I do not remember life before permanent residency, but I do remember how much of a pain it was to be as a Permanent Resident (PR), a seemingly unknown status within Malaysia, one where I had to keep explaining my right to exist over and over again. What made it even worse was that I was a Bangladeshi, a supposedly "dirty illegal"; never mind that my parents were educated middle-class and that my father was brought in as a civil engineer.
No child should ever have to be told by their teachers to "go back to your country". No child should ever have to explain the news reports that claimed that Bangladeshis were robbing houses and stealing women (only to be told upon protest that I should "grow thicker skin"). I had teachers tell my classmates, in front of my face, "don’t let the Bangla girl do better than you". Even my art skills came under scrutiny, with teachers mocking me during exams saying "my six-year-old could do better". The students copied the teachers in their mockery of me. It didn’t matter that I won tons of awards every year, that I was the best English language student the whole time I was there—their perception of my race invalidated any good thing I tried to do or achieved.
No one stood up for me. Instead, when I attempted suicide in the prayer room at age 11, the only other person there said "God will send you to hell". I begged my parents to send me elsewhere, even overseas, but a combination of their overprotective paranoia plus the fact that as a PR I am meant to be in a government-run school (ironic, given the fact that my school kept trying to expel me every other year claiming I didn’t have a "student visa") had me staying in the local school system for 11 years. Not that secondary school was much better—a little less overt in their racism, perhaps, but you notice it when the Malay prefects and the non-Malay prefects hold separate meetings on why the other group should not field a candidate for Head Prefect, or when you’re sitting in assembly and one of the admins suddenly announces that no permanent residents will be accepted as prefects — when everyone knows you’re the only permanent resident there anyway.
The last day of SPM was like a release from jail.
The questions asked of me were inane enough ("Write 150 words on the importance of National Day!") but the most galling part involved sitting in the interview room, being asked what my most important responsibility and contribution was as a new citizen…only to be told by the interviewers that the right answer is to vote for the ruling party, because they were the ones who gave me the "gift" of permanent residency.