Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Ethnicity and the Retaining of Cultural Traditions

Written by johnleemk on 9:22:37 am May 6, 2005.

As you have seen from past writings of mine archived on this site, I am very strongly against the concept of race or ethnic pride. However, as I have researched this topic, I have found that the way I phrase myself may lead to serious misunderstandings. Thus, this article will clear up what I mean when I advocate retaining the family while obliterating the ethnicity.

Families, by nature, derive tradition from their race. However, no two families are alike in their adaptation of their race's culture or traditions. My family hardly keeps any Chinese traditions alive, besides filial piety, nor do we desire to. Every family has different traditions; a mixing and matching of cultures, if you will.

The idea is, as intermarriages grow, eventually it will be difficult to identify yourself as belonging to any one, two, three or four ethnic groups, because none of them will make up a majority of your blood. Nevertheless, you and your family will maintain certain cultural traditions passed down through the generations, mixing and matching them with those of other cultures. Eventually, there will be a rich cultural heritage for each family to belong to.

The reason why I am so opposed to the idea of keeping races uniquely separate, yet living side-by-side, is because of the Malaysian "salad bowl", as opposed to the American melting pot. In America, it's all melded together; a Greek can marry a Swede, and their children will inherit mixed Greek and Swedish traditions. In Malaysia, there is also limited interracial marriage, but cultures are for the most part, kept separated. For example, Malays don't have a choice of converting to Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity; instead, their spouse has to convert to Islam. This is in effect a Malay-isation of the non-Muslim spouse.

I am not necessarily demanding that this practice be discontinued. The problem is that once the spouse converts, he/she becomes a Malay, and is assimilated into the Malay race and culture. He/she can no longer continue his/her rich Chinese/Indian traditions. To me, the idea that you can only belong to one race and one culture is abhorrent.

If we're going to have ethnic pride, I'd rather have the kind you see in the US. Over there, you can find Italians and Spanish joining an Irish folk band. In Malaysia, if you're a Chinese joining a dikir barat group, prepare for serious humiliation from your non-Malay friends. In the US, join an Irish folk band and nobody bats an eyelid.

The mixing and melding of cultures should be encouraged and continued, not discouraged in favour of preserving racial or ethnic identities. In the end, we're all human beings. We just each have different habits and mannerisms. Let's learn to accomodate one another. We only have one planet Earth. That definitely isn't enough to allow for a splitting of mankind into us and them.

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