A Dialogue

On Monday, we had a special event at MACEE.  There’s a Malaysian woman who has been teaching at American University in DC for 10 or 15 years, and every other summer she brings a small class of masters students here to Malaysia for a really cool month-long summer program.  She brought her class of 11 students to our office, and there they met with about 15 Malaysian students from two of the local public universities.  The idea was to have a dialogue between young Americans and Malaysians about relations between the countries and perceptions that each group had about the other.

It was quite interesting, and I heard some unexpected answers, mostly from the Malaysians.  The professor moderated and asked questions that she had collected from the students.  They talked about things like the pre- and post- 9/11 perception of America, how relations can be improved between the two countries, and what makes people proud to be from their country.

That last question gave me (jm) some food for thought.  I was surprised that both the Americans and Malaysians had some answers in common when asked why they were proud of their respective homelands.  The main overlaps were how far each country has come in a relatively short time and the diverse populations and cultures in each country.  The diversity thing was funny.  They kept saying that they were proud that all three races live in harmony here.  It bugs me that they use the word "race" to differentiate between Indian, Chinese and Malay.  It’s the same in Indonesia, they just don’t use the word ethnicity.  Also, one kid said something about the "Malays, Chinese, and Hindus" coexisting together which I thought was weird.  Not all the  Indians here are Hindu, which I’d expect a college kid to realize.

It was nice to hear that these kids treasure the diversity in Malaysia.  But somehow it didn’t quite sit right.  Every time TP gets a cab driver talking, we immediately start to hear about his problems with and stereotypes of the other two groups.  They often get quite worked up.  And this happens, without fail, every single time.  So yes, people here can be friends with people from different backgrounds and heritages, but it just doesn’t seem like things are at all integrated below the surface.  And I also noticed that whereas in America, everyone is Indian-America, or Cuban-American, or Korean-American, here it doesn’t work that way.  It’s Malay, Chinese or Indian, period. It seems to me that this is a telling mentality (that’s not to say that America doesn’t have some room for improvement on minority issues too).

On a lighter note, several of the kids said they were proud of the great, cheap food here.  I’m definitely in agreement with that one.