“Are You Even Malaysian?” And Other Things Malaysians Can Relate To

Happy 61st Merdeka Day to all fellow Malaysians!

What a time to be a part of this country we call home after more than six decades of independence. As Malaysians, we are always trying to find our identities elsewhere but we forget that being Malaysian is an identity of its own. Quite frankly, it is an identity like no other — let it be known to the world that being in a diverse country doesn’t come easy.

We have grown to love and accept our motherland for all its strength and weaknesses, its beauty and imperfections. To this day, we Malaysians still have to fight against racism and discrimination on daily basis. Nonetheless, Malaysia has matured in so many ways and so have the people. For all it’s worth, this land would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the diversity that we have with a manifold of races, culture, tradition and, of course, food.

In all honesty, terms like melting pot or salad bowl are too generic to describe our country. We prefer to consider ourselves as “Nasi Campur” — A true embodiment of Malaysian culture with a little bit of everything from different cultures on one plate. To celebrate this meaningful day, we spoke to #TEAMCLEO on what makes them a true Malaysian.

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Seema, Editor-In-Chief

Is there any particular story about growing up that you want to share about your identity and being Malaysian? 

I remember having school friends of all races, from all social and economic backgrounds. I think that’s why I have friends of all races now. For me, this was normal — typical. I thought everybody had this. I didn’t realize, until I started working, that not everyone had the same experience. That not everyone was exposed to people of a skin colour different from their own, or who don’t speak their mother tongue. I met people who didn’t know single person (outside of work, that is) from another race. That’s so strange to me. It was a rude awakening when I was asked questions about my culture and my race that were quite offensive. At first, I was offended, but as the years passed, I learnt that it’s better to explain to them, calmly, that their prejudices were simply untrue, and leave it at that. I also decided to let them see from my own actions that I wasn’t the “stereotype” they had come to expect. I also refused to be the person who would speak for all of “my people”. My message to them was always “look at people as individuals, not as representatives of an entire community, and you’ll see that we’re not all alike. There’s good and bad in every race”.     

What makes you Malaysian?

I was born, raised and educated here. I voted. I heart nasi lemak, speak Manglish, can talk food for hours, and will cheat at parking if I think I won’t get caught! Oh, and I have friends of every race. If you don’t, then you’re just living inside a bubble, within a single subculture of the expansive, all-inclusive world that is my Malaysia.

What is the one thing you’re wearing that’s Malaysian.

It’s the Niko-Niko mini bag by Sometime.

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