I’m from the Philippines. Despite the umbrella term “Filipino,” we are, in a way, a diverse country, and we are very far from becoming an inclusive nation. I grew up seeing fellow Filipinos encourage divisiveness against each other in terms of religion and ethnicity. For years, I was accustomed into thinking that this kind of divisiveness is too complex to fix that it has to become the norm. Meeting Singapore last year has absolutely proved me all wrong. Singapore has taught me that inclusivity in a diverse country is absolutely possible, and this is what this article is all about.
First off, how diverse is Singapore?
It is necessary to define how diverse Singapore really is, so I am going to talk about that first. I previously thought Singaporeans would purely be of Chinese decent. When I say that, I meant it to be like Taiwan or Hong Kong, because truthfully speaking, that’s how Singapore is depicted in many mainstream media, such as international films and advertisements. So when I arrived there, I was really surprised of the significant number of residents that I saw with Malay and Indian features. In my curiousity, I Googled and here’s what I found:
With a significant percentage of Indians and Malay residents, it is safe to say that Singapore is not only multicultural, but it is also multiracial. And that’s only the tip of the Iceberg! What is really great about this country is that, being a multiracial nation is not only shown in paper. It is shown in every detail of their communities.
People co-exist harmoniously
I sat inside Singapore’s Subway train for the first time. I’ve never seen this many people of various races in one place. It was very normal to them. No intense head-to-heels looking at each other as if one person is different. I hear people speaking Malay, Chinese, Indian, and all sorts. I see people wearing their traditional Indian dresses, people wearing their Hijabs, and people that are in normal plain clothes. It was totally casual to them. I was the one who was constantly in awe. I was the one who kept on scanning the people inside the train like a crazy amazed girl who couldn’t believe how everyone can be so chill despite being so different with each other. It felt like a different world to me.
It is never like this in the Philippines.
I come from a country where more than 90% are Christian, and there are many who discriminate Muslims. Sometimes, it is in the way they dress or the way they eat. I can still vividly remember in 4th grade when the boys in my class were bullying this Muslim kid for not eating Pork and for wearing a Hijab. I was broken-hearted when I saw that kid took off her Hijab in school everyday to avoid being laughed it. Other than that, Muslims in the Philippines are most of the time being linked to Terrorism, especially in the southern part of the country. It is so sad how I can just hear people talking over dinner about how dangerous Muslims are, and that we should avoid them. These things just never felt right to me.
My eyes have also recently been opened to the treatment of the Filipino indigenous communities. Our indigenous communities are pushed to the mountains while the rest of us dominate the plains. Many of our Aetas are driven out of their own lands for commercial purposes. Lumad Schools are being forcibly closed down because they are tagged as rebels. Many indigenous people, who are usually Land Defenders, are being killed in silence. Majority, if not all, indigenous communities are treated as artifacts, and their cultures are only priced for Tourism promotions. While their textiles were proudly worn during the 2019 SEA Games, they cannot openly wear their traditional clothings in public for the risk of being discriminated and laughed at. I even read a post on Facebook telling a story of one Aeta man who was denied by Bus Conductors for a ride just because he’s an Aeta. Filipinos discriminating their own countrymen like this is just very sad.
While Filipino indigenous communities are being pushed back to the mountains, here’s Singapore’s Serangoon Road, which is located in the heart of Singapore City. Here Indian communities are allowed to thrive freely by bringing culture and products with them.
There’s another story I’ve read last year was about the Filipino athlete Agatha Wong. The athlete, despite bringing pride to the country for winning a gold medal during the 2019 SEA Games, got bullied by fellow Filipinos for being of Chinese decent.
I believe, it is very important for each and everyone in the community to accept and respect other people’s cultural ways and ethnicity. With that, I look up to Singaporeans a lot for being respectful to people’s individual cultures. For allowing everyone to practice their own traditional ways without judgements and with openness.
Singaporeans celebrate all Races!
The only holiday celebrations that matter in the Philippines are Christian holidays. Christmas is the biggest one, where all the TV stations produce a station ID songs that will be sang throughout the country forever. During All Souls Day, everyone would celebrate Halloween and light up candles for their deceased loved ones. Other than the Christian celebrations, majority of the Filipinos don’t know what else is there to celebrate. As for me? I don’t even know if our indigenous people have holidays to celebrate!
In Singapore, no matter if it’s Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali, Vesak Day, or Christmas, they respect and celebrate them all!
The most visible way of celebrating diversity in Singapore is really allowing each race to thrive in their own diverse communities. Singapore has Joo Chiat, also known as Katong, where the historic Peranakan neighborhood thrives.
Other than that, they have Little India for their earliest Indian Settlers. The oldest Chinese settlers also have Chinatown. Lastly, the indigenous people of Singapore, who are the Malays, have the Kampong Glam. All of these old communities are visited, treasured, and cared by everybody, without discrimination whatsoever.
As a Filipino, this practice in Singapore truly inspired me. I look forward to the Filipino community to treasure diverse communities like this as well. I hope for the time when the indigenous communities will be able to open up and build their history in a land where there is no discrimination and only appreciation exists. I look forward for Mosques in the Philippines to be openly built instead of being bombed and destroyed.
The Singaporean Government promote Inclusivity and treat Diversity as a Strength
After my arrival in Changi Airport, I couldn’t help myself from turning my head sideways, while looking at the signs in the airport. The signs were all translated in English, Chinese, and in Malay. I’ve had the same observation while riding the subway trains. All the signs and the announcements were in English, Chinese, and in Malay. This is just a very small effort from their government, but coming from a country that this kind of “small effort” does not exist, I do truly appreciate it.
Above is just one of the posters I’ve been seeing all the around the city when I was there. This might seem very normal to Singaporeans, but it is very special and clear to me what their government has done here. They do not only want to encourage safety and service, but they also are encouraging Representation by having all races represented in that poster. All posters have those elements as well. This deed is truly laudable!
Their government is also very supportive and open to job employment and in providing fair social benefits for all races in the country. With all of this, it is clear that their government uses their diversity as a strength than a weakness, and I believe that this is very important. Countries all over the world, especially countries like the USA who is now very critical of their immigrants, should learn a thing or two from Singapore when it comes to this.
With this, I hope . . .
We all view our differences as an opportunity, rather than a cancer. I hope we celebrate differences instead of discriminating them. I hope we learn to respect other’s differences in the same way that we want to be respected with ours. I hope we all learn from Singapore, because yes, it is possible to be different from each other but still be progressive together.