This is what Malaysia Day is to 15-year old artist with autism, Amira Daniea Saiful Amri of DanieaArt.

For many of us, Merdeka Day has been noted as a celebration of our country’s independence. A day when we watch the Merdeka Day parade, hear Sudirman’s Tanggal 31 and Di Sini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta, or just spending time having a meal with the family.

Prior to 2010, Malaysia Day was observed as a state public holiday only in Sabah and Sarawak.  Subsequently, Malaysia Day on 16 September became a nationwide public holiday. The then Prime Minister, Najib Razak, made the decision after a question-and-answer session at Parliament on 19 October 2009, giving Malaysians two celebrations related to the country’s independence.

Officially, Merdeka Day on August 31, 1957 marks Malaya’s independence from the British, while Malaysia Day on September 16, 1963 was when the peninsula allied with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore to create Malaysia. Singapore was subsequently expelled in 1965.

What does Malaysia Day mean to her citizens? We asked different members of society on their thoughts:

Daphne Iking , 42, Content Creator , Emcee & Child Activist: As a fellow Sabahan, I’m proud to be part of Malaysia, but I really hope Sabah’s rights under the Malaysia Agreement are protected. I also hope our policymakers will be able to address the issues of Statelessness, especially undocumented children – many deserving Malaysians 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙉𝙊𝙏 Malaysians and if it continues to be swept under the carpet or pushed aside for “other important matters”, it will only get worse and we will be on the losing ground.

Selamat Hari Malaysia. Lest we forget.

Albert Khoo, 65, retiree: Malaysia Day is a special day to remind every Malaysian citizen that we live in a wonderful country without any major natural disasters. Albert, who celebrates the same birthday as Malaysia Day today, said it is not just another public holiday but a day every Malaysian should celebrate and fly the Jalur Gemilang in every Malaysian home.

Dr Ismail Ali, 52, Consultant Surgeon: Malaysia Day to me is the day Malaysia came to be, embracing Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore to become one big Nation. Embracing unity in diversity.

Malaysia and the world are undergoing some very major challenges which call for us to work together to overcome these setbacks: COVID-19, economic downturn and political fatigue. Let Malaysia Day be the glue to put together the tangled fabric of our nation.

Morshidi Abdul Rahman, 67, Retired Special Branch Senior Officer: As a Sarawak-born Malaysian, I am proud of the roles played by the members of my family in urging for Merdeka for Sarawak. From the sacrifices of the late Rosli Dhoby to that of the 338 Movement, to the proud role of the Persatuan Kebangsaan Melayu Sarawak, these have helped to inculcate the spirit of independence among us. Coupled that with the role which I also played in fighting the Communist Terrorists with other Sarawak patriots, the Police, Armed Forces, Border scouts and the PFF, we are proud to be part of Malaysia Merdeka.

If the need arises, I will not hesitate to take up arms against the traitors and subversive elements threatening the national unity and peace. I am proud of my small role in keeping the country safe. Let us not be like Papua New Guinea, that achieved independence, but not peace, neither prosperity.

Julia Ahmad Bahrom Titingan, 44, Social Worker and Social Media Activist: Prior to 2010, many Malaysians see September 16 as just another day. For Sabahans, and Sarawakians too, it used to be a day designated as the official birthday of the state’s governor. To me, Malaysia day is not just a public holiday, but it is a day for us to reflect on the formation of Malaysia on 16 Sept 1963. Malaya, North Borneo (later known as Sabah), Sarawak and Singapore formed the Federation of Malaysia under the Malaysian Agreement.

There is no point to being an independent sovereign nation if our children don’t have jobs, our economy is down in the dumps, and there is no progress. With this in our focus, let us therefore look at this year’s Malaysia Day celebration as one to renew the commitment made by our founding fathers and let this be the day that will dawn a new era for Sabahans where they can look forward to finally realise what it means to be Malaysians.

Anne Sivanathan, 49, Founder, Inclusive Outdoor Classroom and Honorary Secretary, National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM): Malaysia Day to me is a reflection of the true meaning of inclusion and diversity. Have we as a society walked the talk as being a tolerant society?

Creating awareness campaigns are wonderful, but how effective is it? Fostering acceptance and respecting an individual for who he or she is regardless is what we are lacking and much needs to be done. It has yet to become a lifestyle.

Mohd Adli Yahya, 56, Founder of Autism Cafe Project: Malaysia Day, eh? Probably to me it comes together with equality and opportunity for everyone to be productive. Live life to its fullest potential regardless of your gender, skin colour or different abilities.

When you have a child growing into adulthood, this particular question arises: Will he able to survive when we are not around? I guess for those of us with special needs children, the fear is very real. It’s a difficult subject, but we need to face it – heads on! When you as a parent has found a solution, we need support because we can’t work alone. The solution has to be a concerted effort. It has to be nurtured by everyone. My son produces beautiful bracelets but what’s the point of having 1,000 bracelets if they are not sold? This is where the public can help us out. You can create market opportunities for them. They make, you help them to sell. It is in sync. When this happens, it will be a win-win situation … perfect opportunities for all.

Prem Kumar, early 40s, Principal Coach and Co-Founder, Care2Run Malaysia: We may be differently-abled, but certainly not dis-abled. Being special is not our choice, acceptance is your choice. Include us. Embrace inclusion and diversity. Care2Run does. Selamat Hari Malaysia from all of us at Care2Run!

Dr Azlina Masdar, 46, Anaesthesiologist: Malaysia Day to me is to be able to live in harmony despite different religions, beliefs, races and backgrounds. Everyone is free to live their lives and be given equal opportunities in society albeit having different abilities.

Malaysia Day to Daniea, my 15-year old Autism Artist daughter, means Merdeka. She uses these two words interchangeably. Daniea was born and raised abroad, so when we decided to bring her home, we showed her lots of Malaysian flags and KLCC photos, and these two are then glued to her memory about our beautiful country.

Suzannie Omar, 57, receptionist: As a single mother of five children, one of whom is under the Autism Spectrum, I would like to see more opportunities for those with special needs. Izham, 27, is high functioning and is able to work, although he is a bit slow when it comes to focussing on the job at hand. Yet, when applying for jobs, he never really stood a chance in competition with the typically-developed individuals. We have applied for more than 200 jobs, but to no avail despite scoring As in SPM and PMR in mathematics, science and English with a pass in Bahasa Malaysia.

Izham was in the deans list in Kolej Komuniti Jelebu, and although on paper it is stated that facilities are provided for them in reality, he stands no chance at all. So far, he was only able to get jobs as pump attendant and store assistant carrying bags of rice in a groceries store although he is fortunate that an advocacy group, Care2Run is giving him an opportunity to be trained as a media editor.

Raja Chinaya and Tamillarasi Subramaniam, parents of two children under the Autism Spectrum: For us, Malaysia Day means national unity and our rich diversity. It reminds that we are indeed blessed to be a part of our great nation.

Last year, we experienced something special. Both our kids started a liking for the terms Merdeka and Jalur Gemilang, dancing and singing to Sudirman’s song. Our youngest know that the Jalur Gemilang and Merdeka are intertwined. We, parents of children with special needs share our concerns for acceptance. Another common thing we have is our love for this country. Unity in diversity.

Mikhail Farouk, 17, Student with Aspergers and Mazuin Murtadza, 46 but feels 27, Momvocate : Mikhail – Malaysian history is not really my strong suit, so when I heard that Malaysia Day was about Sabah and Sarawak becoming a part of Malaysia, I was like “OK” I didn’t really have any feelings towards the event. But with that being said, I am grateful to be born in a nation that tries to be inclusive and that is just as good as to “already being inclusive”.

Mazuin – As a mum I can associate bringing up Mikhail to being almost similar as the road leading to the proclamation of Merdeka and Malaysia Day itself. Plenty of exciting challenges, but the rewards are so amazing and worth every effort. That’s my boy.

Hang Kasturi, recently conceived, NMH Columnist: The evolution of Malaysia – the Sunda Shelf, the Golden Chersonese, Gangga Negara, Kedah, Melaka, Johor-Riau-Lingga kingdom, the Malay countries/territories/ states, the unfederated Malay states (Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Terengganu), the Federated Malay states (Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang), the Straits Settlement (Melaka, Penang, Province Wellesley, Singapore), British Malaya (the unfederated and federated Malay states and the Straits Settlements), Malai, Malaya (all states in Peninsula Malaysia), 14 state Malaysia (Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore), 13 state Malaysia (without Singapore) and Malaysia (13 states and 3 Federal Territories).

We have come a long way, my fellow Malaysians. Practice makes perfect. And we are still practising. The ingredients required to make it perfect – respect the Constitution, respect the King, respect the official religion, respect the national language, respect all the official symbols and icons of the nation, respect the Bumiputra status, respect each other, respect the law of the land – respect peace and harmony. Respect the history. Perfection will come.

Clement Woo, 48, Executive Director: Malaysia Day. It wasn’t celebrated when I was in school, or during most part of my adult life. Not until it was announced by our former Prime Minister Datuk Sri Najib Razak that we would be celebrating Malaysia Day on September 16 some years ago. Malaysia was formed with the participation of Sabah and Sarawak. We should be proud that together, we had triumphed over the colonisation, confrontation and threat of communism.

While our economy is at a slowdown thanks mainly to poor economic policies and ineffective financial management the last couple of years, we are sure that like her people, Malaysia’s economy is resilient and we shall triumph one day. What we need to do is to stand united and make this Malaysia Day a very meaningful one for the country’s long-term benefit.

Yahya Imran, 29, Financial Auditor: Hari Malaysia to me is more than just an annual holiday, it’s to commemorate the establishment of Malaysia via the union of the Peninsula and the Borneo. This historical moment also proved that Malaysia is ahead of its time with the tagline of “unity in diversity.”

Especially this year during an unprecedented crisis, we Malaysians strive to take care of each other embracing a new tagline of Kita Jaga Kita by not leaving anyone behind in the war against the pandemic. Despite the differences between us, we are united because we share the mutual thing: We are Malaysians.

Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi, 29, Student and Writer: As a Sarawakian, Malaysia Day represents pride in the autonomy of my state. Ever since 1963, we feel like we belong in a proper democratic society, not a colony of an imperial power.

Despite all that has happened the past years and the potential cracks, we are still united in spite of what the annoying politicians are trying to do.

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