We have Racial Harmony Day in Singapore, to commemorate the Race Riots (one of the few riots in mostly peaceful Sg) in 1964.
I volunteered at my son’s school, put in charge of the Eurasian booth, sharing with 4-6 year olds what it means to be Eurasian.
I am Singaporean, my Husband is British. Which makes our children Eurasian.
Learning he’s Eurasian is something new for my Son. A knowledge he shared with his 7year old Sister, that they are Eurasians. My Husband and I never brought up the topic of race to our children. As far as we are concerned, they are half British and half Singaporean, and we celebrate Christmas and Hari Raya as a family.
Race is however, something that is openly discussed in Singapore. Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian make up the 4 main races in Singapore. It is acronymed (oh how we love acronyms!) CMIO- “O” representing “others”. Sorry Eurasians and other non CMI people.
It is such a tricky balance, giving so much emphasis to the different races here and to not be racist.
Being so open and almost casual about the issue of race, allows us to acknowledge the different holidays celebrated by the different cultures (more often than not, religious holidays) by declaring them Public Holidays; something we can be proud of as I am not aware of any other country that declare a day off, for the various celebrations observed by the minorities.
Also, almost everyone from the local school system is bilingual, having Mother Tongue included in our education, which gives us an opportunity to retain and be in touch with our culture.
Learning about the various cultures in Singapore from an authorised body (schools), also gives a child an opportunity to view a certain race differently from their parents, who might have prejudiced views. Case in point, a non Malay boy joined a Malay martial arts class and shared with the coach that his mother is not keen on him mixing with Malays. According to her, they are bad influences.
We are not perfect. Racism still occur here. Being a minority, I do experience it almost on a daily basis.
But will it cease should Singapore stop putting so much emphasis on race and develop a national identity (apart from the love for food)? On the other hand, will we still be able to observe our different celebrations, and learn our Mother Tongue? Or will the beauty of our different cultures slowly disappear to make way for a more generic Singaporean culture?
I think Singapore is pretty unique, trying its best as a nation to allow the different races here keep their cultures and languages alive. It is a privilege to be able to pass down a second language to my children. In my ideal world, Singapore develops a national identity; whilst allowing, recognising, and celebrating the different cultures here. And I can go a day without being made to feel like I’m less Singaporean than my fairer skinned fellow countrymen.