Ethnic classifications a barrier to multiculturalism

There are some limitations to the recent Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)-Channel NewsAsia study (Most Singaporeans prefer children and grandchildren to date Chinese and Caucasians in inter-cultural romance, ST Online; Nov 8)

First, the survey sample size of 2,020 is rather small. The views may not be representative of the views of other Singaporeans.

Second, the practice of drawing distinctions along ethnic lines dates back to colonial times. Back then, it was necessary. However, with globalisation, this is a backward practice.

On the one hand, the Government is asking Singaporeans to be united. On the other hand, we are required to state our ethnicity at job interviews and other official activities. How can there be unity when we are asked to distinguish between ourselves?

I studied in Perth from 2005 to 2006 and participated in the 2006 Census. One of the questions asked was about my ancestry, not my ethnic group. I was able to tick "East Asian" and "South-east Asian". My paternal grandfather is from China, while the rest of my family has Peranakan ancestry; I also have Thai ancestry.

The 2006 Census allowed me to highlight my unique ancestry. In Australia, there is no mention of one's ethnicity in birth certificates, passports and driving licences.

I am married to a Singaporean who was born in the Philippines. In his identity card, under race, he is listed as a Filipino. Strictly speaking, by Singapore's classification, he should be listed as "Eurasian" because he has Spanish, Chinese and indigenous Filipino ancestries. The term "Filipino" denotes one's nationality. There are so many ethnic groups in the Philippines. The same goes for the rest of the world.

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said that Singapore "is still not the multicultural nirvana that some would expect". The more we draw ethnic lines in Singapore, the more we will not be able to achieve the multicultural nirvana.

Canada is an imperfect example of a multicultural haven. There are ethnic enclaves across different parts of the country but no one would ask: "Are you Chinese/ Vietnamese/Thai...?"

Despite the differences, many Canadians are sensitive to others who practise different religions.

In Singapore, due to my mixed ancestry, I have been told, "You don't look/sound Singaporean".

Do Singaporeans have a certain "look"?

We need to abolish the lines that divide us, so Singapore can be the ultimate multicultural haven.

Foong Mei Ching (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2017, with the headline 'Ethnic classifications a barrier to multiculturalism'. Print Edition | Subscribe