KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25 — A new collection of essays titled simply Young and Malay aims to answer this very question.
Edited by Ooi Kee Beng and Wan Hamidi Hamid, the collection features nine young writers — Haris Zuan, Zairil Khir Johari, Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud, Altaf Deviyati, Izmil Amri, Syukri Shairi, Raja Ahmad Iskandar, Edry Faizal Eddy Yusof and Wan Hamidi himself — who share their experiences about growing up in Malaysia.
Some discuss the racial politics which inundate them and their fellow Malaysians while others recount personal life stories.
"What interests me as someone who has lived in many countries and societies, i.e. as an outsider, is the interplay in any society between individual identities and experiences on one hand, and collective identities on the other,” says Ooi.
“I realised that collective forces acting on individual identity are strongest when it comes to the Malay community. That’s why I thought it would be interesting to have a set of articles written by a group of diverse and articulate Malays reminiscing over their youth and their immediate society, and put the focus on the tension between individual fates and political regimentation of identity.”
There was no deliberate attempt at representative selection in choosing the writers for inclusion in the collection.
Wan Hamidi shares, “I chose close friends such as young work colleagues, political acquaintances, and friendly politicians. Most of them are now in their mid-twenties and early thirties. The idea is for each of them to share their experience of growing up Malay in a somewhat divided Malaysia, throughout the Nineties and the Noughties.”
Wan Hamidi had the double challenge of being both a co-editor and one of the writers included in the collection. He says, “Of course, I’m the odd-person-out here. I grew up during the Seventies and Eighties, the so-called boring years of Hussein Onn, and the exciting era of Mahathir Mohamad during his first term.
“I deliberately chose the trivial part of listening to punk rock music, and reading some Malay classics, as a way of describing how I developed my thought process, as well as, perhaps by accident, how I became a journalist.”
Wan Hamidi notes that part of his personal experience of growing up in Penang during those years has some similarities with his younger co-writers’ experiences.
“Perhaps it’s the basic Malay culture and the religious elements that exists till this day in most Malay families: things such as learning to read the Quran, attending religious classes, both inside and outside school.”
This authenticity is one of the major draws of the pieces in the collection for Ooi. “I read them for what they are — expressions of personal experiences. Not dramatic but simply honest. Very daily life,” he says.
“My own personal experience has prepared me for certain things that some people are supposed to be shocked by,” says Wan Hamidi. “Most of these young writers are actually rebelling against the norm, against the racial and religious myths that were imposed us on during our childhood years. I too experienced that.”
As a non-Malay, Ooi feels the articles expressed Malaysian experiences and thoughts that are not unique to ethnic divisions. “I could understand the thoughts and feelings expressed very easily despite being a Chinese who left Malaysia and lived all over the world for almost 40 years.”
His co-editor adds, “For readers who can’t fathom the personal lives of the Malays, this book will expose them to the inner secret, if you will, of growing up Malay.”
Young and Malay is now available in bookstores and for purchase online at http://gbgerakbudaya.com/bookshop/.