“Next Generation Leadership – Perspectives on Unity from the Younger Generation”
My speech was delivered at ASLI's National Unity Forum on 4th September 2014:
Do I have all the answers to the question of unity in Malaysia? No.
Am I going to present a dissertation on fostering national unity? No. Well, I hope not.
Am I even going to touch on government policy? I am afraid not.
Then, what am I going to do? I can only present my perspective. I’m going to tell you a story or two.
Can I tell you a story? Yes? No?
Okay here goes…
My first story starts in 1930s. A young man from India arrives on the shores of Malaya. He hopes for a better life. Just as his home country, Malaya is under British rule. He is a Muslim and he speaks Tamil and soon, fluent Malay. He soon finds work at Kuala Lumpur. This young city is growing. In the 1930s, the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building was the KL Tower and the grand KL Railway Station was the Petronas Twin Towers of its day. Now, this man eventually falls in love with a Malay woman and soon they marry. Her Malay family welcomes this man with open arms. This man soon becomes a citizen of this country. While he is proud of his Indian heritage, he is even prouder of his newborn nation. Though a man of few words, whenever he spoke of Malaysia, his eyes would sparkle with passion. He would often ask a rhetorical question, “Which country in this world has more than 3 major races and yet calls themselves as citizens?” He passes away in late 1980s in a land he calls home. He arrived as a foreigner and he died as a proud citizen.
The second story takes place 10 years after the young Indian man arrives in Malaya. In the late 1940s, a young Chinese woman in her 20s starts her first job as a dental nurse at the General Hospital Penang. Penang at the time was a vibrant port city where commerce and trade were booming. She is third generation Chinese in Malaya. Her grandfather came from China by boat in the early 1900s. She speaks Hokkien and her family is Buddhist and some will convert to Christianity. In the hospital, she meets a young promising Malay doctor. For the doctor, it was love at first sight. He knew he wanted to marry her right away! They would eventually marry. She voluntarily converts to Islam. It will mark the start of a strong family bond between her Chinese family and his Malay side. She is still alive today. She doesn’t consider herself a Chinese but as a Malaysian. She loves this nation so much when her siblings offered to help her migrate she stayed put. In fact, she even refused to move from Penang when offered to move to KL!
I am the grandson of the Indian man and the Chinese woman. My maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother saw Malaya, now Malaysia, as the land of hope. A place they would call home. In short, I’m a product of the Malaysian dream. My story is not unique because all of you in this room have your own Malaysian story. Fast forward to September 4 2014 – 57 years since nationhood. Of course now we’re living in different times. As our country progresses, we face many more challenges. I view issues such as racism, ethnic polarization and religious tension as part and parcel of Malaysia growing up. I’m optimistic of our nation’s future but it’s contingent on what all of us here today do. The fate of the country is in your hands. It’s up to what you do or don’t do. For the country to change, we have to change. This change must start at the bottom, the grassroots level, the you-level. We can start by getting involved in our local neighbourhood – starting a youth organisation, organising social and sporting events, joining your residents’ association – and getting everyone involved. If we as citizens do our part, our leaders will take a cue from us. The greatest injustice is to give up on our ability to make change and leave it completely to the politicians. Democracy is a two-way process between you and your leader. For Malaysia to be united, we have to be united.
We are not perfect but at least, we’re doing something towards Malaysian unity. And we can’t do it alone. We need you to be involved, and this doesn’t necessarily need to be what we do. You can do anything as long as you feel you contribute to nation-building in Malaysia.
My Indian grandfather and Chinese great-great-grandfather migrated here for a reason: for a better life. It was the dreams and hopes of these people that made this country great. For the country to change, we need to change. We need to start now at the you-level. Tun Abdul Razak once said, “The future of our country depends on one important thing, that is on the unity of our people of various races.”