Have you ever looked around and felt that you could never really identify with anything? Yes, that Drake song may hit the right spots at times, but do you really know what he means when he sings running through the 6 with my WOEs? Maybe on a spiritual level, but unless you hail from Toronto, Canada, it isn’t really the same.
Growing up, it was American media that dominated my household. Astro provided HBO, Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network, and MTV. I read books by Meg Cabot. Listened to music by Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Going to America was the ultimate dream for me, it still is even now. Yet there was still an underlying feeling of a divide between my identity. I am ethnically and nationally a Chinese-Malaysian. But in cultural terms, I relied heavily on American made references. While it is a known fact that the American entertainment industry dominates most of the airwaves, did it meant that I was forced into a submersion of Western lifestyles? Even though I speak English, which is indeed my first language, people still snicker at the way I pronounce certain words. Growing up British-educated has that effect on a person, I suppose. I still add U’s to color. I understand 99% of the references here in America, but when someone asks me if I remember having Lunchables in middle school, I draw a blank. It just reminds me that I’m not from here.
We have been so whitewashed that we don’t see how important our culture is yet when we try to embrace it, we get shut down. In high school, there were cliques where those who spoke English were seen as better than those who spoke in Malay, Mandarin, Tamil. How can that be when we live in Malaysia? How are you uneducated if you choose to speak anything other than English? Why are people put to shame for speaking their native tongue in their very own country? Where is the line?
I wished I spoke my mother’s and father’s dialects fluently. Heck, I wished I spoke Mandarin and Malay fluently.
I wished I was exposed to Malaysian media as much as I was to Western media.
I wished I appreciated Malaysian culture more back when I was home.
I wished I didn’t put Western culture on a pedestal.
But we grow. Realising this now is better than never realising it ever. It’s time we outgrew the prejudice against anything Malaysian. We have such a fulfilling culture that took me flying 28 hours away from home to wholly understand the weight of my heritage. The significance my country has upon this world, the uniqueness of our language and the variety of life within our daily routines. I learned that we encompass such a small place upon the face of the earth, yet Malaysia was the world to me. I am more than eager to see Malaysian authors published upon the stands worldwide, Malaysian made beats blasting through the speakers of every car and Malaysian artists displayed upon the streets to the gallery. I want our country to own a placeholder upon Mother Earth. To not only be a significant contributor to our planet but to serve a purpose to our fellow neighbours.
This, my friends, is a call to arms. Here is where you guys, whoever you are reading this now, come into play. Feature your work wherever you can, be it a blog, Instagram, Twitter etc. Mail it out to any publication you know and love. Send it to us if your heart so desires. No matter what medium you choose, flaunt it!
We need more Malaysians to relate to because only we know how it feels like to have that first sip of limau teh ais over supper with your friends at your favorite mamak with a football match happening live in the background. Only we know what it’s like to drive into KL with the Twin Towers in all its glory on full display from all angles. Only we can fully appreciate a joke told in English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay. Try explaining to anyone who isn’t from Malaysia why adding sial to the end of that sentence is funny. I bet you it wouldn’t be funny anymore once you do, but don’t fret, I get you. So does everyone back home.
Photos by Tasha Iman.