|Malaysians Unique and United
"The melting pot or mixing
bowl images do not provide an adequate picture of Penang. The kaleidoscope,
with its shifting patterns of colourful pieces, overlapping sometimes to
make new shapes, some larger in one frame and smaller in others, offers a
better metaphor for Penang's multiethnic population and its changes over
Hayes Hoyt Old Penang
I decided to start off this short
essay on Hari Merdeka (also known as Hari Kebangsaan, National Day and
Independence Day) with a quote from Sarnia's book on Penang for two reasons:
one, Penang's cultural dynamics can be regarded a microcosm of the interaction
among the various races in Malaysia; two, because after 47 years of independence,
it is nothing short of miraculous that each and every race that make up the
Malaysian 'kaleidoscope' still maintain and practice their individual cultures
Some Malaysians have long
called for the abolishment of racial tags and just regard every citizen of
this country as Malaysian. In fact, I remember a white visitor from South
Africa being quite appalled when a form she was asked to fill in required
her to state her race. Perhaps she had forgotten in a moment that she was
in Malaysia. Her reaction could also have been due to the history of her
country, and what made her cringe when she was asked her state her race.
But after staying in Penang for a week, she observed how Penangites behaved
and slowly began to understand that defining people by race wasn't necessarily
a bad thing. She was also pleasantly surprised by the fact that she could
walk the streets at night without any violent incident. But that is another
And therein lies the unique
experience of being a citizen of this country, where one can proudly proclaim
one's roots, on the one hand, be it Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Eurasian,
Arab, Thai or Burmese, and on the other, remain fiercely and passionately
patriotic about being a Malaysian. Which comes first? In Malaysia, such petty
concerns do not matter, because 47 years of living together have taught people
how to strike the right symbiosis and balance the two perfectly, like the
Chinese yin and yang. They feel equally at home enjoying rendang one day,
laksa the next, and dosei the day after.
Take me for example. I
am a product of a mixed marriage and I have always regarded my duality as
a unique gift. I refuse to be shoehorned into being completely one or the
other. Why should I when the blood that runs in my body comes from two different
sources? I'm not a scientist, but I daresay that even from a biological
standpoint, my DNA or whatever it is that makes me what I am, would be equal
parts Malay and Chinese!
Some experts (doom clucking
ones, no doubt) predict that the soon-to-happen borderless world will render
racial categorizations meaningless. Granted that the end result may be that
you achieve oneness, but isn't it also true that at the same time you lose
what it is that makes you different and unique? Even in America where its
citizens are known collectively as Americans, pride in one's heritage is
still very much evident - notice how some quarters proudly describe themselves
as Italian American, American Chinese or African (Afro) American? You can
blur lines in an attempt to blend one and all in a huge melting pot but you
can't neglect your roots for as long as you live and breathe.
I once asked a Chinese
friend who spent some time in America if Chinese New Year was a big holiday
there. She seemed rather surprised by my question but admitted, with a tinge
of regret in her voice, that it was not a big thing there. Her response got
me wondering. Can you imagine Chinese New Year as nothing more than just
another passing day? Or Thaipusam without the kavadi processions?
So how on earth do you
define a true Malaysian? Does he even exist? The answer is both yes and no.
Yes, because every citizen in this country has a right to call himself a
Malaysian, and no because without his roots, he becomes little more than
a hollow shell, non-descript and bereft of soul.
Come Hari Merdeka, fly
the flag with gusto. Be proud of your heritage and your roots. We may come
from different cultures but we are all brothers under the same skin. Be unique
and yet united at the same time.
For Merdeka this year,
Information Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir urged Malaysians
to fly the Jalur Gemilang (otherwise more commonly known as the Malaysian
flag) during the early days of August to show their patriotism.
This year's Merdeka eve
celebration and parade will be held in Kuantan, Pahang while Prime Minister
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is slated to launch the Merdeka Month
celebration in Ipoh, Perak.
Kadir said programmes like
Ambang Merdeka, the National Day parade and national-level religious events
would be televised live as in previous years.
The Merdeka Month bash
is open to all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion and political ideology,
as the country's independence was attained with the cooperation of all races.
Incidentally, this is the
first Merdeka with Badawi as Prime Minister.