Swee and Syed Sadiq Albar, Projek57 is a social enterprise inspired by the vision of many different kinds of people embracing each other, living and working well together in Malaysia.
According to Swee, one of the most powerful statements he heard from a Malaysian during Projek57’s journey throughout the country was this one: “I want to believe that there is hope. Give me something to hold on to. This is where my friends are. This is where my family is. This is my home.”
Said Swee, “This is the statement that kept us going during the most difficult periods for Projek57 before GE14. That we must not give up,” he said.
On Thursday, Projek57 launched in Kuala Lumpur its Unity Ribbon campaign, which is to remind Malaysians that unity is important.
“The message behind the ribbon is that no matter what your race or faith is, a lot of Malaysians share the same aspirations for the country, such as to have a country that is safe and free of corruption,” said Syed Sadiq.
It also organised a panel discussion titled Tak Kenal, Maka Tak Cinta (You Need to Know, to Love).
“The central theme of our unity dialogue was the importance of getting to know the people around us, to kenal (know). When we get to know people, there is an opportunity to connect and understand each other despite our differences. We need to make more time for such connections,” he said.
With the rise of technology, according to Syed Sadiq, everything is instant and we take for granted the things that are real. A true connection involves taking the time to understand one another, he said.
“People will always have opinions. Just because opinions are different, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. It just means there are different opinions.
“And when we understand and get to know one another, we get closer to that target of acceptance and realise that being different is okay,” he said.
“What’s more, we have always been so excited about emphasising how wonderful our differences are that we forget to celebrate our similarities. The wonderful fact is that as different as we are, there is much more that is similar.”
For instance, Syed Sadiq said, some of our pantang larang (abstinences) and traditions are commonly practised across the races. Like our kids not being allowed to play with an umbrella in the house because it will attract snakes or discouraging a woman from washing her hair during confinement, he added.
“We have so much more in common than we know,” he said.
To know other Malaysians is to love Malaysians, including the dan lain lain.
Did you find this article insightful?