Examining the Evolution of “Pendatang”

The powerful word pendatang is used to describe not just other migrant groups, but also Malaysians residing in the peninsula, in a derogatory and disparaging way. Originally a neutral term without political insinuations, pendatang evolved into a synecdoche—with a new modern meaning—from the late 1970s and 80s. Today, pendatang is used by Malaysian politicians as an exclusionary tool of identity politics. This article argues that this term has grown in influence over society over the years, but also examines how people have attempted to fight back.

While I am a member of a minority community, I began learning about the etymology of pendatang because of an interaction with a woman who has lived her entire life as an irregular migrant on our shores.

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