JANUARY 23 — Question. Malaysia needs its Chinese population to retain its Malaysian characteristics?
This is asked not to bruise further our fragile sense of togetherness but to examine our relationship as a people. To locate our compassion or to rediscover our love — if there ever was — for each other.
Much has been said these past months about race. Feelings have been hurt, and accusations traded on who’s a patriot or not. It drains the national psyche at a time the country requires all on board and ready for duty.
We can’t persist down this sordid self-defeating road which eviscerates our souls. Not without destroying ourselves, this current trajectory of questioning our value to our own country.
Bogeymen dancing at every corner. Irrational fearmongering.
Fears built on the premise one group of Malaysians seek to displace another on the basis of race.
Holidays offer us time, to retrace our steps and reconsider our actions. We ought to embrace the opportunity this Chinese New Year gives us.
Because we’ll all be here still when the leave days end. While these problems cripple us, being upset about them doesn’t scrub them away.
Race’s omniscience in this federation looms large over us.
From local think, rights allocations, election punditry, sporting success — sexual prowess, no? — to ownership, it’s the unholy centre of our public discourses.
Even the value of a column — apologies — and its intention can be determined by race, presumably.
Let’s carve this turkey.
Race explains a portion of all things, but it is not the be-all and end-all of any one thing or all things.
Colonial studies lay bare example after example of how complete outsiders ousted leaders and demolished societies by pitting brother against brother.
They equally inform on how colour was adopted above guns to keep the natives quiet. To maintain disquiet by building on suspicion borne from race — and its close cousin, religion.
Race relations is a two-way street, therefore why the attention to the Chinese? Why does the conversation lean hard on one community, rather than all the communities?
Silver medal folly
Second place in an ethnic-driven society promotes the Chinese as the primary competition to first place, Malays.
More than one in five citizens are Chinese and they dominate business. And they demand their own exclusive space in education and culture. The closest competition in a plain read become the object to underline inequalities. Real and perceived.
Thus, the utilitarian question, how much of Malaysia’s soul is Chinese that it’s worth sacrificing to have them here?
China is a state of mind
It might be incredulous to suggest, but both right wings — Chinese and Malay — agree on this.
To the Chinese educationist, one can be truly Chinese first by prioritising Chinese-ness in upbringing, including mental training, even if thousands of miles from mainland China.
To the Malay reductionist, a Chinese is always Chinese first by birth-right, and they’re wired to oppress the numerically superior yet strategically outflanked majority race.
To both, it’s better that way. Battle-lines are important if you’re convinced you’re in battle.
More can be said of this predicament — for another day — but the greatest pity however is it disservices Chinese Malaysians by disconnecting them from the mothership.
The hard-fought isolation separates most Chinese from other Malaysians.
For the flipside of cultural prioritisation is segregation.
At this juncture, vernacular educationists point to the high non-Chinese enrolment in SJKCs, but it’s nonetheless a Chinese space attended by non-Chinese.
The guests gain immeasurably but the Chinese in those zones find their ethnicity’s self-import amplified and barred from greater Malaysia.
Immersion requires access and mobility, and separate but equal systems of education are ultimately destructive even if well-intentioned.
Our multiculturalism, which brings two of the world’s largest peoples into one country, is a resplendent spectacle.
To the rest of the world it’s the pinnacle of the globe being as one with little fuss. We appreciate the plaudits but locals realise the daily toil to keep the boat sailing. Even when those among us try to set fire to the sails.
Our dishes, cakes and dances tell part of the story, as the yee sang at reunion dinners are accompanied by mandarin oranges while teenagers set up the firecrackers for the lion dancers.
Should that ever end?
The loss of the unique Chinese culture developed here through our Malaysian experience would be catastrophic. Because it’s not Chinese, it’s Malaysian Chinese culture. Same reason why no Chinese city has my Pudu Pasar standard curry mee.
Time to protect our heritage
The call here is for Malaysians with the strength and conviction to act.
Most react, but the clarion call is to those who lead. Whether resident associations, student collectives or pensioners' social clubs, those who choose to lead can lead and affect the many.
To speak unashamedly of the pride they possess for Malaysia and being part of the Malaysian story. All the cultures and all of its people.
And to be aware of the third group and counter them, those who profit from the reactions of the ill-informed. The scheming reincarnations of Iago, Cassius, snake in the Garden of Eden or even Emperor Palpatine himself. Planting the seeds of discontent so their wealth and fame multiply.
But yes, an end before greetings.
The answer to the opening questioning is yes. The Malaysian identity, its character has long morphed with Chinese Malaysians. To describe them is to describe Malaysia. To deny them, is to deny Malaysia.
It’s long overdue, love for the Malaysian without care for his skin colour.
Gong Xi Fa Cai to all Malaysians, it’s a new year. Perhaps even a new dawn, if you want it to be so.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.