Polytechnic students: Multiculturalism is our defining Singaporean trait
It’s about how we deal with multiculturalism that will define who we are.
COVID-19 has revealed a lot about Singaporeans and what we stand for.
For one, the solidarity and kindness that Singaporeans have shown to our frontline workers and the disadvantaged in our society have been very encouraging.
But the recent racist incidents have prompted a lot of soul searching among me and my friends. What does it mean to be Singaporean? What does it mean to live in a multicultural and multiracial society?
I recently had the opportunity to attend a Zoom session organised by the National Youth Council (NYC) called Conversations on Singapore Spirit, where about 100 polytechnic students were invited to share what they thought the Singapore Spirit was.
Held on Jun 15, this was the second out of four sessions, and featured four panellists, including Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State (MOS) of Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and Ministry of Trade and Industry, national athletes Yip Pin Xiu and Veronica Shanti Pereira, and Night Owl Cinematics’ (NOC) Aiken Chia.
I was interested to see what my peers thought the Singapore Spirit is, and how Singaporeans can live peacefully in a multiracial society.
Multiculturalism is the root of who we are
During the Zoom session, it was interesting to see that multiculturalism was constantly mentioned as a defining trait of the Singapore Spirit.
A student facilitator, Adam Morier from Republic Polytechnic, said on behalf of his group: “Multiculturalism really stands out to all of us, and is something that the country has been really proud of. It’s something that’s in our blood.”
Other students also shared, because Singaporeans are all from diverse backgrounds, we have so many festivities and cultural events to look forward to.
One student also mentioned how his family and their neighbour of a different race would interact very frequently and even exchange gifts from time to time.
Mr Tan gave an analogy of how multiculturalism is our root, and Singaporeans have to be mindful of what comes out of these roots.
“Everything springs out of [this root]. The good fruits, and the not so good fruits. Good fruits can prosper and we can benefit from them, but there are also weeds that grow out from roots. These weeds we have to prune,” he added, referring to the cases of racism and discrimination.
Comedian Rishi Budhrani, who hosted the session, agreed with this analogy and said: “We can’t run away from our roots, these are the cards we’ve been dealt, it’s about how best we move forward with them.”
Racial harmony and inclusivity is something we have to constantly work at
The students also expressed their concern about the recent racist incidents here, and the negative impact that they have on Singapore’s social fabric.
National track and field athlete Veronica Pereira, in response to a question about whether Singaporeans are merely tolerant of different communities, said that it is true to a certain extent, but she has seen improvements over time.
“I believe that [these incidents] are not a true indication of who we are as Singaporeans. We are slowly growing, we can’t expect change to happen right away. But I definitely believe that we will reach a point where we will be truly inclusive of all races and cultures,” she said.
She said that we should be mindful of our daily interactions with other races, as well as the conversations we have about other races with people of our own race.
“We have to dive deeper, and respect each other a little more,” she added.
Being responsible social media users
Host Rishi also noted, as raised by Minister Lawrence Wong in a recent press conference, how on social media, negative news tends to travel much faster than positive news, and how positive news often gets eclipsed by negative news.
NOC’s Aiken shared that he is careful of both what he takes in and what he puts out on social media.
“I tend to control what I see online. I want to make sure that I take in good stuff, things that will value-add to my life.
“As a creator, if you produce things that are sensational, they are easily forgotten and they are easily uprooted. But if you are able to put deep roots into the content that you put out, it will speak volumes,” he added, using Mr Tan’s root analogy.
He mentioned how his show Food King aims to celebrate hawker culture in Singapore, and is something that tries to create deep roots in the community, which will hopefully bear good fruit in the future.
How we can unite as Singaporeans during the pandemic
The students mentioned how the pandemic may have taken a toll on Singaporeans’ mental health, and could be what led to the increased societal strife.
Paralympic national athlete Pin Xiu acknowledged how being at home can be frustrating, especially if we are isolated and away from our communities.
“Along with mental health awareness, there has to be mental health support. This is so that people don’t see taking care of your mental health as a taboo, and that they can seek the help that they need,” she said.
Mr Tan added that despite social distancing, we need to remember to stay connected with each other.
He said: “In this pandemic, there are forces that divide us. But there are also a lot of forces that are meant to unite us and we want to elevate the forces that unite us the most.
“We have people of different stripes, faiths, abilities, and if we can come together, we can get past this.”
Find out more about the other sessions in the Conversations on Singapore Spirit here.