I’m based in Kuching, Sarawak, but am currently in New York for a month of training.

And the first thing I did when I woke up on Saturday 28th April was to check Facebook, to get updates on how the Bersih rallies in Malaysia went. I was so happy and relieved to see that the one in Kuching went well, and that my friends who attended it were alright. But I was sad and horrified to see what happened in KL. And after what happened, there was no way I could stay away from the Bersih 3.0 New York edition.

I went not only to make a personal stand for clean and fair elections, but also as a show of support for all those who took a risk attending the rallies in Malaysia.

11 am, Times Square, New York City: The weather was gorgeous! Malaysians started trickling in, and they were just genuinely excited to meet other fellow Malaysians.

The atmosphere was festive and it felt like a big family reunion even though most of us were strangers to each other.

Malaysians of all races, religions and age groups uniting for the same cause... free and fair elections. | Photo by Serina WG

I’ve always believed that every Malaysian citizen should have the right to vote regardless of where they are living, and watching my fellow Malaysians fighting for their rights so far from home made me feel both proud and sad.

Photo by Serina WG

The spokesperson also addressed the brain drain issue.  He encouraged Malaysians who were studying or working abroad to learn new skills and gain experience, and then to eventually go home to Malaysia.

Photo by Serina WG
We wrote messages of hope and support on the banner. | Photo by Serina WG

We sang our national anthem, ‘Negaraku’, proudly.  We sang Malaysian staples like ‘Rasa Sayang’, but not so proudly because most of us couldn’t remember the second verse!

Photo by Serina WG

The spokesperson asked us to shout out the names of our home states, and it was heartening to see a whole spectrum of Malaysian states being represented in New York.  And it was then of course inevitable that they started to shout out the local food they missed.  Those cries for ‘Mamak! Durian! Loh Mee!’ were particularly heartfelt.

Which led to the spokesperson confessing that he was scared everyone would be late for the 11am rally, with the Malaysian culture of ‘Almost there, just round the corner! Parking now, parking now!’

"Ibu Pertiwiku" - Sarawak's state anthem. | Photo by Serina WG

Our second spokesperson talked about how it’s time for a change, and that we Malaysians have had enough of dirty politics.

There was no political talk.  The agenda of the day was Clean and Fair Elections, and that was what was being discussed.

My parents instilled in my sister and I a strong sense of fair play and justice since we were children.  If I knew for certain that the election results were fair, I would honour the majority vote and support the government of the day. Bersih is the best platform we have right now to find and fix the flaws in our electoral process.

As the first spokesperson said, ‘You want to play dirty? It’s okay. We play bersih’.

I believe in fighting fair and clean, and this is why I support Bersih’s cause, which is a civic movement, not a political movement.

Photo by Serina WG

I did not manage to stay for the whole event, but from what I saw that day, the rally started with a group of peaceful Malaysians who were passionate about the welfare of their country. And as the hours passed, the sentiments just deepened into one of unity. There was a fierce pride of being Malaysian, and of wanting our country to move forward.

Photo by Serina WG

The best part about this experience was being able to be part of something bigger than myself.  It was a privilege to stand alongside my fellow Malaysians and to fight for the same cause.

Unfortunately, there was a cloud hanging over my enjoyment of the togetherness and feeling of national unity. In the back of my mind were the reports I had heard of violence against Malaysians attending the rally in Kuala Lumpur.

Personal accounts from my friends and family who were at the Kuala Lumpur rally made me realise that until the tear gas was fired, they were experiencing the same happy, safe, positive vibe we were having in New York, and which others were also enjoying in Kuching, Penang and London.

I found that to be extremely tragic, and I salute every single person who attended the rally in Kuala Lumpur, for being brave enough to stand up for the rest of us Malaysians and to believe in a better Malaysia.

You make me proud to be Malaysian.

Serina, proudly Malaysian at Bersih New York. | Photo by Serina WG

Serina is a dance instructor based in Kuching, Sarawak.