Resilience & Engagement
Celebrating our diversity
Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at Harmony Xtravaganza at Victoria Theatre
06 April 2019
Mr Alex Yam, Adviser, PA Integration Council
Mr Goh Peng Hong, Chairman, PA Integration Council
Ladies and gentlemen,
- Good morning.
- I would like to thank the PA Integration Council for inviting me to Harmony Xtravaganza! PA is an important stakeholder of the National Integration Council, playing a critical role in the National Integration Working Group for “Community”. In the National Integration Council, we have several workstreams. Community is a very important one, where we look at opportunities for integration in the daily living environment. There is another workstream where we look at how we provide opportunities for integration in the workplace. The third is integration in media – how we get the message out there. These several workstreams allow us to look at integration in a holistic way. Today, we are looking at “Community” and how it plays a part in integration. And it has organised the Harmony Xtravaganza to mark the start of the National Integration Council (NIC)’s 10th year anniversary celebrations. As Chairman of the NIC, I would like to thank PA, the PA Integration Council, past and present members of the NIC, members of our National Integration Working Groups, including all our partners, business chambers and educators. Your support has been invaluable in making progress for local-foreign integration, and we look forward to many more years of collaboration.
- As we commemorate our Bicentennial this year, we should take the opportunity to reflect on our journey. In particular, how we have thrived as an entrepot that was open to international business; how we have flourished as our forefathers brought with them skills, resources, trades and networks that were diverse and extensive, allowing us to tap on a regional market of rich resources that was much larger than Singapore. Our forefathers were very enterprising. That is why you find in Singapore spices from far away corners of Indonesia and Middle East as well as porcelain from China. That’s our forefathers, with their enterprising and can-do spirit. This is the kind of spirit that we should reflect and we should ask ourselves if we are equally prepared for a world that is complex and people that is new to us. That is the world we are going into – one with many different opportunities and unknowns – but we also have the resources and networks to see us into the future. Singapore, as early as 200 years ago, has seen our language and culture infused with elements from one another, giving us unique words such as 巴刹 for market, which came from Pasar in Malay or Bazar in Persian; or Kongsi, which is a transcription of the Hokkien term 公司 (read: kong-si); or food such as pineapple tarts made from sweet local pineapple, placed on top of buttery cookies; or Chinese satay that has a dash of pineapple in the peanut sauce.
- Quite fittingly, today’s performance features both new and existing members of our society. They have bonded over long hours of practice for several months, often in the evenings or during weekends. I was told that many of them felt a sense of connection because of the commonality in their life experiences even though they have come from different places. Mdm Kannagi Andiappan, for example, was able to identify with her fellow cast members who are mothers like herself. There were many informal get-togethers and post-rehearsal dinners at one another’s homes. Friendships that went beyond the preparation for today’s performance were forged. This include attending a performance to support fellow cast member, Ms Jacqueline Pereira.
- Putting together the performance gave the newcomers an opportunity to get to know more Singaporeans and learn more about our culture, heritage and way of life. Ms Joy, for instance, became more interested to learn about Indian culture in Singapore. She also found interesting similarities between Thai and Indian dance moves. Participating in this performance helped her appreciate Singaporeans’ openness and acceptance of different races and cultures. The Harmony Xtravaganza is an excellent example of how well Singaporeans and newcomers can work together, and how diversity is a source of strength for our country. I look forward to enjoying their performance with all of you. The value of the play goes far beyond the enjoyment we will have in this one hour. It represents many hours of hard work. The process of co-creating from scratch was an intense one. For many of our integration champions here, it is a very good example of how arts and culture can be an effective way of creating social networking and bringing diverse people together.
- In MCCY, we believe that the sectors we represent – arts, culture, sports, volunteerism, community relations and interfaith relations – are all opportunities for that. While we commemorate our bicentennial, it is also time to reflect on how fortunate we are as a society that has been able to bridge differences while we retain our own heritage. That is a unique formula. In many counties, a dominant race may say “this is our culture, our language, our religions and newcomers have to fit in”. In others, diversity may keep each group apart and they do not come together and respect multi-culturalism as a national tenet. It is only in Singapore that we find this unique formula where each of us learns our language, we practise the faith of our choice, we celebrate our own festivities and we are very proud of our own culture and heritage. Yet, we have respect for each other and recognise that common space is needed. This is not something we should take for granted. It is something that each and every one of us should continue to champion and uphold.
Everyone has a part to play in social harmony
- As we have seen, in many societies, communities are being pulled apart due to globalisation and technological advancements. The latter has disrupted economies and groups of people are made jobless when their skills are obsolete. It is then easy to fall prey to the “we versus them” mentality. This is the kind of fault-line we are trying to work against. The recent attacks in Christchurch are a grim reminder of the threats we face. This is why the work of the NIC remains relevant and all of us have a part to play in strengthening our social harmony.
- For a start, let us ensure that online falsehoods seeking to sow discord in our multi-racial, multi-ethnic society do not remain unchecked and take on a life of their own. It is important that every one of us takes a stand against falsehoods, against discriminatory remarks.
- It is also critical that we continue to build bridges and trust among our different community groups. We will embark on a series of public engagements to understand the needs on the ground, solicit new ideas, and energise our partnerships for integration. We will also be inviting suggestions for ground-up integration efforts, including ideas and content for resources for newcomers, such as how we can prepare newcomers to assimilate into Singapore, including what our social norms are. I would encourage all of you to be part of the next lap of integration efforts.
- Integration does not always require big ideas, or formal projects. Simple acts of kindness, from one person to another can do wonders. No effort is too small. Something as simple as getting to know the people around us in our neighbourhoods and workplaces, would be a good start. With time and without prejudices, friendships will develop. By coming together, sharing a meal, celebrating a festival, volunteering and doing good, every one of us can enlarge the common spaces between us. The possibilities are endless.
The next lap for the National Integration Council
- Singapore is a young nation with only 5 decades of history. And 10 years in the Integration movement is only a small step. In 2019, the NIC will be looking deeply into the following areas:
- How do we encourage greater acceptance of foreigners in an increasingly complex and diverse society?
- How do we establish norms and values that are shared by everyone in Singapore?
- How can Singaporeans be empowered to contribute towards integration for the next 10 years and beyond?
- How can we encourage more partnerships between the public, private and people sectors to keep our society open and cohesive?
To make Singapore a more cohesive and inclusive society, we have a lot more work ahead of us. We need your support and active participation.
- Before I end, I would like to thank the creative team from INARTS Collective, who took charge of the production design, writing and choreography for this event; the organising committee from the PA Integration Council; as well as all the cast members and crew for working so hard on this performance.
- Thank you, and enjoy the performance!
Resilience & Engagement