When I was younger, I used to ask my parents about my grandparents. Who were they? Where did they come from? Why was I darker than most Malay people and yet I spoke the Malay language and not Tamil? Why did some of my extended family members look Chinese and Middle-Eastern?
I remembered my mother explaining to me that my grandfathers came from India, my paternal grandmother was Javanese and that my maternal grandmother was of Malay-Arab mix.
If I were to put it fully on my Identity Card, I am not sure if there would be enough space. If I declared partially, then I would be denying the other parts of me, and that would not be fair. My birth certificate shows that I am an Indian.
During primary school, I was first sent to an Indian language class. I was puzzled. After sometime, I was transferred to a Malay language class. It was a very confusing time for me.
I showed my identity card to some friends during my internship when I was in the European Parliament last year as an intern. They were aghast. “What is this? A Nazi country?” one of them commented. It reminded them of the terrible time that engulfed Europe.
That is how complicated my “racial” identity is. But that is, in a way, a reflection Singapore. It has always been the melting pot of cultures. It is because of that that we get to enjoy various kinds of food. The quaint mixture of Chinese and Malay ingredients gave rise to peranakan cuisine. Then we have dishes like Roti John, a combination of Malay and Indian foods. Even the name is a mixture.
This mish-mash of people is also where we get our Singlish. People of older generations knew more than one language. Indians, Chinese and Malays spoke Singlish and Malay patois.
Later on, I came across people who were like me yet they were declared as “Malay”. They then told me that my grandfather changed his race after independence because if they were Indians they could not get free education and privileges. I didn’t know how to respond. Out of hardship and for material gain, people resort to denying a part of them.
Which brings me to the question about race. What relevance does it hold for me? Nothing. The diversity that we have in Singapore is a blessing for us all. It makes us more tolerant of each other’s differences. It makes us know more things about the world.
No race is superior. It is just a myth created by those in power to instill intolerance. Aren’t there Malay graduates who are just as competent as Chinese and Indian graduates? Aren’t there Indian businessmen who are just as rich as a Malay or Chinese businessmen?
In the SDP, we do not focus on race. the colour of our members’ skins are not important. Nor is there a need to create a bureau to represent a specific group of people.
Of course, there are still problems that affect specific ethnic groups. These are caused by PAP policies. But when we speak up on these issues, we speak up as a a party, Chinese for Indians, Indians for Malays and Malays for Chinese. We speak as Singaporeans for all Singaporeans. I am confident that it will remain that way.
And through this party, the idea and ideal of
Bangsa Singapura – the Singaporean People – will prevail.
Shamin is a member of the Young Democrats.