I had originally planned for this post to go up this morning but I was a bit apprehensive. What if, I thought, I spoke too soon?
After all, following the events of the past week – particularly in the couple of days after the end of the 13th General Elections – there was a lot of chatter on social media, and on the ground, about the fear history might repeat itself.
I am glad, however, that it is past 10pm now on May 13, 2013 and there has been no reports to my knowledge of any major occurrences due to racial tensions.
Perhaps I was silly to think this way. While I didn’t stock up “just in case” and went around telling everyone not to be silly thinking something will happen, there was this nagging “what if” at the back of my head.
Now, I sit here writing this post wondering where this fear came from. After all, I come from the post-May 13 generation which meant I never lived through it – I wasn’t even born. If people didn’t talk about it, I would not have known anything else about the incident other than what was written in our textbooks in school. How then, was I grappled by the fear of something that I’ve never encountered in my life?
I suspect that it was the way in which we learned about it. In school, we never discussed it much. Heck, for many years, I didn’t actually know what happened. All I know was that it was a very dark day in our country’s history. It wasn’t until I was much older, and took the initiative to read up on it myself, did I have a clearer picture of what happened.
Perhaps it’s not even the fault of the teacher or the subject. I think that for me, as a young person, I couldn’t comprehend the idea that Malaysia ever could have encountered such an incident. After all, some of my closest friends were people of other races. My teacher used to joke, in our class, that me and my friends – Daniel, Hailme, Ju Leong and Siveguru – were like Barisan Nasional.
But there’s more to it and this video, which I encountered via Facebook today, reminded me why.
You see, while I’ve been told of the horrors of the incident, I have also heard many positive things that came out from it. The story in the video above wasn’t strange to me because I grew up with a similar story. While my dad was not actually in KL on the actual day, he and a Malay friend were outside the university during the curfew in the following days of the incident which meant that they were locked out.
There was some fear of course, but they were good friends and made a pact – if at all they were to be hassled by anyone, each would stand up for the other. They defined themselves, first and foremost, as friends before their skin colour.
That story has been clearly embedded in my head since I was a child. I recall, even at a young age, that their behaviour was something to be proud of and I tell people of this story every time we talk about May 13. It was also by that philosophy that I try to live my life by, and while I wouldn’t want to speak for them, I believe that my sisters too feel the same.
After all, they both chose life partners of different races and their children – three between the two of them – are the products of such thinking. While Sara, Adam and Ali’s birth certificates and MyKads may define them by a particular race, they truly are children of Malaysia – the first two are of Malay-Chinese parentage while the third is a mix of Punjabi-Malay-Chinese.
When I look at them, I wonder about the race-based politics we practice in Malaysia and become optimistic about the future because there will come a time – and we’re already seeing this – when you cannot define a person by a particular heritage because people will be increasingly mixed. And this is not just about my generation – I have many cousins who are not like me with parents of the same ethnicity. I have cousins with Malay, Indian, Pakistani, Caucasian (Irish, Swedish, Australian and British among others) blood mixed with my Chinese relatives (either their mums or dads).
Unfortunately, my niece and nephews is not growing up in the same situation my siblings and I did. Yes, we will still share our stories and yes, they will understand diversity as a natural thing because it is in their genes but they are constantly told these days that we are more different than we are similar, and that it is okay to view each other through racial lenses.
Which is why it offended me so much to see such racially-sensitive sentiments to be uttered by certain people and media last week, and why I couldn’t take it all sitting down. I didn’t believe for a second that their Malaysia was the Malaysia I grew up in, and I refuse to allow my Malaysia to be usurped by theirs.
For me, this was the main reason why I joined my friends Zain HD and Juana Jaafar to put together last weekend’s #SayaMahu Picnic event which saw about 200 people come together to commemorate our diversity and unity by celebrating our Jalur Gemilang. You can read a report here and watch the video below.
The day before the event, I also joined my friends Jonson Chong and Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir in mobilising almost 70 personalities to endorse a statement that was drafted to speak against the racist sentiments that were coming to light last week. I shared the statement and the list of people who endorsed it in a previous blogpost.
These are little efforts but for me, and for the reasons above, they mean a lot. Over the past week, we have also seen several other campaigns – most visible are the ones activated via social media – which took the same stand as my friends and I.
I have always been proud of being a Malaysian, and it warms my heart that my Malaysia is the same as so many others. For me, there should really only be one Malaysia – one that encourages diversity, celebrates unity and most of all, one which accepts that while we may all be different – and make no mistake, we are – we are also all the same.
Note: I hope Dato’ Lat doesn’t mind me “borrowing” his drawing above but I just felt like it needed to be shared!
10.55pm Malaysian time (+8 GMT)