Cultural 'pot luck' the way to forge common identity

I disagree with Mr Lee Teck Chuan's suggestion that Singapore should evolve into a cultural melting pot ("Let's be a cultural melting pot, not bowl of salad"; last Thursday).

In comparing the melting pot with the salad bowl, he argues that the presence of many communities and migrant groups makes it harder to create and define a Singapore identity.

I feel that the "melting pot" metaphor does not adequately project the idea of how multiracial harmony can be achieved.

This is because it carries the perception of a loss of individual identity in the assimilation process, resulting in a feeling of helplessness and resignation arising from sacrificing one's identity.

The metaphor of a "pot luck" best symbolises what is appropriate in forging racial integration and a common identity in Singapore.

This image implies greater sharing, participation, power, self-esteem, pride, confidence and enjoyment of others' dishes, which represent the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian and other community groups that come together in building a multicultural and multiracial Singapore society.

Here, everybody is an active participant and, while working to produce a dish he cares about, we are also receptive to the culinary delights of other cultures.

Being responsible for a dish, therefore, encourages a greater sense of loyalty and commitment to a shared meal that signifies a society and nation in which all come together.

For such a scenario to be realised, there needs to be an expansion of the spaces and settings where people of dissimilar backgrounds and attitudes can meet. Doing so will enable them to learn to not only tolerate but, more importantly, understand and appreciate each other's beliefs, lifestyles, cultural practices and social norms.

In this way, our citizens and new immigrants could be given more opportunities to reach out to one another.

This is also the surest way to forge a sense of community spirit and, from it, greater cohesion, integration and racial harmony among the people.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Cultural 'pot luck' the way to forge common identity'. Print Edition | Subscribe