Sunday, September 5, 2010

Malaysiana: Independence Day, or Lack Thereof

While in Canada, I tend to miss celebrations that I should be aware of, like the Lunar New Year, or Adilfitri, or Hungry Ghost Month (which is happening now, should be ending soon). August 31st was Merdeka Day, or Malaya's Independence Day. It's the day when the British left Malayan leadership roles after dicking around with us for a few hundred years. 

At the last Steampunk World's Fair, I kept referring to how the British colonizers left our shores, but left their mark behind. (Moniquill rightly put me in my place by reminding me that "the colonizers never left ours".) The thing is, I was being simplistic. After the British left, we had their parliament system, their education system. We were and are still dependent on business from the West. We still use the economic success of the West as a yardstick against which we measure our own growth. (Seriously, what is there to grow? In the West Peninsula we are a small small land, and hell no are we going to destroy the natural forests of East Malaysia to slake capitalist lust.)

When I was a child, I used to turn on the television to watch the Merdeka Day parade. It was the highlight of the year for me; I still love parades. For some reason, it registered in me that gaining independence was the highlight of my nation, the best thing we ever did. Then it was overshadowed by the building of the Petronas Twin Towers and being named piracy capital of the world. I thought we were doing okay for ourselves. And for most part, we kinda are. 

But time away from home, and my studies, have made me question what it means to be independent. Not as an individual - I don't understand that at all, because I'm still living on my parents' funds (hello privilege) and while I was supporting myself for a while, that quickly went down the drain. I mean, as a nation. In today's global village setup, it seems there is no single nation that is completely self-sufficient, unless it eschews systems of dominance and capitalism and refuses to participate in the race to improve their standing in international politics and protect their interests (which are probably as simple as "don't get fucked over by the big boys"). 

In today's world, what does independence mean? 

I want to say, it means that we have agency to act for ourselves, to speak for ourselves, to stand on our own accomplishments. Except, what does this mean? Why is this so important? And if it is, how good are we at it?

This is a hard post for me.

I've been talking about the aftereffects of colonialism on Malaysia, considering how badly hit we were, how we're coping. I went to visit an uncle who lived through WW II in Singapore, and when he referred to the British in pre-independence days, he called them "the colonial masters". He said it in a way that was sardonic, full of awareness of how bad and yet true the term was.

When I told my dad and brother this, my dad said, "yeah, I don't have a colonial mindset like that. Must be a generation thing."

And you know, I can't get behind that. I don't believe we've truly cut ourselves off from the old masters. If we did, we might not place so much focus on going to Western universities, because local universities aren't "recognized". We might not be so nice to white foreigners who come visiting, as opposed to the brown and black ones that come to work and help our economy. We might also not be so antagonizing in our desire to cut ourselves off from all Western influence, particularly more liberal values, which are perfectly compatible with our cultures but we say they aren't, we're Asian, we're not like them. Would we define ourselves so much against the West if we were truly free of the mindsets they imposed on us?

So, the fact is, there was no Merdeka Day post because I didn't feel in the spirit of national independence anymore. It's incongruous with how I feel inside, because I'm in such a good place in my life right now, I feel like I'm much closer to merdeka in my spirit, but that is because I've come to recognize and accept that my country's illusion of independence from the old colonial masters is just that: an illusion.

And I think, once we as a people come to accept that we have been indelibly marked, and once we stop defining ourselves against the West, and once we stop resisting ideas and values that we think are imported from the West, but really can be found in our own cultures, then I'll think it'll be more truthful to say we've achieved Merdeka.

Otherwise, it's all politics. 

2 comments:

  1. Or, you could really say that we were never really free from our so-called "former colonizers".

    When our politics hinge so much on constructs manufactured by our colonizers... how merdeka are we, anyway?

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  2. I love how you end your post with the nice sentence there. :D

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