No longer a nation of immigrants

I am actually tired of rhetoric saying that we are an immigrant society, and so must welcome new immigrants, that if we deny them, then we deny ourselves, etc.

I wonder how many remember the days when our grandmas, grandpas, moms and dads broke down barriers to build this nation by forcing themselves to communicate in another language - even if it was a broken? I remember my great-grandmother asking a Chinese neighbour about her toddler, 'pompan ka jantan?'. It should have been 'perempuan atau lelaki?', but my great-grandma did not care, I think she didn't mind that she'd be ridiculed - she just wanted to bridge that gap and learn a little bit more about those who were a little different from her. Our Malay neighbours did not ridicule us when we spoke pasar Malay. They instead replied to us in good and simple spoken Malay, which enabled us to learn, 'Oh! That's how you say it!'

In schools, in playgrounds, in the wet markets, in the lifts, in the mamak shops, during Chinese New Years, Hari Rayas and Deepavalis...we broke down barriers. Was it difficult? Was it painful? I bet it must have been. But they decided to do that which was difficult, not only for themselves, but also for the future of their loved ones. Even if it was difficult, they pledged to try being one united people - regardless of race, language or religion.

Which is why, when an unsuspecting curve ball of 'greater immigrant influx' gets thrown at us, it becomes that much more unsettling. We have just begun to better understand one another. We have just started debating among ourselves if our ICs should just indicate 'Singaporean', or label us by our ethnicity, if there's any purpose to national service, censorship, space, dietary restrictions...With an influx of immigrants, we Singaporeans feel that for the few steps we have taken forward, we've been set back by so many more.

So, are we anti-foreigners? Are we xenophobic? I'd be bold to say that we are NOT. We are just saying, bring in foreigners who will help us continue this journey of wanting to build a nation, at a rate that will help them integrate into the Singapore we have today - just like how our grandmas and grandpas were forced to assimilate and integrate because they had no other choice.

Yes, we are a nation of immigrants but most of us made a choice - and we chose to NOT stay within our immigrant enclaves. We broke down walls and bridged gaps and in the process started building a nation. Yes, I sometimes see my father, an Indian, starring back at me when I look at myself in the mirror, but I also see reflections of my friends - the Chinese, the Malays, the Pernakans, the Caucasians...When I came back to Singapore after having lived in the USA for a few years, I went straight for a plate of char kway teow. The other day, I went out of the way to satisfy my craving for Rendang.

So, please stop putting the full-stop at 'but we are an immigrant society'. Yes, we were. But we have moved on. We are building this nation, our home, we call Singapore. Bring in those that would share with us their stories and struggles, and in the process, co-create this home we call Singapore. Not those who would treat our home like a hotel.

picture credit: serious eats


Calvin Cheng said…
Hey bro. I posted a reply to this post on my own blog