Migrants add flavour to 'salad bowl' nation

Mr Lee Teck Chuan has put forward certain questions ("Let's be a cultural melting pot, not bowl of salad"; last Thursday) that are timely in the light of Singapore having made it through its first 50 years of existence, gaining global admiration along the way.

The immigrant stock of Singapore's people - multifaceted in terms of ethnicity, nationality, religion, language and culture - along with its use of English as an administrative medium and its compulsory national service are some factors that have given the nation a special identity.

Mr Lee seems to have misgivings regarding the new immigrants landing in Singapore who do not assimilate fully and remain in their own enclaves, aloof, without involving themselves in the nation's development.

But this is not a new phenomenon.

In every country that has taken in migrants- whether it is the United States, Australia or even India - this group of people always remain distinct and different because of their background, which includes their language, native education system, social customs,attire and way of life.

This ends up being like a bowl of salad, mixed together but with individual elements still apart.

It will take time for intermingling, intermarriage and living together to produce a generation of people who see themselves distinctly as Singaporeans.

A cultural melting pot cannot occur easily, but what is wrong with being in a bowl of salad? This would be a form of unified diversity.

Such a system could work very well in a country such as Singapore, with its strong foundation of discipline, orderliness and hard work.

In this context, new migrants could add their own variety of spice, colour and flavour to the "salad bowl".

If agreeable, these elements will gradually sink in and merge with the indigenous Singapore identity.

Anandi Ramanathan (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Migrants add flavour to 'salad bowl' nation'. Print Edition | Subscribe