Sat down with Melissa de Silva's part fiction and mostly autobiographical chronicle of her feelings about her Eurasian heritage, and the definition of 'mother tongue', as well as the Kristang language in ''Others' Is Not A Race' (2017). Thirteen chapters, or very short stories if you prefer, captured about the Eurasian experience in Singapore.
Compartmentalizing people into different races is a government construct in Singapore, a questionable legacy left over from the British, and for some reason, cited as a social achievement in today's government policies. It's got its advantages, but nowadays, I feel, it's not as relevant. First and foremost, we are Singaporean. As aware as I am about racial identities, race is irrelevant to me when we are all humans.
I feel and see and hear it. The partner and I look like the majority race in Singapore, we sound Singaporean, and we hold Singaporean experiences. But ethnically and on our identity cards, we are not. We hear both sides of the story, and in daily life, we are still accorded majority privileges in this country. Filling up forms takes us to 'Others', and it's really annoying. If we had chosen to have children, they would be classified under 'Others' too, regardless of whether they follow paternal or maternal links. Don't even get me started on surnames (which has some seen amended progressive policies).
Don't even go to the area where one might ask, does it matter, why is this an issue? Why are some people making a fuss? If you need to wonder about it, then there's a high chance that you've never experienced racism in Singapore, or you've been told that that this is the way it is, and just accept it. But after a few years, surely, you'd wonder at how some words and phrases are acceptable when they're directed at you, or if you speak it to... other... people.
Chapter 12 'Letter to Anonymous Policy Maker (Re: 'Others' Is Not A Race)' says it all.
There were many Eurasians in colonial times and after independence who had contributed to the development of the country too. Yet it was as if they'd been obscured from the official narrative. After decades of working together, building and living side by side, did it come down to this? Six meaningless letters on a form?
What does it mean, she wondered, when policy makers willfully choose to see some within society as 'other'? As people on the outside, as if they were invisible? Many Singaporeans were ignorant that they were even fellow citizens. She recalled reading an article online, '7 Things We Can All Learn From Joseph Schooling's Olympic Win.' Something like that. And number 7 was: 'Eurasians are born and bred Singaporeans too.'
Like it was some kind of revelation.
Why the ignorance? It was obvious.