JUNE 6 — I was born to parents who were themselves born, and lived their entire lives, in Malaysia. Yet, solely due to the colour of my skin, I was called a “pendatang” (immigrant) by the Malaysian government, whereas someone who hails directly from Indonesia would be welcomed as a “Bumiputera” (“prince of the soil”) and be accorded the unfair privileges that came with that title.
I was, however, more fortunate than many of my other non-Bumiputera compatriots, because my parents were middle-class professionals who could afford to send me overseas to further my education. I obtained my medical degree from the British Isles, following which I was faced with the decision either to return to Malaysia, or continue my stint overseas.
After much soul-searching, I decided to do the latter. That was 15 years ago. I am now happily married, financially secure, and live a fulfilling life in the heart of the Silicon Valley in the US. I voted in the last US general election for Barack Obama not because or despite of the colour of his skin, but because I thought he was the best person for the job.
Why was I in a dilemma 15 years ago? After all, wasn’t I a second-class citizen in the country of my own birth and not welcomed there, while the Irish and British treated me so much better and offered me an equal opportunity to progress in my profession, based only on my skills and competence? The reason for the dilemma was because I retained an emotional link to the country of my birth — my childhood memories were memories of my time in Malaysia, and my parents and most of my close childhood friends who were still in Malaysia at that time.
However, I knew then that the entrenched government practice of racial discrimination was not about to change for the better anytime soon, and I could not endure a lifetime of discrimination when I had a much better alternative. I never would have imagined then that racial discrimination would actually worsen, extremist racial rhetoric would be allowed to go unchecked, inexplicable deaths would happen under police custody, mainstream media would be silenced into compliance, and blatant corruption in the hundreds of billions of ringgit would consume the entire nation.
Now, in retrospect, I know that I have made the right decision for myself and my family. The US is now my home, but Malaysia can be my second home. I remain passionate in advocating for equal rights and an end to corruption in Malaysia.
There is a lot that I can do outside of Malaysia, including highlight the injustices and corruption to my Congressman and to a worldwide audience via the Internet, and provide financial support to organisations that seek to restore equal rights to my Malaysian brothers and sisters.
Like the lyrics of the Wolfe Tone song “Flight of Earls” that goes: “... but if we see better days; Those big airplanes go both ways; And we’ll all be coming back to you again”, I now make up one of the many in the Malaysian diaspora who shall be willing to return to Malaysia to help reconstruct the nation if or when a new, all-inclusive government of the people is finally installed in Putrajaya.
I hope I live long enough to see that day.
* We asked readers to tell us in their own words why they migrated. This is one of the stories.