Please remain identifiably foreign

When a government of a nation suggests to its peoples that they should retain their diverse cultures, what exactly could its objectives be?

Malaysia, whose development was enhanced by immigrants from (mainly) India, China, and Ceylon during British rule, became a Malay Muslim nation after independence. A minuscule Ceylon Tamil community, over 3 generations, had made a substantial contribution in such government services as medicine, education, and railways, amongst others. Achievers included, I was told, an admiral, diplomats, professors. Following the Malay makeover, the Ceylonese are successful in the private sector, and in the professions.

They are integrated into the nation, as are the descendants of the other so-called ‘nationalities’ or ethnicities. While each resident follows his destiny path, according to his relative abilities, in the urban areas where the majority of non-Malays reside, citizens of diverse ethno-cultural origins live and behave in much the same way, occupational and class differences aside. This applies in Singapore too (this island was part of British Malaya). What can they do that is different?

Since prayer and other religious observances are private matters, and exercised freely, what are those aspects of ethnic cultures which are to be retained? Annual presentations in public of traditional dances offer a colourful display of origins; but why would anyone (except politicians seeking ‘tribal’ support) wish to remember, after (say) 3 generations in a new nation, cultural practices from the ancestral land which they do not know?

Apart from that, as some of Australia’s immigrants discovered, cultural practices ‘back home’ had evolved during their absence. Worse still, the culture they remember may have been a regional or island culture, not a national one.

Significantly, while I was watching, and enjoying, a presentation in Australia of a traditional dance from one of the nations of Europe, 2 senior representatives of that national culture agreed that, in Australia, middle class dancers were indeed displaying the costumes of their peasant class! This was only show time, not a cultural celebration.

Since immigrant people tend to relate to those of other cultures freely (with some rare recent exceptions) in their adopted home, who stands to benefit from attempts to retain ancient cultural symbols, while cultural values are continually, gradually, perhaps osmotically, merging and evolving, and cultural behaviour becomes more nationalistic than tribal?