Diversity is a beautiful thing; if we can accept or even encourage it, it can result in a richness that no one culture can achieve on its own, says Shanti Sandosham.
The feeling of belonging in a society is crucial to being a ‘somebody’ in this world.
Growing up is not easy, as this is when we discover our identity and learn how we are to behave. Not fitting in can be troubling, but not belonging to one culture or heritage (growing up in the race-conscious country that is Malaysia), I have felt all the more isolated and alone.
While my friends had the culture of their race and religion, I didn’t fit a category. I was unclassified. Often in my life have I been asked what I am and what my culture is, and so often I answer with the nonsensical bunch of words that represents me.
Malaysia has culture. Lots of it. So why am I unable to define my cultural background as Malaysian? Race and culture are so often considered equivalent, and this is a mindset that needs to change.
To be ‘1Malaysia’, we must acknowledge our cultural similarities and be willing to see that we share many of the same ways of thinking and (very importantly) flavours of food. Fearing the cultural clash that Malaysia is heading towards is fearing diversity. We must not be afraid to declare ‘Malaysia’ as a culture of its own and to welcome this change with open arms.
Multiculturalism is not simply the tolerance of differences. It is the acceptance of each culture and respect for one another. Alone we can be strong, but together we are so much more powerful.
Only when we can learn to embrace Malaysia’s multicultural nature can we overcome the other divides we face: race, class, religion, sexuality, and many more. Willingness to share our culture with others is what will lead the change to unity in our society. By doing this, we can become a more integrated and powerful Malaysia.
As a young Malaysian with all the best intentions for my home, I can only hope that we will learn to embrace one another with acceptance. Children, before they are influenced, do not notice one another’s differences; this is the way we should remain.
When we grow up, however, we are told by parents and elders about the generalisations of each race and religion and brainwashed with the concepts of our differences. As we grow up, we continually hear jokes about racial stereotypes. These are the things that contribute to our racial and cultural segregation. We are taught our differences instead of our similarities, and this contributes to our disunity.
I believe we can learn to identify ourselves as Malaysians, with the Malaysian culture that we are proud to share with one another. For our future generations to co-exist harmoniously, we must embrace one another’s differences and focus on multiculturalism and the Malaysia that we all call home. We are the start of this change. We are the start of any change.
Diversity is a beautiful thing; if we can accept or even encourage it, it can result in a richness that no one culture can achieve on its own. So from now on, when people ask me what I am and what my culture is, I will be proud to say i’m a “campur-child”. I will be proud to say that I am part of this ever-changing concept that is Malaysian culture.
Shanti Sandosham is a young student who believes in the power of writing and hopes to see Malaysia become great through equality and justice for all. A passionate writer, she believes that only when we speak out can we ignite the flame that can change Malaysia for the better.
Shanti recently participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Multiculturalism, supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives. “I enjoyed it so much,” she says, adding, “I want to thank (the organisers) for this event as it was a great learning experience that reignited my hope in Malaysia and its youth.”