I received several comments on my recent post “An open letter to the opposition parties in Singapore”. Every one said it in his own way but almost all raised the following points:
1. do your homework before you say something so presumptuous
2. why are you commenting when you can’t vote?
3. Why are you still a PR? (in the words of one, I owe Singaporeans an explanation)
I read the comments with mixed emotions: amusement, despair, surprise, pride. Amused at the accusations. Despair that some of the comments were clearly borned out of anti-foreigners sentiments boiling over. Surprised at the intense animosity in some of the comments made. Pride that Singaporeans are speaking up.
I absolutely agree that I ought to do my homework before demanding the opposition delivers. The letter was not meant to tell the opposition what to do. It was a personal plea for them to focus on the people, not politics. I get that talking about people’s lives is an extremely sensitive and potentially dangerous matter. Even as I wrote the words, I was fighting back a torrent of emotions while trying to put my point across. Judging by the comments I have received so far, I have failed to express myself the way I intended. That said, I take on all the suggestions to read the manifestos of the opposition parties, even though, as someone said, as a PR I have no right to comment.
Perhaps he is right but does that mean I don’t have the right to care?
For the first time in my life I am experiencing the anti-foreigner sentiment in Singapore directly. I realised that it seem not to matter that for all my life, I see myself and carried myself every bit as Singaporean as someone who holds Singapore citizenship. I am born, raised and educated in Singapore. I lived all except two years of my life in Singapore. Half of my family is in Singapore: my husband and his family, my sister and her children. The majority of my friends are in Singapore (even though they are not all Singaporeans). I have always related to myself as a Singaporean and I think many of my friends, Singapore or outside, relates to me as a Singaporean. I consider LKY the father of MY country.
In terms of citizenship, I hold a Malaysian passport, out of respect for my parents’ wishes. My Malaysian passport is a necessary evil in my life and in fact, is a pain in the butt when I travel. My parents are Malaysians though my family lived in Singapore for several decades. My Dad was in construction all his life and his sweat and blood toiled the Singapore soils. When they chose to retire in Malaysia as it was getting too expensive to stay in Singapore, I never thought of going with them. Singapore is my home.
As I always related to myself as a Singaporean and spent all my life here, I never felt the need to explain my existence in this country I call home. Nobody questioned the legitimacy of my life in Singapore. (Maybe some do but never said it in my face but that’s not important right now.)
Why am I still a PR despite all that personal connections I claim to have to Singapore? I think that Citizenship is an intensely personal choice. I have thought of applying for citizenship but didn’t get further than downloading the application forms from the ICA website. My Dad passed away last year. My Mum is still alive and God willing, live many more years in good health and spirits. She always harboured the dream that I will one day choose to live with her in Malaysia, buy a property, settle down. For that to happen, retaining my current citizenship is a matter of convenience.
My mother doesn’t nurture this dream because she is patriotic about Malaysia; she simply would like to have the opportunity to have her children close. Her children have been away from her most of our lives, me since I was 18 years old, my younger brother since he was a young adult, my elder sister settled in Singapore since 30 years ago. My remaining family is my link to Malaysia – my mother, my brother and his family, my cousins. I am not a Singaporean YET because I know the very act of not switching means something to my mum, no matter how ridiculous or irrational it might sound. And I made a decision that citizen of Malaysia or not, I will fulfill her dream by spending more quality time with her. This is not a function of citizenship. In fact I consider it irrelevant.
At the same time, I also hold the belief that my level of contribution to my home country is NOT a function of citizenship. I can’t show anyone any physical proof that I love Singapore – I can only offer you my life. When I am overseas, when asked, I proudly declare I am a Singaporean. It simply doesn’t occur for me to claim otherwise. It is only when someone sees my Malaysian passport that they quiz me on my citizenship. And I will patiently explain to them that I am born, bred and raised in Singapore.
The funny thing is, that answer – I am born, bred and raised in Singapore – is always good enough for people in foreign lands as proof of my Singaporean-ness. I am often asked to speak in Singlish, comment on PAP, LKY, the law that disallows chewing of bubble gum, etc, etc, etc. And I defend Singapore with my soul. By that I mean I always try to present Singapore in the best of light while still being truthful. I call a spade a spade. I share my own experience of living in Singapore. I share everything I love about Singapore despite its quirks and shortcomings.
I am not pretending to care about Singapore. I DO care. I will not be drawn into defending why I care or how I do it. I simply do. This is my home and that, is good enough for me to care. I am beginning to realise that what is very clear to me is not necessarily clear for others.
There is nothing to justify. I choose to care about Singapore and I am proud to say so.