Tharman: Reinforce multicultural identity

Mr John Tan Pek Nan, 21, and fellow SFCCA scholars studying in China taking a "wefie" with Mr Tharman and SFCCA president Chua Thian Poh (at right, in front) at yesterday's Chinese New Year event.
Mr John Tan Pek Nan, 21, and fellow SFCCA scholars studying in China taking a "wefie" with Mr Tharman and SFCCA president Chua Thian Poh (at right, in front) at yesterday's Chinese New Year event.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

DPM suggests three vital ingredients for enriching Singapore's uniqueness

The occasion was to celebrate Chinese New Year, but the spread of food was typically Singaporean, with Malay satay and Indian roti prata, as well as traditional Chinese fare like dim sum.
 

As the 500 guests prepared to tuck in, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam gave them some food for thought.

Pointing to his presence at the annual Chinese reception, he said: "It's normal, not a novelty or something very unusual."

In fact, Singapore's multiracial and multicultural quality is such a distinctive feature that Mr Tharman wants it to be further reinforced as part of the nation's identity.

Leading by example, he delivered his Chinese New Year greetings in Mandarin, received oranges and handed hongbao to a child - Chinese practices that drew applause and cheers from the Chinese businessmen and cultural experts.

PRIDE IN MULTICULTURALISM

We should instead evolve, adapt and strengthen our own cultures, and take a keen interest in each other's cultures. This will allow us to deepen our Singapore identity, and take real pride in multiculturalism in Singapore.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM

The annual reception is organised by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), networking group Business China and the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC).

Mr Tharman suggested three vital ingredients for enriching Singapore's uniqueness.

To deepen its multiculturalism, he encouraged Singaporeans to take a keen interest in one another's cultures and participate in them wherever possible.

Hence, the SCCC, a soon-to-be- ready showcase of Singapore Chinese culture, will cater not just to Chinese Singaporeans but to Singaporeans of every racial stripe who are keen to find out how Chinese culture here has evolved.

In the same way, "the majority community should take keen interest in our Malay, Indian and other cultures", Mr Tharman added.

But deepening multiracialism does not mean a dilution of cultural identities or a fusion of everything into one culture, he said, cautioning that such a course would result in a weak and confused culture.

"We should instead evolve, adapt and strengthen our own cultures, and take a keen interest in each other's cultures. This will allow us to deepen our Singapore identity, and take real pride in multiculturalism in Singapore," he added.

Second, to integrate new immigrants so that they can understand and preserve Singapore's multicultural ways, Mr Tharman said greater effort should be made to help them assimilate into society here.

This could include helping them learn some local languages, and mixing with the local community.

"If we do it well, over time they too will contribute to evolving our culture, but very importantly, it also means ensuring immigrants assimilate within our multicultural environment," he said.

Third, to maintain the Singaporean quality of giving back to society, schools and community groups like the SFCCA should nurture this ethos in youth, he said.

"There is something in our cultural identities that was about the ethos of contributing to the community," he said, adding it was for this very reason of helping each other that clan associations were formed.

While this came naturally to a generation that went through great hardship, the quality needs to be nurtured in today's young, Mr Tharman said.

"I do worry if 30 or 40 years from now we find the next generation not having that same instinctive ethos: when you do well, you want to contribute back," he added.

To this end, SFCCA president Chua Thian Poh said the umbrella body of clan associations will introduce an award for youth who have contributed significantly to the development of the local Chinese community. It will also recruit more youth ambassadors to promote the Singaporean Chinese culture, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'Tharman: Reinforce multicultural identity'. Print Edition | Subscribe