Did you know that there are over 250 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups in Malaysia? Yet, many Malaysians will hesitate to name just ten outside of the majority Malay, Chinese, and Indian races. Sure, these “dan lain lain” or “other” ethnicities may make up only one per cent of the country’s population, but that still amounts to at least three million people. More importantly, they’re still Malaysians.
As Malaysia Day approaches its 57th reiteration, it’s long overdue for Malaysians to get to know our fellow citizens, no matter what percentage they constitute of the population or which box they check on official documentations. Besides, what’s the point of taking pride in our diversity if we don’t even know half of it?
Enter #RojakStories, an inclusive online platform by The Rojak Projek to promote unity through the sharing of stories, culture, and diversity, with the aim to bridge the gap between East and West Malaysians and to foster a better understanding of unheard communities.
“Although we are proud to be Malaysian, the truth is the whole nation still does not know each other.” – Faye Lim
#RojakStories was birthed amidst the pandemic as a means to continue its previously halted Rojak Nation movement, where individuals of varying backgrounds can mix and collaborate in ways that lend a voice to unheard, underrepresented fellow Malaysians.
“It is my hope that #RojakNation will one day evolve into a larger, national-scale nation-building movement where anyone can contribute to make this bridge happen,” tells Faye Lim, founder of The Rojak Projek.
“However, when the pandemic happened, the hardest decision I had to make was to pause everything,” she goes on. “This was a time we had to stop and reset our values and I was concerned because we were so used to doing everything physically—we would be out meeting people from various backgrounds and organising for youths to visit kampungs by planning it with the villagers.”
A ray of hope came on the tail end of 2020, when a group of students from Taylor’s University got in touch with her to collaborate on a community service project with The Rojak Projek.
“These younger people gave me hope to realise that we can actually still continue this race online to bridge the gap. That’s when I was inspired and began building up #RojakStories,” she explains.
The initiative started in early 2021, involving “puzzle templates” for the students to conduct interviews with individuals from various parts of Malaysia. Together, the community leaders and youths collectively carried out more than 20 interviews.
“We had youths from Malaysia and other parts of the world like Indonesia, Maldives, China, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Sri Lanka who contributed to help bring a highlight to the unheard communities,” she says.
“I never thought we would be in the same [virtual] ‘room’ with a Penan, Kayan, Jati Miriek, Saban, Sekapan, Dusun Tatana, Kadazandusun and many others despite this pandemic.”
What did these Malaysian Borneans have to say?
Plenty—of their status as “Dan Lain Lain”, of their sentiments as East Malaysians, and of their hopes for the country through The Rojak Projek. Read some of their thoughts below:
Patricia Daniel, Kayan, Sarawak
“I feel like our community is not being recognised. Why do we have [just] Malay, Chinese, Indians? Why can’t we have the rest?”
Ian Hadrian, Iban, Sarawak
“I have always wished that some forms do not have that “lain lain” or basically, as a Malaysian, I would prefer that we don’t have any classification at all. It is just fine with me and being a Malaysian.”
Priscilla Siaman Tylors, Bidayuh, Sarawak
“When I heard about The Rojak Projek, it felt so close to my heart because I feel like this is exactly what we need right now. We need to make other people, especially those in our own country, to be more aware of how diverse we are so that we can include as many people as possible, no matter what our background is.”
Dylan Dumpangol, Sino-Kadazan, Sabah
“As much as I am so proud of being part of Malaysia, there are still obstacles in my way from becoming fully a part of my nation. I cannot stress enough the times when I wished my identity and my recognition as a fellow Malaysian Kadazan from East Malaysia would be more prevalent. But the sad fact is that isn’t the case!
“That being said, this is why I strongly believe The Rojak Projek is so important because it gives a voice to the unrepresented such as myself to feel like someone actually thinks that I matter. Awareness is important to untold stories from people such as myself so that others can be reminded that I’m not just an ‘other’ but an individual of equivalent weight and recognition!”
How can you be part of the movement?
#RojakStories is just one out of the many initiatives that TRP Creatives—the social enterprise behind The Rojak Projek—has championed in its noble mission to unite all Malaysians. From creating 550 unique food art portraits of Malaysians of varying backgrounds to travelling across the country to film a documentary of our diverse cultures, the social enterprise is constantly exploring new and creative approaches to achieve its mission.
Now, the social enterprise is calling on more youths to collaborate and participate in the #RojakStories movement. This will allow the younger generation to connect with underrepresented communities , while honing various skills including conducting interviews, writing, video editing, social media, and the like.
Meanwhile, TRP will continue to guide youths to prepare their journey to interview and interact with the aforementioned 250-plus unheard communities.
“We also need more kind and courageous Borneans to participate with us and to share your stories and culture,” Faye says, adding that our Borneo family has to play a part to educate and empower our youths too.
“This is going to be a next-level adventure to finally meet all our brothers and sisters online. For us, the ultimate aim in Malaysia is to overcome ignorance and help our nation to know each other better while acknowledging and appreciating all of our differences.”
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