My husband, though now Christian, was raised Hindu in the Muslim country of Malaysia. Ha! Does that make your head spin? In this week’s post, I’m going to take you with me to the foreign land of Malaysia. To the country where my husband lived before pursuing his American Dream with me.
Malaysia is a modern country and an amazing place to visit. The food is INCREDIBLE...just ask Anthony Bourdain. The scenery is diverse with its fair share of jungles, beaches, and temperate highlands. The capital of Kuala Lumpur is a bustling metropolis with impressive architecture like the Petronas Twin Towers.
In Malaysia, families choose between schools that are taught primarily in one of three languages: Tamil (an Indian dialect), Chinese, or Malay (the native language). All schools still teach their students Malay and English (because Malaysia was an English colony and is still a part of the Commonwealth).
Even though Sudhagar is Indian, he attended Malay school for his primary and secondary education, and then went to junior college (which is like American community college). In all of these places, he met many Malay students, along with some Chinese and some other Indians.
This is where the post gets political. Gasp! Here we go…
The native Malays, or Bumiputera, are the majority group and their interests have been represented by the same governing party since Malaysia’s independence in the 1950s. The reason why so many Malays got to go to college while my husband was going through the education system (in the late 90s and early 2000s) is because the Malays get preferential treatment by the government. Even currently in the 2013-2014 school year, of the 41,573 openings at Malaysian colleges, only 19% were filled by ethnic Chinese and only 4% by ethnic Indians. When Sudhagar went through college, even fewer minorities were accepted, much less given the opportunity of a scholarship. Even though Sudhagar was very smart, he was still an Indian and there just weren’t enough scholarships available for “someone like him.”
I’m too young to have lived through the Civil Rights Movement, but the treatment of minorities in Malaysia definitely stirs up things in me. The words of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech really hit home when I realize that my husband does not get treated equally by the government of his homeland.
Not only did Sudhagar miss out on equal opportunity for education, but other preferential policies include quotas for the following: housing, positions in government, and ownership of businesses.
Sudhagar came to America in 1997 with the simple dream of pursuing a better education than the one he could get in Malaysia. He had every hope of returning to his homeland after his studies.
But then he met me. When he started looking for his first job out of graduate school, we seriously considered moving to Malaysia to be near his family (who all still live there) and I was ready for the adventure of it.
How cool would it be to live in a land where monkeys can wander into your house? I’ve actually seen that! Or you can trek through the jungle. Check. Or be thisclose to a snake charmer with a cobra. Seen that too–twice.
But when we went to visit Malaysia for the first time together, many of Sudhagar’s friends and family members told him to never come back. “There’s no opportunity for Indians here,” they said. Even his high school teacher (also ethnic Indian) told him, “You’re better off in America or Australia. That’s where my sons went to work.”
So Sudhagar and I have opted for the American dream, not because Malaysia’s a terrible place, simply because it will not offer us equal opportunity due to the color of Sudhagar’s skin. And, I guess, the color of my skin, too.