Let's be a cultural melting pot, not bowl of salad

Artemis Grill’s spicy Iberico pork presa.
Artemis Grill’s spicy Iberico pork presa. Artemis

When we take a train ride, we often hear many languages being spoken and see attire that hails from varied origins.

These are signs that we have become multi-faceted in terms of ethnicity and national origin.

But it begs the question: Are we evolving into a melting pot, where many distinct elements are forged into one? Or a bowl of salad, where each item remains separate from the other?

 
 

Many of us are of immigrant stock. Singapore was barren and it was these people who put aside their differences and made the country into what it is today.

Each community retained its self-help social establishment, but, on the whole, there was ample room for all to mingle and be part of Singapore's mainstream, including its English-medium schools and national service.

However, we have not replaced ourselves at a rate that can sustain the nation in the long run; hence, the need for immigration.

We have gained from immigrants.

They have added vibrancy to our economic and social landscapes, making Singapore more cosmopolitan.

The new immigrants are quite unlike our forefathers.

Many are professionals who are highly susceptible to more rosy propositions from elsewhere.

Many remain distinct in their language, bearing, schooling, dwelling and way of life. Some have developed enclaves of their own.

This makes the Singapore identity even more disparate and harder to define.

Assimilation is a two-way street. Much depends on the willingness of existing citizens and those who have newly arrived to reach out to the other side.

But are there enough occasions for them to do so? Are there initiatives to socialise people hailing from foreign lands?

Do they know and understand our history before taking the oath to be Singaporeans? Do we welcome them unreservedly as people who wish to be part of us?

We need to ask some tough questions and take a long-term view in seeking answers.

Everyone counts.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Let's be a cultural melting pot, not bowl of salad'. Print Edition | Subscribe