“Identities. We were told by our teacher that there are three types of identities: Numeric, Personal and Legal,” my son ZK told me, when I asked him what his Moral and Civic Education lesson was about. He then took out his lesson book to show me. I walked over to his desk where he was sitting and looked over his notes:
Moral and Civic Education, Lesson 2: Identities
- Numeric identity: all that you upload and share on the Internet: photos, comments, texts, etc., on social media and emails.
- Personal identity: family situation, religion, political opinions, leisure, passions and profession.
- Legal identity: your name, your date of birth, your nationality, your sex, your marital status, all the information that are featured in your Identity Card and Passport.
“Interesting,” I said, “When I was your age I only knew of one – the legal one. During my time, the Internet has yet to be invented and social media was non-existent, and at 12, I could not care less about political opinions, profession or religion. When asked about my identity, I would merely state, Chinese. It’s good that you’re learning about the different identities we could have in different domain and situations. I have always identified myself as Singaporean. Just one sole identity. Times have changed and things have evolved obviously.”
“So what’s your identity now? French or Singaporean?” ZK asked me.
“A true blue Singaporean.”
“Even having lived in Paris for 18 years? Don’t you identify with the French?”
“Of course I do. I have adopted some French habits, spoke the language and could relate to the culture, but I have never felt that I am French. I think the longer I live outside of Singapore, the greater I resonate with my Singaporean identity.”
“What exactly is a Singaporean identity? I know some characteristics like, food-loving, Singlish and being kiasu,” at the mention of the last word ZK grinned at me.
What constitutes a Singaporean identity? I had never dwelled on this question. I was born and bred according, I guess, to what I would call Singaporean values. It came naturally at first, then instilled and inculcated along the way.
Proud to be Singaporean, not just during our Golden Jubilee, but everyday
What I do know is the three phases of my life that shaped and reinforced my Singaporean identity:
Home and upbringing. My Singaporean identity stems, first of all, from home and my upbringing. Right up to my teenage years, my parents, three siblings and I lived in a one-bedroom flat. At that time, it was more out of necessity that we learned to live harmonious under one tiny roof. We were taught to share, to be considerate to, and tolerant of each other. Since I didn’t come from a privileged family background and living conditions, we were told constantly by our parents that if we wanted a better future, the only way to achieve that was through hard work.
Schools and the society. Then came schools, mingling and working in the society: those formative years reinforced the need to co-exist harmoniously with students and co-workers from the different ethnic groups. I was socializing with people of different cultures and religions, who sometimes spoke a different dialect from me. That strengthened the need to be tolerant, and to accept the differences of others.
The government also had a huge role in shaping my Singaporean mentality and values. The emphasis on excellence and our meritocratic society taught me that ‘I reap what I sow’, so I had to work hard in order to achieve my aspirations.
“So let’s not dilute our cultures, and certainly not fuse everything into one culture – because that will leave us with a weak and confused identity. We should instead evolve, adapt and strengthen our own cultures, and take a keen interest in each other’s cultures. This will allow us to deepen our Singapore identity, and take real pride in multiculturalism in Singapore.”
Excerpt from DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s speech at the Spring Reception 2016 on 10 February 2016.
Living abroad and becoming a mother. The further I am away from home, the more I want to cling on to and not lose my Singaporean identity. It gives me a sense of belonging and provides me with the self-esteem to be who I am. The more I am exposed to the different cultures and traditions of France, and other countries, the more I appreciate my Singaporean identity.
Being a mother, I feel the need to pass on everything Singaporean to my son ZK. It is important for him to know his roots and not forget his origins, to keep the Singaporean culture and values, and pass them on to the next generation.
As best as I could, I answered ZK, “What is distinctive about the Singaporean identity is that it encompasses traits like: being tolerant and accepting (of the different religious practices and traditions of others); being considerate (to other people in order to co-exist harmoniously in the same society); and because we live in a meritocratic society, our distinguished characteristics also include being resilient, hard working, the willingness to confront change, and the most important of all: embracing our multiculturalism.”
“That’s a lot to follow,” ZK said after pausing for a moment to digest all that I have said.
“And to confuse you further, there is a fourth type of identity, in mathematical terms,” I added.
Mathematics (also identity operation) a transformation that leaves an object unchanged.
I would like to be that unwavering object (being) – born a Singaporean; die a Singaporean. One identity, that’s what counts for me.