Being Singaporean comes first in our multiple identities

 Pedestrians and shoppers on Temple Street in Chinatown.
Pedestrians and shoppers on Temple Street in Chinatown.PHOTO: ST FILE

The most thought-provoking part of a speech by former foreign minister George Yeo at Hwa Chong Institution is the topic of Singaporeans having multiple identities (On chopsticks people, paper technology and the rise of China, July 28).

On a few occasions, I have been asked by tourists from China for directions, and I always reply in fluent Mandarin to make sure that they get the directions right.

Often they would ask: "Are you a local here?"

And my standard reply is: "Yes, I am a Singaporean. Born and bred here."

To which they would respond: "Oh, so you are a huaqiao (overseas Chinese)."

I am never very pleased to be called that. The statement implies that if you are a Chinese, you must have originated from China.

While there is nothing wrong technically with this perception because my ancestors migrated from China centuries ago, I would prefer to be identified as a Singaporean first.

My ancestral background means little to me as I was born here.

I am sure to most Chinese Singaporeans, being Singaporean far outweighs being Chinese.

However, that mindset may change one day if we are too absorbed with China's rise and its culture. The identity composition may tilt the other way.

Recent reports of influence operations being conducted by China in our country could play a part in this (Report flags how China conducts influence operations in S'pore, July 18).

And already we are seeing Mediacorp artists being lured to China because of a bigger market and better remuneration.

This scenario playing out is surely a matter of national concern.

We should look into how we can preserve or even tilt this balance in the identity composition of all Chinese Singaporeans so that we will always identify ourselves as Singaporean first.

Roy Goh Hin Soon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2019, with the headline 'Being S'porean comes first in our multiple identities'. Print Edition | Subscribe