APRIL 5 — There are few ethnic Chinese mentioned in our history books as much as (Tun) Tan Cheng Lock, the founding president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA).
Students can’t avoid him in history lessons, but perhaps only there.
There is a primary government school using Mandarin, or as Malaysians are accustomed to, SJK(C), in Subang Jaya, Selangor. Named after the Melaka man.
However, there is no Malay medium school with his name, primary or secondary.
Sure, there is a major Kuala Lumpur road named after him, but is that commensurate to the level of recognition other Malaysians of similar status receive?
Am I being ungrateful for a primary school and a city road?
A Chinese school named after a Chinese, must surely be good enough? There are hundreds of them. There are no SJK(C) Tunku Abdul Rahman, though there is a University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR).
It’s what we name, and how we look at Malaysia and Malaysians which is heavily affected in this situation. That we end up saying what is truly national, is only for some Malaysians who are truly Malaysian.
Let’s examine the larger conundrum.
Schools, bases and bridges
It’s about more than just schools.
Government names parks, forest reserve, colleges, polytechnics, universities, military ships, army bases, markets, libraries, roads, stadiums, hills, towns, villages, roads, bridges and even highways under its purview, is there an adequate representation of non-Malays in the exercise?
And it’s very different naming a public property after someone, for the country is honouring a person.
Which is why a marked lack of honouring one half of Malaysia by Malaysia, raises eyebrows.
This is not mitigated by private institutions like Tan&Tan Tower and Hong Leong Bank which reflect commercial entities.
Further, it is a great time to bring this to the fore, as we enter a time of giving unmatched by Christmas, Raya and Chinese New Year put together — a general election.
The government is on charity-steroids, and most certainly head over heels with multiculturalism. All the way past polling day, Cabinet announcements and the first day of the new Dewan Rakyat till the opening salvo of the Umno party elections. Then it is back to Dulu, Kini dan Selama-lamanya.
It can do wonders in marginal seats, appeasing minorities.
For it costs very little but in exchange it bridges communities. Honouring those rarely honoured. Selangor honoured A.Arumugam with a road and stadium in his hometown.
I’m sure the prime minister can exceed this in the rest of the federation.
No quota, just decency
Let’s be clear too about what is being asked.
This is not to demand for a quota of public spaces and constructs to be named after non-Malays but to, in some instances, introduce them at all. For example, there are no ships or bases in the Malaysian navy named after a non-Malay, even if the first Malaysian navy chief is K. Thanabalasingam, an ethnic Sri Lankan Tamil.
I’d ask readers to cross-check the names of government men, ministers, chief judges, academic leaders, prominent sportsmen, and then the names of public spaces and constructs. The truth is self-evident, it is even not up for rebuttal.
This is not a call to remove names already adopted for parks, libraries, schools and many more, but to say, there are a substantial number of prominent Malaysians left out and there are enough options to exercise discretion for corrections. To give them what is due.
In fact, I daresay, those individuals whose names are already up because they were upstanding Malaysians, would support a petition that other equally upstanding Malaysians should be recognised just like them.
More than rhetoric
Who we honour shows who we want the young to remember, when they walk past parks or attend schools.
Having policies to associate non-Malays only to the domain of their communities alone, is a powerful even if sad statement.
Forcing questions like, did they build the country, or did they build their communities only?
Are these things only symbolic?
They are symbolic, but they are not only symbolic. They do practical things for identity and inclusion. And if they are limited gestures, why are they refused to so many deserving Malaysians?
A country is complex, it requires attention to symbols as much as benefits.
Much more sinister, these characters I am rooting for belong on the other side of my politics. Samy Vellu, Tan Siew Sin, Lim Chong Eu and the rest are Barisan Nasional (BN) icons.
At this juncture I am amazed the 13 BN coalition partners have not requested for more recognition for their own past leaders.
They can get benefits for their perceived constituency of race, but they can also gain pride for that segment.
It lends to diversity, not reduce it, and is that not the clarion call. Or are we one nation only in the election cycle?
How about that SMK Tan Cheng Lock?
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.