I am Malaysia — Jun Watanabe

13 May

MAY 13 — I cannot seem to shake off this feeling of grief. Like many other urbanite non-malays I had voted for an non-BN candidate in my constituency, and the indelible ink on my finger was coming off. At 40 I had just taken part in my first elections, fueled by the responsibility I felt as a parent and a tax paying citizen. But I never used to care.

I speak English, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Mandarin better than I speak Malay. I was born in a foreign land and look foreign.

I was never educated in Malaysia- growing up in Johor in the 80s it was an easy choice for my parents, and I started at age 7 commuting to Singapore everyday, and later the US.

Like many other stories out there I grew up with prejudices and pre-conceived notions of how the other races were, how the civil service was, how everyone was different, cloistered in my own community, sheltered by something unwritten that you live and let live.

Yet I am Malaysian, strange as it may seem to most. Over the years I have given up the chance of citizenship in another country, permanent residency in 2 others. Like many in forums who recounted that they grew up a certain race but once they were abroad they identified themselves simply as “Malaysian”, I have never felt any other. I feel tied to the land, to my friends and family, to the neighborhood where I live, to my neighbors, to nasi lemak and petai bee hoon, and teh tariks sessions in mamaks. I am proud of P. Ramlee and Sheila Majid and Tan Twan Eng as I am of Lee Chong Wei and Nicol David.

And funny how it is when you “awaken” and you start to care – mine was six years ago the day Maya was born. When it is that you know that you have the ability and the immense power to shape and influence a person’s life, you must experience, in your own time, a myriad of differing but not mutually exclusive feelings, and some of which should be pride, anxiety, helplessness, despair, stoicism, sacrifice. You become acutely aware of your limitations, but the impulse of wanting to protect her and a hand in nurturing her makes you strive to overcome your fears and your imperfections.

For the sake of my daughter I resolved to be a better person.

I write this essay to recount the things that transpired in my life that culminated in me queuing up in a saluran and casting a vote that helped decide the fate of the nation. There are many others out there with their own stories of how they got to that queue, and many like me were voting for the first time in GE13. But I like my story. I am grateful that somehow an altruistic urge of wanting the best for my child made me start to look at my surroundings in more detail.

That her best friends are Eurasian kids- Jade and Maloe. That she learnt to sing Malay songs in kindergarten. That she speaks mainly in English but professes that she prefers speaking to me in Chinese. That she goes to a government primary school next year, but should it be an international school? Am I earning enough? Why I am spending a third of my income on a car? Should I get medical insurance? What is this thing about math & science subjects? Which box should she be ticking under bangsa? What are her chances of higher education in this country? As much as I am careful to balance with expectations and the modern pressures of a kid growing up, I had severe doubts with the political and economic system we have in this country.

As it were, it was not as if I had my eyes closed the whole time before this. As a working adult I drive across potholes and uneven roads on tolled highways that cost 3 times more per km to build than in Singapore or Switzerland, to get to government offices that reeked of inefficiency, and officers who blatantly hint that you-help-me-I-help-you in speeding up applications. I have interviewed countless young engineers who have no clue of their value in society, much less be able to articulate what they could bring to my firm- why should I hire them?

But like so many I had merely complained in mamaks, and lived and let live.

As paternal instincts hastened those feelings of anxiety and helplessness and despair and morphed them into anger, I am faced with a choice not uncommon to many who are able – do I plan to join the brain drain and run, or stand with fellow stakeholders. The choice wasn’t clear in the beginning. Bersih 1.0 passed and I scarcely knew that it even happened, but as social media picked it up, it fueled my imagination as I’m sure it did many others, that a grassroots apolitical group of citizens have started the first probably most effective method of exacting change in this country. I did not go to Bersih 2.0 as well, but the poignant images of Auntie Bersih and Karpal Singh in his wheelchair probably did me in.

At Bersih 3.0 I sat at the front on Leboh Pasar Besar and got tear gassed and sprayed with chemically laced water.

Before GE13 I had already posted in several other articles that I thought it was highly unlikely that the opposition would win. We should acknowledge that money politics and gerrymandering were far greater impediments to a fair election than phantom or bogus postal voters ever would. Yet I ran around with friends that day shuttling between the different Lembah Pantai polling stations, joining the thousands in the human wall hoping to safeguard what little we could of the integrity of the electoral process.

I thought about it a lot, but I did not go to Kelana Jaya. I did not want my struggle to be associated with any political party. I do not trust politicians, period. Even if the opposition had personalities like Lim Guan Eng, who once spent time in jail under ISA for defending a Malay girl, or Nurul Izzah Anwar, who I see as the great big hope of this nation, I could not see myself taking part in a rally under a political banner.

But that grief I felt at the beginning of my essay has now given way to hope. I feel that my story should also get to represent the middle ground in Malaysia, part of a sea of stories now emerging in the zeitgeist of our times. The socio-political landscape has changed. The way we naturally want to live is peace and prosperity for all. Little by little, society should naturally veer towards inclusiveness, the division across racial lines should diminish incrementally. Religion should have no place in governance, serving only as moral guides. The excesses and abuses by people in authority will continue to shift public perception, and this 48%/51% gap should get even wider.

As a society we will only consider our work done when we have nurtured a populace who can constantly hold those in power accountable. The rakyat must be masters and politicians its servants. There is no room for complacency in this endeavor. The work will not be done at the end of a general election.

I dream of Maya growing up in a beautiful country where she and her rainbow colored friends have equal opportunities to learn and contribute in building a clean, safe and respectful community, and I’d wish that her voice never be silenced, and her will never be diluted.

“Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always.” – Gandhi

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

via http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/i-am-malaysia-jun-watanabe/


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