It was the summer of 2017, and I was apartment-hunting in downtown Melbourne. I went on time to meet my realtor at the first house I was called to view. But the realtor was busy speaking to a Caucasian couple.
I didn’t think much of it until I followed the realtor to the next house. The realtor simply refused to unlock the grill to let me in.
I experienced the same later too. I was either allowed to view the place but treated as invisible or denied entry altogether.
For the first time in my life, I understood what racism was.
Though I had been granted an Australian PR within a year after I applied, thanks to the higher-than-average score on both my IELTS and PR qualifications, I soon found out there were no loans, no social support and no opportunities for migrants like me, who were not attached to any multinational corporation. Qualifications and experience didn’t count.
Many Malaysians who had migrated to Australia with cash capital start their own F&B business. Some are also willing to work in entry-level jobs at grocers, supermarkets, or restaurants just to make ends meet.
Very soon, I started to question my decision to migrate.
Like many non-Bumiputera Malaysians, we were instilled with the idea that we were not treated fairly since we were young.
As time progressed and the country’s political stability worsened, we started believing in the inequality that some politicians wanted us to believe. We believed in the racism that in many ways, never truly existed on a wider scale in this country.
We wanted to believe that the grass was greener on the other side. We wanted to believe that there are many places out there around the world that would accept us more openly and fairly than we were in our motherland.
Yes, there’s no denying that there are many successful Malaysians out there around the world, and there is nothing wrong with being inspired by that.
However, I just want to make the point that many of our fundamental qualities were forged on this motherland. When we seek success in a foreign land, we are also leaving our community, our country, and our people behind, BY CHOICE.
I grew up eating Lontong Johor for breakfast, Putu Piring for dessert, playing football by the mosque, going for open houses during Hari Raya, and speaking multiple languages.
I also started my part-time business during the school holidays without any hassle from the authorities.
Beach holidays were just a few hours drive away. Chilling with friends at the mamak till late night was how I spent my regular weekends.
Apart from a very small number of private companies, almost every job opportunity available here in Malaysia is made available for every Malaysian, regardless of our background, religion and ethnicity.
Throughout my life, I have NEVER been treated differently by anybody in this country before I met them, simply because of my ethnicity.
The more I look back on my life, the more I see that we were not sidelined by anybody in Malaysia. We merely chose to segregate ourselves from others.
There are policies that aren’t made equal for everybody, but it was with the purpose of lifting up the ones who are most in need.
We have one of the most business-friendly environments in the world and can do almost anything we aspire to do, but we choose to go away and contribute to a foreign land that has done nothing for us.
That is why I came back. I gave up the Australian PR that so many family and friends around me are yearning for.
I even repositioned my business to be 100% locally focused, with the intention to create something that we Malaysians can be proud of.
I speak Bahasa Malaysia to people whom I meet on the street, although not perfect, I try. And I’m proud of it.
I spend more time appreciating the places, food, cultures, and people that I once overlooked, and I make every effort to bring my daughter along in this journey to rediscover how to appreciate and love this motherland of mine. No, OUR MOTHERLAND.
This is our home and it will always be until I draw my last breath and I hope the same for my future generations.
Emigration is one of the biggest problems affecting the future of this country my fellow countrymen, especially my fellow Malaysian Chinese.
Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) said the number of Malaysian Chinese in the population would drop to about 19.6% by 2030 with continued emigration and low birth rates.
Yes, I know some of you are hoping for better opportunities, better financial prospects, and a better lifestyle. I do too.
However, instead of running away, lowering ourselves to be true second class residents for stronger currencies, I urge every one of you to stay put, fight for a better future for yourself, and this country that we all call home.
Join the public services, volunteer yourself in NGOs or community services, create unique Malaysian products and services, and grow our economy.
Rise up and be one of a new generation of leaders to help steer this country to a brighter future that we all have envisioned to see.
Tanah tumpahnya darahku.
Selamat Hari Merdeka my fellow Malaysians, wherever you are.
Marc Chua is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.