When our Founder Mr Lee Kwan Yew passed away, we witnessed the country’s unity as we mourned and shed tears together. When 10 Singaporeans were killed during the trekking expedition in Mount Kinabalu, we grieved regardless of the victims’ race and origins. Disasters and deaths happen everywhere but we feel close to the heart for one reason – We are Singaporeans.
As host to the 28th SEA Games, our athletes won a tremendous 259 medals. Many Singaporeans signed up as volunteers and others involved by cheering for our athletes; some also brought their young children along to show them the Singapore spirit at work. We strive to show the world our capability of hosting international events is not constrained by the country’s size.
This year we march into our 50th year of independence where we celebrate our rise from a rural island to successful country. Our achievements in nation-building are contributed by working together as a team and playing our role in society, regardless of race, language or religion.
Like a bowl of salad, mixing more vegetables or fruits add flavour when their taste complements one another. Singapore has a mix of different races, social and cultural habits. Instead of allowing this diversity to become a hindrance to our progress, we want to recreate these differences to our advantages. This implies recognising, not avoiding, our differences. We need to find the balance between national and ethnic identity.
English language has become such an essential platform for communication that many children in Chinese families do not speak Mandarin unless it is absolutely necessary. Occasions like Chinese New Year gradually become just another travel opportunity.
Losing our ethnic identity means lowering our competitive edge over other homogeneous countries. It is easier for Singaporeans to understand the business culture in China in comparison to other western countries such as Finland. However over-emphasis on ethnic identity may segregate races and derail our goal of building strong national identity.
To cope with the conflict between national and ethnic identity, the essential key is not to bind each race to their individual ethnic identity. For instances, instead of targeting only the Chinese communities in the Speak Mandarin campaign, we can encourage other races to participate by having booths to translate their names into Mandarin. Different communities can share the origins of their “New Year”, wedding traditions, interesting legends or beliefs through regularly-held carnivals or story-telling sessions to instill interest among all the races.
I once heard a really beautiful song played during a Malay wedding but to my regret, I did not know the title and how to go about finding out about it. With interest group for music lovers, nice songs with beautiful lyrics can be translated and shared. For food-lovers, we can have a recipe exchange where different races can learn from one another and improvise, such as making Halal dumplings and adding some Indian spices.
Schools or community clubs should continue to conduct more bilingual cultural activities. There are existing cultural classes conducted in English but more information should be provided to avoid erroneous assumptions. For example, I may stir clear of the Bharathanatyam, an Indian classical dance course because I thought it is strictly for Indians or assume it is conducted only in Tamil.
There are many reasons that make me a proud Singaporean. Our low crime rate makes me feel safe walking down the street. The cleanliness and greenery are common sights everywhere, not just Changi Airport and attractions for tourists are.
We have equal opportunity to pursue education and career without discrimination. Most amazing is how far and fast we have progressed from third world to first world country with a strong economy and a high quality of life. Our economic success and achievements in education, where our students are ranked high internationally for Maths and Science, are reflected in foreigners’ overall positive opinion of Singaporeans as hardworking, diligent and intelligent.
We achieved all this with pride because we learned to respect and be tolerant of other cultures and beliefs in our journey of nation-building, instead of creating chaos to disrupt our progress.
Our long term goal is to raise our dominance globally and ensure our future generations continue to prosper. With so many challenges ahead, we need a stronger sense of national identity to bind us more tightly as a team, with a common belief that our diversity is what makes Singapore unique.
This essay was submitted for the “My Singapore, My Future” essay contest organised by The Opinion Collaborative Ltd, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s nationhood.
Comments from the judges –
“Lots of great ideas, thought-provoking.”
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