New immigrants and citizens get into the beat with Singaporeans to build trust and understanding

Ms Liliana Garza Covarrubias, 37, the president of the Mexican Association in Singapore, joins other new immigrants, Singaporeans and beneficiaries from Blue Cross Thong Kheng Home in a community percussion ensemble performance at the One Community Fiesta 2017 @ Jurong Fiesta on Oct 22, 2017. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Since coming to Singapore more than a year ago, Mexican national Ms Liliana Garza Covarrubias, 37, has been devoting much of her time and energy trying to integrate into Singapore's culture.

For instance, she spent a month volunteering for a pinata workshop, helping 150 Singaporeans learn about her country and create more than 200 pinatas for a grassroots event.

"I strongly believe in fitting in," said Ms Liliana, who is also the president of the Mexican Association in Singapore.

But the dependant's pass holder, who lives with her Mexican husband in Yishun, admitted that convincing the other 500 Mexican expatriates here to take part in integration activities here has not been easy.

For new immigrants and citizens, the desire to reach out, to understand Singapore's social norms and to share about one's own culture and heritage should always be encouraged, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu on Sunday (Oct 22).

"Diversity is beautiful because we live in harmony with each other. Respect between people of differing backgrounds has to be mutual, (so we may) open our hearts out to something that is different and understand each other better," she said.

On Sunday afternoon, Ms Fu joined Ms Liliana and her ensemble of some 800 locals, new immigrants and new citizens in a community percussion performance at the Jurong cluster's One Community Fiesta in Jurong East Sports Stadium. Four of them are Mexican nationals, and there were also participants from the Bengali Association Singapore too.

Also present were Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, and Jurong GRC Member of Parliament Rahayu Mahzam.

The fiesta was introduced in 2011 with the aim to build trust and mutual understanding between people of different races and backgrounds through interactive programmes. Sunday's event was organised by the People's Association's integration and naturalisation committees in Jurong GRC, Bukit Batok and Yuhua SMCs.

There are currently 1,400 integration and naturalisation committee members, also known as integration and naturalisation champions, across Singapore who regularly meet-and-greet new immigrants or citizens in house visits, block parties and other grassroots events, as well as provide opportunities for new immigrates to volunteer.

A total of 16 fiestas will be organised in various GRCs from Sept 23 and January.

Sunday's performance involved only volunteers, many of whom devoted more than one and a half months for rehearsals and preparation, said the fiesta's organising chairman Mr Chu Poh Beng.

"Many of them did not have any prior experience in drumming. This is indeed a performance for residents by residents," said Mr Chu.

Ms Liliana, who is still figuring out the slangs and accents used by Singaporeans here, added: "Many still can't understand my accent now, but activities like these allow me to communicate with others through art and music. It is very rewarding."

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