If Malaysians were asked to come up with a single phrase that could sum up the diversity of Malaysia as a multiracial nation, we would be hard put to do so.
For the truth is, many Malaysians have taken for granted the richness of the country’s cultural tapestry that is made up of a myriad cultures, creeds and colours that have co-existed in relative accord for centuries. It provides a message that diversity and harmony can exist side by side and contribute to the flourishing of a nation.
Malaysia’s cultural diversity has proven to be a magnet not just for tourists wanting to experience what is “truly Asia” in one destination, it has also been a beacon drawing thousands of foreign students who want to enrich their cultural experience by mingling with and learning from many different races and creeds.
Malaysia is indeed a microcosm of Asia. While many of us consider the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban and Kadazan communities as the stoic representatives of Malaysian multi-culturalism, the richness of our heritage goes beyond that, with Portuguese, Dutch, English and other European bloodlines together with the Orang Asli, and other foreign strains such as the Armenians and Thais amongst us.
If that’s not enough, mixed marriages have brought about offspring who are only too happy to state that they are unable to lay claim to any of the major races as their predominant bloodline. The intermingling of bloodlines makes them unique representatives of today’s Malaysia.
In recent years, we have also many immigrants from the Middle East, Asia and other regions of the world who have adopted Malaysian citizenship and cherish their Malaysian identity, further enriching our ethnicity.
Perhaps Malaysians’ ennui about our cultural diversity is because it is something that has been a state of the nation for so many centuries that we have ceased to wonder and get excited at it.
As far back as the 14th century, history records that Malacca, one of the most renowned cities on the Spice Route, was a major regional commercial centre where Chinese, Arab, Malay and Indian merchants traded in precious goods. The commercial activity and trading activities eventually expanded to other coastal townships, earning Malaya, as the land was then known, the appellation “The Golden Chersonese”.
From the time of the intrusion of foreign powers to Malaysia gaining independence and thereafter, working together towards a common goal – improving their living standards and enriching the nation – has been done collectively by all races and this has helped establish a strong foundation for Malaysia.
The diverse makeup of the Malaysian workforce, largely skilled or semi-skilled with a willingness to learn and adapt to employers’ needs, has been deemed to be one suited to an international business climate and the country has attracted multi-national companies to our shores as a result.
This cultural diversity combined with the relatively low cost of living, affordable real estate prices, security and stability have served to make Malaysia’s investment climate an attractive one that has brought job opportunities as well as sophisticated technologies and services to our shores.
Over the years, Malaysian companies and their people have proven that they can compete in the global arena, although there are still some thorny issues that need the attention of the authorities.
In many sectors women employees are forced to retire before their male colleagues. This goes against the grain of Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees gender equality.
There also appears to be a reluctance to hire disabled people despite the fact that with proper training they can be as productive and dedicated as normal workers. There is also the issue of over-dependence on contract labour and foreign workers and how effectively can the minimum wage be implemented across the board.
While the success of business depends on having the right people in the workforce, employers too, need to ensure fair recruitment practices. They need to take advantage of the wider pool of talent available around the country and give opportunities to those who could become an asset with the right training and guidance.
Having said this, Malaysia’s strengths as an investment destination and business hub far outweigh the factors mentioned. Any multi-national aiming to set up operations can rest assured that their people will be able to easily adapt to working and living in Malaysian society simply because, as a nation, we have for centuries had the unique skill of being able to make all foreigners feel welcome.
“Malaysia – we’ll make you feel at home.” Now, there’s a phrase we could keep in mind for future promotions.
Photo credit: Jase Yap’s Atelier