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Daily reflections

Celebrating Hybridity in an Age of Diversity

I was out and about today with an uncle who came for my talk at Columbia University a few days ago. He was from Penang and, like many Penangites, had lived overseas. He chose to stay here in New York City and had done so for 40 years now.

Like me whose family too came from Penang (some would say from some desert faraway), he was a Hybrid. He told me stories about the fact that his late dad was Indian and his mum was Chinese. I too had my fair share of Arab-Indian parentage and journeys of life to share. We both laughed over how people tend to get our nationalities or ethnicities wrong, Continue reading “Celebrating Hybridity in an Age of Diversity” »

4 Gems from a Former Refugee

I attended a dinner for Fulbright Scholars in New York last week and met this man, Dr Dastidar, who is now a Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York. He was from a refugee family that lived in India. Determined to make a mark for himself, Dr Dastigar travelled and studied in the United States in search of a better life. We chatted on end about his three decades of struggle. Both of us talked as if we had known each other for so long. His life story was so inspiring and memorable that I would like to share Four Gems from this former refugee-turned-Professor for the benefit of the readers.

1. Do not lament over the Past

The mistakes we have done and the lost opportunities we have had, according to the Professor, should be a source of motivation for us to work harder rather than an excuse to continue to do badly in life. The wrong things we did and the tragedies that befell us should be guides for us to avoid committing the same errors. The sooner we learn from the setbacks we encounter, the faster we move in our journey to success.

2. Family as the Main Support System

The Professor told me that he would not have attained success in life without the help he received from his parents, relatives, wife and children. These are the people that kept urging him to persist in his strive to do well. He would also cheer them on to be just as successful as him. Without parents praying for him and without his wife and children keeping him on track, he would have been a Nobody.

Continue reading “4 Gems from a Former Refugee” »

I have been observing and reading about minorities in America. There are of course minorities that are still going through a lot of hardship despite many attempts to reform their situation. But there are also other minorities that are doing well in this country. Those that are succeeding in many fields across the country are the Jews, Japanese, Indians, Koreans and Vietnamese who were once refugees. Why are these minorities doing well? Here are 6 reasons:

1. Help their own kind first to overcome barriers in the System and in Society

The minorities that do well have a strong group feeling. They stick together and help one another. They minimize conflict between each other and give their own kind any opportunities they could find.

2. Minorities that do well invest a lot on Education

In fact, they try as much as possible to over-achieve in their studies to make it difficult for anyone to deny their importance in specific areas and professions.

3. Networks

Successful minorities work with as many people as possible within the country and beyond. They establish ties and relationships with majorities and build trust and confidence in order to gain entry in areas that were previously made impossible for them.

Continue reading “6 Things Malays in Singapore and Wherever Can Learn from Successful Minorities in America” »

The Greats, Like Us, are Human too

I just finished reading the biography of Malcolm X. A man of undaunted courage and fearless speech, his multiple transformations from a hustler to a drug pusher to  a habitual bulgar, all of which earned him a place behind bars, is relatively well-known. We are all informed of Malcolm’s radical change of heart in prison which brought him to embrace Islam. Upon his release, he became the foremost champion of Afro-American rights. Converted to orthodox Islam after his pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm’s violent end in the hands of extremists and the security services in the country he loved has made him a Legendary Figure admired by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

But what is less known is that Malcolm’s journey as a defender of the oppressed was not at all smooth sailing. His biographer explains that Malcolm’s decision to live the life of a preacher and a civil rights activist brought him into a spiral of problems and challenges that followed him to his deathbed. His own brothers stood against him when he chose to shun racism and adopt mainstream Islam. He was so  involved in community work that had so little time for family so much so that his wife felt neglected. He did, in many moments, failed to manage the movement he founded and, in the process, lost the trust of the men under his care. And the list of weaknesses, contradictions, faults and lapses goes on and on and on.

Reading the life of Malcolm X tells me that even the Greats have flaws that were sometimes so serious that we wouldn’t believe they committed such errors in the first place. That Greats struggled to make sense of their own purpose in life. What seemed meaningful for them many not have been accepted by others. The Greats made wrong judgements – sometimes fatal ones – and they learnt from such bad decisions to achieve what they wanted for the people around them. The Greats had few friends and many enemies. Like us, the Greats were all but Human. And they inform us that what we should celebrate and appreciate the humanity that is in them and in ourselves. What makes them Great is that their achievements and failures serve as Lessons for us to do be Better than them. What Malcolm has taught me is that it does not take a Saint to Speak Up for the Marginalized and the Disadvantaged. It takes Courage.

Thinking about the Homeless

Among the many facets of life that would capture my attention as I venture along the streets of New York are the poor and sad homeless people. It is easy to find many of them sitting and begging along paths where crowds rush to get to work. Some would be lying down outside food shops waiting for kind souls to offer food. Others go as far as to make the staircase landings their temporary homes.

The sight of these homeless folks saddens me each and every time I encounter them. I once saw a veteran of war who was crippled while on service. He is now left on the streets without assistance. Not wanting to be forgotten, he placed his veteran identification number and listed down the countries where he had fought and trained to make the point that he had served his homeland. Now, he wants his people to help him find a home.

Although I rarely see homeless people in Singapore, I have however read about their plight in the newspapers. We may blame these people for not managing their lives well. We may fault them for not doing enough for themselves so much so that they are left without homes of their own. We may be angry with them for sleeping in tents by the beaches and benches in parks with their children.

But our sense of humanity tells us that the homeless should not be left to suffer in silence. We need to think about them more and figure out ways to take them out of the sorrow state by which they are in. I am no policymaker who can offer big solutions to the problem of homelessness the world over. As an ordinary man on the street, I just hope that we could bring our energies together as a community to help these homeless people to get their lives back on track. I doubt it will take much effort to make this happen. It starts with us thinking about the less fortunate in our society. It starts with us sparing some change to that homeless person on the street, leaving some words of advice and showing the avenues out of their sorry state.