Finding common ground

THE general election caused my Facebook newsfeed to become pretty hectic, with new developments taking place almost every half hour. One of the statements made by the newly-elected Pakatan leaders struck a chord. This was the reply by Lim Guan Eng to a reporter: "I'm sorry, I don't consider myself a Chinese, I'm Malaysian."

That statement seemed to resonate among family, friends and acquaintances. One of my friends of Chinese ethnicity said, "That's badass! Some may not understand what he said hits home to me now as someone who feel orphaned: because the country didn't accept me because of my race; that I don't belong here, or even claim I'm a proper Chinese, since I don't speak the language or identify with China. This has totally changed for me since the election and now I can truly say that finally I'm also not Chinese. I'm Malaysian and that this country is my true home."

As for me, I never understood race-based politics. Being of mixed ethnicity, I am neither/nor and I am either/or.

I always wondered why we need to put our race down in official and business forms (including when signing up for utilities), why it was so important that I didn't look like how my name says I ought to look, or why it is so heinous that I don't speak either language of my ethnic origins.

How would I join MIC? I don't speak any Indian language or profess to know anything about Indian culture. Speaking of which, what Indian culture? India is such a diverse nation with so many communities and religions, so are we talking about Tamils or Sikhs or Gujarati or Malayalis? Do we include the Sri Lankan Tamils, some of whom insist they aren't Indian? India is a country, not a culture.

How would I join MCA? I don't speak or write any Chinese. I did learn some Mandarin but the good teacher taught it to us in Cantonese. That wasn't helpful at all to me or the other Chindian guy, as we did not speak Cantonese.

Malaysians are so mixed already and I doubt there are many families who are purely Chinese or purely Malay or purely of one single Indian community.

For those of us who are clearly of two ethnic origins, it is frustrating that we have to "side" with one ethnicity over the other when it comes to "official" reasons. This kind of differentiation runs totally counter to fostering a national identity. For example, an elderly client of mine was given a polling station near his home in Putra Heights, while his wife's polling station was moved to Shah Alam, all because she was of a different race. The Election Commission itself admitted that the redelineation exercise it conducted earlier this year was based along racial lines.

Thinking about my 77-year-old client and his 60-something wife, it must have been really inconvenient for them to go separately to vote and to experience GE14 separately. All because some Malaysians are fixated with race. Aren't we all Malaysians?

What is the use of having separate racial parties? Why is there a need to "defend" a race when it isn't even under attack? Of course, most of us know that this is just a political ploy of "divide and rule" that politicians use. Unfortunately, some people fall into that very belief system and it will take generations to scrub out implicit bias and prejudice.

Of course, ethnicity is important. I feel equally happy and proud of my Chinese and Indian heritage. But to build this nation again, we need to focus on what holds us together, and what we have in common, and avoid "other"ing. That is why many of us rejoiced when we began seeing our current administration speaking out against racial politics and putting our national identity first.

Hopefully, we won't only put aside our differences, but eventually celebrate it and look at our diversity as a unifying factor as well.

Daniel has a passion for health, fitness, sleep and travel. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com