“Choose One!”: Challenges of Inter-Ethnic Marriages in Malaysia

  •  Giok Hun Pue    
  •  Nidzam Sulaiman    


The fact that inter-ethnic marriage has been practiced in Malaysia since pre-colonial times is well known and recorded in its history. While there is a modest rise in number of people who choose to marry spouses from different ethnic group in the country, the practice itself has been generally portrayed as a problematic and wanting especially in the Peninsular Malaysia. Popular writings and mass media play a significant role in stereotyping the phenomenon as a current modern (read: western)-influenced trend in contemporary society, as well as its potential to create tensions between the spouses due to their differences in ethnic background and culture. Based on our qualitative study conducted in 2011 on 50 respondents with first-hand experience in inter-ethnic marriages, this paper argues that sources of conflict faced by the couples are not originated from spouses themselves. Instead, they were initiated by various external sources which stem from overwhelming dominance of authority-defined social reality in the organisation of social differences according to rigid ethnic lines in the society. As a result, positive effects of inter-ethnic marriages on maintaining social cohesion in the society, as reflected from first-hand experiences of spouses and progeny of inter-ethnic marriages, are affectively eclipsed.

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