user generated culture

di Hristo Shterev*

United colors of Malacca

a short reportage from Malacca, Malaysia, a city that can be taken as an example of interculturalism

Malaysia is a true multicultural country that consist of various ethnic groups (55-60% Malays, 24% Chinese, 7% Indians and the rest  European and Asian expats or local indigenous people). There’s a city in Malaysia called Malacca. It’s one of the oldest towns in the country and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a street in Malacca called ‘Harmony Street’. It’s a very short street on which you can find the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia, one of the oldest mosques, the oldest Buddhist temple and on the other side of the street across the river are the  oldest churches in the country. The Hindu temple and the mosque even share common wall.

Every morning at 5:00 am when the imam in the mosque is singing and calling people to come pray to Allah, there are Chinese people just across the mosque having there daily pork-rich breakfast in a local restaurant. On the same street there are expats living here for quite a while. There’s an American professor who lived in Japan and taught Cultural History, a young Iranian guy who lived in Poland and now makes documentaries in Malaysia and brothers from Kashmir running their own souvenir shop. All these people and religion institutions are tucked together and live in complete harmony and peace. How does this colorful multiethnic society manage to live in peace? Living in Malacca let me realise three important lessons about multicultural societies and coexisting:

  • Sharing is truly important for a multiethnic community to thrive. They share a lot of things but most significantly they share common present and common future, common destination and common nationwide problems. They unite their unique powers and strengths not in a fight against the different culture but against the shared problems. They combine all their different skills in order to cope together with the obstacles on their path towards a better future.
  •  They are not afraid to lose their own identity in the process of mixing with other cultures. Contrariwise, they perceive the others as a mirror to their own culture. Thus, when mingling and communicating with other cultures they rediscover and get to know their own one better than before. Mixing with other identities just strengthens their own vision of themselves, but still enriches it with the flavour of the foreign one.
  • Every newcomer is contributing. No matter where you come from or where your grandparents came from, you are part of a multicultural society. So everyone here comes with the conception of how to contribute to a better place where everyone can coexist together. People who come and live here do not seek to isolate themselves and protect their culture, but rather think of a way to contribute to a better common future.

In 2011 David Cameron, British Prime Minister, declared the failure of multiculturalism. Ironically, one year earlier in 2010, Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia (a former British Colony), declared the 1Malaysia campaign which emphasizes ethnic harmony and (multi)national unity. If in Malaysia they want to do it, why wouldn’t we here in Europe at least try to?

*Hristo Shterev studied Law at Sofia University (Bulgaria) and Criminology at Ghent University (Belgium). He also completed an intensive summer school on Migration and Multicultural Societies at Woosuk University (South Korea). His hometown (Svilengrad) is situated between the borders of Bulgaria/Greece/Turkey. Hristo considers himself a true multicultural soul. Currently lives in Malaysia. 

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