Malaysia: A multicultural experience hard at work
As Malaysians, we live in a multicultural country where differences across cultures visible through language, religion and festivals have long been accepted as national norms. Every culture is happily celebrated and in our diversity, we are thankful that the people of this country have come together to build a nation and a home for all Malaysians today and also for those in the future.
But how did we get here with our many different cultures and propensities? As a small country on the southern tip of the Asian continent at the crossroads of the spice trade between the East and the West, it was not by choice. A popular target for colonisation, it would be five centuries before the country gained independence to be joined later by Sabah and Sarawak in 1963 when Malaya was then renamed Malaysia.
From the Chinese, Indian and Arabic traders to the missionaries from Portugal and the Dutch and British trading companies who came from distant lands, familiarity with different communities and cultures was therefore not new to Malaysia when it finally became independent in 1957.
Yet, the journey towards nationhood was not always easy. As the core cultures remained separate and unassimilated in their original forms, there continues to be insufficient intercultural learning. While we celebrate differences, we don’t always understand how to include the diversity in a shared aspiration. National values are fast evolving and there is perhaps the need to start again. To reconnect, embrace similarities and strengthen bridges which have long been built by those seeking a common destination.
I believe that what keeps us going, however, is our strong sense of collective optimism and steadfastness. As Malaysia works on improving unity in diversity, I wish it much success in its economic recovery and hope that it will soon become the role model for strategic intercultural learning and convergence in this part of the world.
Salam Mesra and Selamat Hari Merdeka.
Datin Yasmin Merican
Yayasan AFS Antarabudaya Malaysia