Monday, March 25, 2013

Singaporeans must understand the ties that bind

Mr Peter Wadely (“Singaporean identity must include mixed-race kids”, last Saturday) shared how the Singapore identity still isn't broad enough to accept Singaporeans, without racial consideration.

I agree with his view that the Singaporean identity is currently inelastic. It is saddening to note that it's our conviction in multi-racialism which was the major driving force behind our independence and yet how we are lukewarm to the notion of Singaporeans from the non -Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian races. 

Are we really a multi-racial or perhaps just a quadri-racial society  ?

 Can we conceive the possibility of having a local MP of Filipino ethnic origin? Or a perhaps a cabinet minister of Burmese origin ? These questions likely provoked an almost visceral sense of disbelief among many of us. 

The inelasticity of the Singaporean identity could be attributed to the fact as a nation we still lack a conceptual understanding of who we are and what we stand for. Without this understanding, we lack the criteria to determine whether one is a Singaporean or not. Hence, inadvertently, we revert back to the limiting but visible concept of race as the guideline of determining one's “Singaporeaness”. Given that it was the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian races which have been traditionally rooted here, we conveniently believe that the Singaporean identity is almost exclusively limited to those from these racial categories.

A clear understanding of our national narrative would make our identity more elastic. The United States of America has been recognised for its ability to integrate immigrants from diverse backgrounds and I believe its success is attributable to its well-expressed commitment to ideals- such as democracy and equality of opportunity- “the American dream''. These unique combination of ideals underpin the nation.An individual with whom these values resonate is thus identifiable as an American.

In Singapore, we urgently need to understand what collectively binds us together as one. As we open our doors to more immigrants, the question of who we are will become more pressing. Also we will have more Singaporeans from non-traditional backgrounds. In the absence of a clear conceptual understanding of our identity it is likely that we will develop a Singaporean identity which is even more insular. This would be thoroughly unfortunate.

An edited version of this article was published on the Straits Times on 25th March 2013. Link :