In six months time, it would been eleven years that I moved away from ‘home’ – the country of my birth. I try hard not to call it ‘home’ anymore, because that’s not where I live, that’s not where my child was born, that’s not where my heart lies.
Materially, making a home away from home, has not been hard, it has after all just needed money (the house, the car, the furniture etc. ) What has been a little more of a challenge is trying to recreate or replicate certain childhood experiences and memories for Georgia, that we (being from Penang, Malaysia) have so loved and treasured. In short to try to give her the experiences of the culture that defines us, and the worldliness of the variety of religions in the country that we come from, as opposed to the country we now live in.
I know it’s easy to say, she will have her own experiences, make her own memories, but so much of what we experience defines who we become, and while living comfortably and affluently in a developed country now, I sometimes lament the fact that she will miss out on the extremely, diverse, mullti-culture, multi-religion environment, that I took so much for granted when I was growing up. Like they say, you won’t miss it until you lose it!
Granted, the Malaysia of today is no longer the Malaysia of my formative years, policies, politics and the media have changed the views, and skewed outlooks, however one can never escape the diversity of the people, and how well they really get along, regardless of what the politicians say!
When we moved Georgia in to her current school, we did it with eyes-wide-open, yes we knew it was a Church school and yes we were prepared for the ‘subtle-ness’ in which Christianity would become part of her every day experience. In all honesty, what I never really considered was how reactions might be to different cultures.
Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, is the major cultural event of all Chinese people, it is in essence, non-religious although there may be certain religious aspects (that are not universally practised). It is a time for family to get together, to eat, share food, wish everyone well and make new starts for a new year. It’s a bit like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled in to one.
As this years Chinese New Year descended upon us, it fell on a School day. I made a casual mention of this to her Class teacher, a few days prior, in hopes that perhaps they might try to talk about in Class. Their reaction was rather disappointing, “Oh” , they said, with a smile. And so that was that.
We did make it up to London this year, for the firecrackers, and lion dances, but I did wonder what kind of message that sent to Georgia, that we were so eager for her to see and experience an event that was not even mentioned in school.
You see, in Malaysia, the multi-culturalism, diversity, and variety of religion, are all scheduled right in to the country’s calendar. Every major religion and festival has a public holiday on the annual calendar.
So we celebrate, the Chinese New Year with the Chinese, the Hari Raya (or Eid) with the Malays and Muslims, Deepavali (Divali) is shared with our Indian friends, Thaipusam is another day of (with the Hindus), Wesak Day (for Buddhists), Christmas (for Christians), Hari Raya Haji (for Muslims) and the list goes on.
We visited friends who celebrated each of these religions in turn, we shared food, red packets (ang pows), beef rendang and my favourite muruku (an indian biscuit). Homes were always open and welcoming, you never really had to ‘call ahead’, and if you did it was only to make sure that your friend was home.
That to me is the epitome of integrated diversity and tolerance.
And so when the British government talks of ‘integration’, of ‘integrating’ immigrants or asylum seekers in to the British way of life, I am struck by how the term ‘integrate’ sounds. In the crudest sense, it’s rather like training someone to be something they are not and the foremost question on my mind is, what do these immigrants have to ‘give up’ in order to be integrated? And who judges if their ‘integration’ is complete?
© 2011, Li-ling. All rights reserved.