Malaysians, be they Malay, Semai, Iban, Melanau, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau, Chinese or Indian, are proud of being Malaysians.
Even if their forefathers were once migrants, they would not associate with the former’s fatherland.
It’s a derogative thing to call them pendatang. Malaysia is my Tanah Airku is deep in their hearts.
While studying in Bristol in the 1990s, a Malaysian Indian friend of mine was invited to join the Indian Club, which was planning to celebrate India’s Day of Independence.
He shortened their conversation by answering: “No, I’m Malaysian”. Obviously, many of us have such experiences while overseas.
In the modern state, where we’re born, a birth certificate, an identity card and a passport are elements that would categorise any individual as a citizen of that nation.
Thus, those nationalities from Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Nepal, Africa, Europe, America and others who worked here as professionals and non-professionals are not Malaysians.
Though we find that these foreign workers do not go home to their countries, some successfully apply for a permanent residence, others become illegal workers and a few among them married Malaysians in their desire to stay in Malaysia.
But before the colonial powers came, Malaysia belonged to the myriad of islands known as the Malay cultural sphere.
This spread from the tip of Myanmar to the Samoan Islands in the east and to Madagascar in the west.
My own experience while studying in New Zealand in the 1970s showed that the Maori, Fijian, and Samoan share the Malay linguistic tree and culture.
They can read Malay text correctly but not my Pakeha friends of white-skin complexion.
This Malay cultural sphere also came under the influence of Hinduism from India and Buddhism from China in the old days.
When the colonial powers of the Portuguese, Dutch and British came, the Malay world had reached the apex of spice trade in the 14th century. Ptolemy once described this area as the Golden Khersonese or Golden Peninsula.
With such social history of civilisational progress and cultural diversity, Malaysians should not only internalise the culture of modernity but also a high degree of tolerance for diversity.
The Chinese New Year celebration should be a moment of unity not only for the Chinese community that celebrate the occasion but the other ethnic groups as well.
We should feel the spirit of family sharing that is the key of the celebration.
Chinese New Year oranges changed hands from Chinese to Malay, Melanau to Chinese, Chinese to Indian, Sino-Kadazan to Bajau as we share the happy occasion with neighbours, workmates, friends and family members.
Firecrackers and lion dances are the norm to usher in the new lunar year.
Through our smartphones, various kinds of videos, well wishes with GIFs are floating around in the digital world.
Suddenly, we Malaysians realise that we not only have family and friendship ties among our co-ethnic but beyond our ethnic and religious boundaries too.
It’s this unnoticed cross-cutting social ties and relationship that make Malaysia a harmonious, peaceful and stable nation.
We do hope the new year will bring prosperity and happy occasions to us, our family and the nation.
• Prof Dr Mansor Mohd Noor is a Principal Fellow Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of New Sarawak Tribune.
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