I’m just going to come out and say it: Growing up, I was never quite a proud Singaporean.
In my head, being Singaporean meant having a sense of belonging — and that was something extremely narrow and defined by an overbearing national narrative.
It sounded something like this: Thou shalt fall into one of four neatly defined racial categories, get a stable job, get married, buy a flat, have 1.6 children and work thyselves to the bone.
What’s that? You’re an ethnic minority? Nope racism isn’t a problem — don’t you dare talk about it. Political opinions? Good gosh you’ll be sued, jailed and exiled. Your opinions are policed if not by the state, then by the people around you. While my body is here, my heart ached to belong; it’s very hard to place your heart in the hands of people who don’t quite want you.
Yet here we are into Singapore’s 55th year of independence and the needle on politics and race seems to have shifted. Instead of defamation suits against dissenters, we now have a formally appointed Leader of The Opposition. Ministers have come out to say that young Singaporeans are looking to redefine the ways we talk about race. It helps too that the living conditions of migrant workers — something I have long been extremely uncomfortable with — is finally being alleviated.
This nation has grown, and suddenly, it felt easier to belong. I sleep a little easier.
Indeed, in our haste to embrace greater affluence, many of us seem to have forgotten that what makes a country so great to live in, is its soul.
Some of us are entrepreneurs who forgo the stability of a day job.
Some of us are dreamers. Some of us are critics. Some of us are activists.
Some of us are disabled. Some of us are queer.
All of us call this country home.
This city is home to people of every stripe, and that in itself is plenty to celebrate. That’s precisely why we’re launching We The People, an August column where we spotlight a diverse slate of personalities. From indie bookstore owners to environmental activists, comedians to chefs — these are the people who play a crucial role in shaping conversations around them.
After all, Singapore is the sum of the people that live in it and there are plenty of us who don’t fall into the lines neatly drawn by the state. These are often the personalities with the most interesting stories to tell. Some of them are names we’ve featured before, or are prominent in their own ways. Where it’s different this time, is that we pose a big question: What is your personal vision for Singapore, and how can we form a better society?
It’s important for us to hold space for these stories, for what they do, and what they say is precisely that which gives our nation its soul.
We will be unveiling these figures over the next few weeks. It’s through these deeply personal narratives that we hope to foster a home, and a sense of inclusion for everyone who has ever felt like an outsider. Every Singaporean should have the space to feel pride and belonging.
To view all stories on We The People, click here.