“Hoi! Berdosa lah kalau kau sambut Tahun Baru Cina!”
“Ha’ah! Nanti masuk Neraka!”
“Eiii!! Duit ang pow to haram tau!”
“Kau ni kafir lah!”
These are some of the responses I received from my Malay classmates when I was in primary school back in Johor Bahru a gazillion years ago. I was confused. I had grown up celebrating Chinese New Year every year with my family. I enjoyed collecting ang pows and also playing fireworks.
And the food! Oh my god! The food during the new year was amazing! The kuih kapit Cina container would be under my armpit the whole day. On the morning of the first day, my Aunty Poh Poh Swee Lan would make the best fatt choy in the world (it’s a vegetarian dish… before you all start calling JAKIM on me!)!
Chinese New Year in my family is a pretty unique affair. At least four different languages would be spoken at any one time and the colour of our skin… well, who cares! These are people dear to my heart and celebrating with them is something I treasure. And it made me totally confused when these kids would say such things to me.
I’m glad I wasn’t offended. If it’s one thing I learned early in life is to feel pity for those who are more ignorant than me, rather than to feel anger. What can we do if they have pea-sized brains, right?
This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri as well. I would wake up early and follow my father and my two brothers to the mosque on the first day. And when we got home, a huge spread consisting of Laksa Johor, lontong and rendang (of which my Poh Poh Swee Poh was the goddess creator!) would be waiting on the dining table for us. Heaven after a month of fasting!
And then all the relatives would start arriving at our house. It would begin as a trickle at first, but would end in a huge tsunami wave! And the atmosphere would be exactly the same as Chinese New Year. At least four different languages would be spoken at any one time and the colour of our skin… well, who cares!
In my birth certificate, I am stated as being a Malay. But sometimes, I wonder how that conclusion could have been made since I have Chinese blood.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my Malay-Bugis heritage. I used to run all around my late aunty Mak Siah’s house in Parit Pecah, Muar, which is the country’s only officially declared Rumah Adat Bugis.
And even though my brothers and I can’t speak fluent Bugis, my father took it upon himself with the highest pride and responsibility to teach us all the curse words (he speaks the language fluently, by the way)!
But I’m also proud of the fact that my home country, Malaysia, was such a conductive environment to have promoted such a family like mine to thrive.
Note on the past tense ‘was’. Yes, that’s right. Malaysia isn’t conducive for multiracial harmony anymore. Not if our cabinet ministers continue with their racial and religious slurs.
Not if we continue to pay attention to ultra racist groups who cherish making insensitive remarks. And definitely not if we continue to listen to ultra racist media who try to dictate our national issues.
I am a proud Malaysian and I want everyone in the country who are Malaysians to be proud too. Religion and race are of no importance when it comes to harmony and happiness.
Trust me. My family is living proof. We have so many people of different races and religions in our family (and that includes the ‘triple threat’ – Indians, Chinese and Malays!) living in harmony.
And now, my daughter Athena Azlee is growing up and I don’t want her life (and her outlook of it) to be influenced by what Malaysia and it’s society has become.
But I think my daughter is lucky. She was born into a family, that to me is the perfect role model for what Malaysians need to be like.
So, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all the Azlees, Jaffars, Yusofs, Angs, Ngs, Selvas, Yaus, Yues, Lims, Rameshs, Alis, Kassims and Lams that make up my blood family!
My family and I have never really understood the reasoning for wishing ‘Selamat Hari Raya’ only to Muslims while the non-Muslims only get a boring ‘happy holidays’.
Everyone in Malaysia should be able to celebrate it with equal amounts of joy. So Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all of Malaysia too. I pray that the country will one day be like my family once again!