Racism in Singapore is a fact, but it took a pandemic and its harrowing effects on a migrant worker community to drive this delayed reckoning home.
We have acknowledged these facts daily as we live and work from sites built on the back of these people. We confront these truths as confirmed COVID-19 cases in the dormitories jump every time we get a news notification on our phones, a drastic contrast from the community cases that continued to lower.
We understand that steps must be taken to correct these prejudices on both a social and a systemic level, and the very first step our society must take is to listen and learn.
One essential way to do so is to pay attention to the voices of migrant workers in Singapore that have been denied presence on public channels, and consciously listen to what they have to say.
Art, thankfully, is a sector outside mass media that has enabled the voices of migrant workers to hold space. One key way our very essential local arts scene has done so is to actively encourage writing as a form of expression for migrant workers, via workshops, competitions, and finally, publishing novels and anthologies where their voices are front and centre.
It goes without saying that these books deserve to be in your bookshelf as much as any mass-market paperback. Sometimes, solidarity is amplified in the pages of novels. For that, we’ve rounded up a handful of books written by migrant workers in Singapore to get you started.
Reading and education is one step, but to truly make a difference and show support, do donate to aid migrant workers as they tide through the pandemic. We’ve rounded up charities you can support here.
Md Mukul Hossine is a Bangladeshi migrant worker who has been in Singapore since 2008. His seminal work in English, Me Migrant, is a collection of poems translated from Bengali into English, written in raw, confessional style that gives readers a glimpse into the mental and emotional labours that go into shaping Singapore.
Spliced in-between Mukul’s works are responses from local medical doctors who have worked with the author and sought to respond to his lyrics. Me Migrant has been credited for really cementing the presence of art by migrant workers in Singapore, given the widespread traction it received.
Outside of Me Migrant, Mukul has also written two novels that have been published in Bangladesh, and his other poetic works have also appeared in numerous anthologies.
Call And Response
Challenging the dissonance between “migrant” and “local” poets and the voices they carry, Call And Response is a poetry anthology that pairs migrant writers with responses from local ones. Featuring over 30 pairings, this enlightening tome can also be read as a dialogue between the two spheres.
Stranger to Myself: Diary of a Bangladeshi in Singapore
“The sacrifices of migrant workers are written in every inch of Singapore – in the bricks of buildings, ship irons, under the floor of houses. Thousands of years later, someone may hear the story of our pain and sacrifice from the walls of this city,” reads the preface of Stranger to Myself, an epistolary memoir fashioned from the diary of Md Sharif Uddin. The migrant worker has been based in Singapore for a decade and offers readers unfiltered access to his experiences — a heart-wrenching wake-up call for its readers.
Songs From A Distance
Songs From A Distance collects the shortlisted and winning poetry submissions from the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Migrant Worker Poetry Competition in Singapore. Totalling 31 pieces in a variety of styles, this tone explores the breadth of talent to be unearthed amongst migrant workers as they canvass topics that span work, homesickness, Singapore and the human experience.
Our Homes, Our Stories
When we speak of migrant workers in Singapore, we often fail to register that a significant part of that workforce are domestic workers who ensure that our home lives are intact.
Our Homes, Our Stories collects the voices of migrant domestic workers that write with raw honesty about their experiences, from the uplifting to the unsettling. From abusive employers to homesickness, the experiences retold pain stark portraits of what we talk about when we talk about “homes”.
Though physical copies are hard to come by as printing has been paused for the text, digital copies remain available to buy from Kindle and Kobo stores, with 100 percent of purchase proceeds going to support HOME, a charity dedicated to aiding migrant workers who have suffered from abuse and exploitation.
Hero image: Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa/Unsplash