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A lack of belonging sees them leaving our shoresheading
MANY NEEDS: Chinese Malaysians want to belong to a larger community, but are becoming increasingly isolated
DURING a recent two-week visit to Melbourne, Australia, I spotted many Malay-sians, young and old, who were working, studying or living with their families there. An overwhelming majority were Chinese, followed by Indians, Eura-sians and some Malays.
I spoke to some of the Chinese Malaysians there, asking them why they chose to settle down in Australia. Many of them said that it began with their tertiary studies, after which they chose to find jobs and get married there.
They hoped that a life in Australia would offer better prospects for their children.
What can the Chinese community obtain in another country that they can't find in Malaysia? The fact that they are leaving, or choosing to settle down elsewhere after their studies, suggests that their needs are not being fulfilled in this country.
But what exactly is it that the Chinese community needs? In many ways, of course, the Chinese are no different from anyone else: they need food, shelter and clothing, as well as security in terms of job, family, health and resources.
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, these basic physiological and security needs occupy the lower levels within the hierarchy of needs. Maslow came up with the theory of this hierarchy to describe the pattern of what motivates humans.
Generally, the Chinese community has learned not to depend on anyone to take care of their basic needs, which is why programmes like Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) and Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia (KR1M) did not gain much traction among this group.
However, moving further up Maslow's hierarchy, the following needs become more difficult to attain: love/belonging, esteem and self-actualisation.
Although Maslow's theory describes love/belonging as needing to have friendship, family and sexual intimacy, I daresay it also includes a sense of belonging to the larger community and the country.
It is at this level that many middle-class Chinese Malaysians find themselves losing their footing. Even though many Chinese today have been here for several generations, they do not truly feel connected as Malaysians and still live very much in fear.
The fact is, the Chinese work so hard because they are afraid that a lot of things would not be possible for them otherwise.
High academic expectations of their children, endless tuition classes, insurance savings and investments -- these are all ways that the Chinese save for a rainy day because they do not feel that safety nets can protect them.
When a 40-year-old mother of two living in Sydney told me that she migrated because she didn't feel there was anything binding her to Malaysia, it seemed that she was describing a lack of belonging and esteem.
What she wants is for her family and children to be part of a community, to have their achievements acknowledged and to be respected by others.
Although she did not go so far as to say that she couldn't find all these in Malaysia, she did imply that she could foresee a far brighter future for her children in Australia.
Will migrating to another country solve the problems of Chinese Malaysians who feel like they do not belong?
Will we ever be able to discard this migrant mentality?
The Chinese community is now at a crossroads. Despite wanting to belong and yearning to be esteemed in their own country, they are also increasingly isolated.
They work overwhelmingly in the private sector, they dominate the numbers migrating out of the country, their population is decreasing and they interact less with other races in Malaysia.
While many Chinese cannot imagine any other home than Malaysia, they can't help but feel that they are adrift in their own land.
What will be the future for these Malaysians?