By Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, U.S. Ambassador
Every July 4, the U.S. Embassy proudly hosts Independence Day celebrations in Kuala Lumpur and Sabah. We celebrate not only America's Declaration of Independence, which started the United States on its journey as a nation 244 years ago, but also the strong ties between the United States and Malaysia.
It is a time to enjoy our friendship, to reaffirm our commitment to common democratic principles, and even serves as an occasion for dancing.
This year, because of the pandemic, we unfortunately cannot come together in person. I still wish to celebrate the day, our close friendship, and our vibrant cooperation in trade, security, human rights, good governance, education, public health, environmental conservation, and cultural exchange.
One remarkable aspect of the American colonies' Declaration of Independence was the huge risk taken by those who signed the document. Their signatures constituted treason, for which the punishment might well have deprived them of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Despite the likelihood of failure, on July 4, 1776, the signers knowingly assumed that risk and followed their collective consciences.
In 2020, we have also seen great courage and commitment. Our health workers – doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff in both the United States and Malaysia – have faced real peril in their work, but have shown professional commitment and true heroism in continuing to provide critical health care in the face of great risk.
It is not only health workers who have risen to the occasion, but also our scientists and researchers.
We are especially proud of Professor Datuk Dr. Adeeba Kamarulzaman. An adjunct associate professor at Yale University and Dean at the Universiti Malaya Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Adeeba is embarking on a clinical study at four hospitals to evaluate a drug to treat severe cases of COVID-19. From Malaysia, she is working closely with her colleagues at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, showcasing the semangat inovasi that is essential to defeating this disease.
Over the last decade, the United States and Malaysia collaborated on the PREDICT project, hunting zoonotic viruses in wildlife before they become human epidemics, and identifying the factors driving their emergence, amplification and spread. This program depended upon the efforts of hundreds of Malaysians and Americans and required strong partnerships with PERHILITAN, the Ministry of Health, the Department of Veterinary Service, and Sabah's Health and Wildlife Departments. Our joint efforts behind PREDICT have been instrumental in understanding the challenges we face in fighting COVID-19.
Our exchange program alumni have showcased our shared commitment to helping others.
Masala Wheels, headed by Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Professional Fellow Kuhan Pathy, provided meals for medical personnel, stranded university students, and the less fortunate. Suzanne Ling, a YSEALI Academic Fellow and Co-Founder of PichaEats, employed refugees – who cater food from their homelands – to prepare meals for hospitals, other refugees, and the elderly. YSEALI Professional Fellow Baitulhusna Ahmad Azmri, founder of Nazkids, collaborated with a local bank to make and distribute cloth face masks in rural Kedah.
What many may not know is that our annual Independence Day celebrations are supported by American companies in Malaysia, and every year we thank them for their generosity.
This year, our private sector firms have done something even more important. Since March, the American-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) has organized the efforts of nearly 50 companies to raise more than U.S. $7 million in cash and in-kind donations for Malaysian hospitals and social programs.
Even in the face of the pandemic and financial concerns, U.S. companies continue to commit to Malaysia, in many cases in exciting new fields. Last week, U.S. medical device company DexCom, which produces glucose monitoring systems for individuals with diabetes, announced that it will set up manufacturing and research facilities outside on a 28-acre site in Penang. The facility is expected to create high-value manufacturing, facilities management, and research and development jobs over the course of the next decade.
While we cannot share the dance floor at our Independence Day parties, we can share these stories of courage and cooperation. Still, we will miss the music.
And in that spirit, this week the Embassy released a new recording of the Malaysian classic Standing in the Eyes of the World.
The song showcases the true nature of the U.S.-Malaysia partnership. Produced by Malaysia's Helen Yap and composed by Dato' Wah Idris, both alumni of Boston's Berklee College of Music, the song is about the importance of perseverance in achieving one's goals. Appropriately, the bilingual lyrics were written by Malaysia's Habsah Hassan and American rock musician David Gates.
Our version features several American cultural envoys who have performed in Malaysia in recent years, including the amazing Tony Memmel who wowed audiences in KL in 2018 by playing the guitar despite only having one hand, and a member of the U.S. Air Force's Band of the Pacific who played at LIMA 2019.
The track also features the Ratu Rock, Ella, a legendary musician who became the first Malaysian to record an album in America with the 1994 record-breaking release Ella USA.
This year we face daunting challenges and will require perseverance, courage, and kindness. Thankfully, we have great friends in the Malaysian people, who have stood with us in facing this unprecedented adversity.
Please stay safe and may we dance together next year! Happy July 4th!!!
(Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir is the United States Ambassador to Malaysia.)