Hornbill Unleashed

August 20, 2016

‘Racism drove me from Malaysia’

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 9:01 PM

That was the headline of a column written by a former Malaysian who now lives in the United States. It was published here, with a sub-head that reads ‘There wasn’t a future for me back in Kuala Lumpur. But when I met an American man, I found a country where my background was not an obstacle’.

Treena Becker, who works in cancer care in Florida, recalls her childhood in Kuala Lumpur, where she says there is an underlying tension in society.

“Still, there was I did not know then that being of the wrong ethnic minority group (Chinese) and the wrong religion (Catholic) I would not be able to easily attend college because of the ethnic quota system that favours ethnic Malays. The fact that I was not a Muslim also meant I faced state-sanctioned discrimination,” she says.

“Perhaps feeling that there wasn’t a future for me in Malaysia, I moved to Singapore at 16 to attend high school. From there on out, I didn’t look back and kept moving. I went to college and met my first love, a US military officer who had started his first foreign assignment. But we were so young and I knew better than to fall for the movie cliché of ‘an officer and a gentleman’.”

They parted ways. Becker continues with her early passages in life where she worked at the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan before 9/11 before returning to graduate in New York City.

“Two decades after my first love and I parted ways, my now husband found me. He was assigned to South Korea and I had returned to work in Singapore. He is a high-ranking officer and a patriot who truly loves his country.

“We got married and I migrated to America.”

The column drew 336 comments before discussion on it was closed. Here are some of the interesting opinions expressed by readers:

  • This is one of the problems many with Southeast Asian countries. They can actually be not just racist but also xenophobic.
  • Not to be a pessimist but I’m pretty sure poverty and money had something to do with it. Race is still a prickly subject in the US as minorities are and have always been second-class citizens whether foreign or home born.
  • Very little to do with poverty. Discrimination is based on race more often on religion. A first generation Muslim migrant who becomes a citizen is given special privileges, whereas an Indian or Chinese citizen (whose family immigrated 100 years ago) does not.
  • I’m pleased you, hopefully, have found a home. However, you are aware of the racism and bigotry that is boiling back to the surface in the US, aren’t you? It has always been there in conservative circles, but this political season has brought it roaring back to the surface.
  • You miss the point. Racism in Malaysia appears to be institutionalised unlike in the United States.
  • I’m American British, but my mother is Chinese Malaysian. I’ve lived in America, Singapore, Malaysia and, for the most part, England. The institutional racism in Malaysia is not just terrible for the Chinese people there, but creates the more complex problem of a lot of the Chinese people there thinking all Malays are getting an easy ride, and discriminating against them, which compounds the issue the government are *ahem* trying to address with their pro-Malay policies, because a lot of the business and industry in Malaysia is in the hands of Chinese families. The racism in Malaysia is endemic on all sides, and every time I go back, it seems to be worse, even in the younger generations.

Does Malaysia have a problem or are those who left the country merely imagining things? One swallow doesn’t make the summer. But 54,406 Malaysians renounced their citizenship in five years. That figure was given by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in Parliament in March.

Eddie Hoo


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