Eurasian community has made many contributions to S'pore: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Mrs Therese Stewart and her daughter Olivia shortly after he paid tribute to Mrs Stewart's late husband Stanley - a former head of the civil service - at the Eurasian Festival at Tampines Hub yesterday.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Mrs Therese Stewart and her daughter Olivia shortly after he paid tribute to Mrs Stewart's late husband Stanley - a former head of the civil service - at the Eurasian Festival at Tampines Hub yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

It is one of the smallest ethnic groups, but has produced several prominent people, he says

At 102, Mrs Therese Stewart is the oldest Eurasian in Singapore - four years older than even the Eurasian Association here.

Yesterday morning, the sprightly woman stood on her feet and patted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the shoulders when she met him at the Eurasian Festival at Tampines Hub, before hugging him.

Moments earlier, Mr Lee had paid tribute to her late husband Stanley Stewart - a former head of the civil service who died in 1992 - and other prominent Eurasians who have left their mark on the country.

While the Eurasian community may be one of the smallest ethnic groups here, it has made many contributions to Singapore, said Mr Lee in a speech at the festival.

He also cited other prominent Eurasians such as Singapore's second president, Dr Benjamin Sheares; Justice Judith Prakash, the first woman appointed as a Judge of Appeal; Mr E.W. Barker, the country's first law minister; jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro; and Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling.

  • 500

    Number of years Eurasians have been in South-east Asia.

    8,000

    Number of Eurasians in Singapore before World War II.

    17,000

    Number of Eurasians in Singapore now.

Speaking at the festival, Mr Lee said he was very happy to see a new generation of Eurasians doing well in many professions across society, establishing and making a name for themselves.

"I have no doubt that you will make many more great contributions to Singapore in time to come," he added.

Eurasians have been in South-east Asia for 500 years, the descendants of Europeans from countries including Portugal, Holland and Britain.

These pioneers intermarried with locals and, over time, evolved their own culture and characteristics, and became a distinct community, Mr Lee said.

There were about 8,000 Eurasians in Singapore before World War II, he noted. The community has grown to nearly 17,000 now.

He also highlighted the work done by the Eurasian Association, which he said has been very active in rallying the community to serve one another.

The association provides aid to students through scholarships, bursaries and mentorship programmes, while its family support services arm also helps many disadvantaged families and seniors, he said.

It is also making a special effort to preserve Eurasian tradition and culture for all Singaporeans, and yesterday's festival organised together with the People's Association is a good step forward, he added.

Later, Mr Lee toured exhibition booths, where people painted Easter eggs and played childhood games such as hopscotch and five stones.

Mrs Stewart, who was with her daughter Olivia, 74, said events like the festival showed how people must be "open to other cultures and embrace others".

Mr Benett Theseira, president of the Eurasian Association, said many Singaporeans were not familiar with Eurasian culture because of the community's small size.

The festival was one way to change this, he said, adding that there are plans to have a series of smaller events at other community venues.

Eurasians such as Mr Kevin Martens Wong, 24, hope that more people will get to learn about little-known aspects of Eurasian culture such as the language Kristang, a creole comprising Portuguese and local dialects.

He said: "This is part of Singapore's shared heritage, and part of what makes us all Singaporean."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Eurasian community has made many contributions to S'pore: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe