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Thursday 21 February 2013

A reply to "We are no longer a nation of immigrants"

My friend Ravi Philemon wrote this blog post( ) presumably in response to my previous post.

I understand much of what he is feeling. New immigrants also have to be diligently assimilated - I think rigorous citizenship classes is a start. Right now, new citizens do not need to undergo intensive history and cultural classes; it is also my belief that they do not have to memorise the pledge nor the national anthem. These are basics. New citizens also have to make an effort to break down barriers - just as our forefathers did. But barriers are two ways - old citizens should also help new ones assimilate.

What I disagree with is the notion that the assimilation of our forefathers was wholly organic. Prior to 1965, various races still stayed in ethnic enclaves - a remnant of British colonial policy. Raffles in 1822 issued an edict that designated zones for different racial groups. As late as 1950, the HDB's predecessor body the Singapore Improvement Trust commissioned a survey which revealed that not only were the racial groups still living in enclaves, even the Chinese community segregated themselves into dialect groups. (Hodder, 1953).

 It was the PAP Government's public housing policy, a deliberate policy to encourage racial mixing that changed all that. The introduction of Mandarin as the common language of the Chinese people (an Northern Han Chinese language alien to most of the South Chinese descendants in Singapore) also helped the Chinese community coalesce into a more homogeneous group.

Therefore, I agree with Mr. Rajaratnam that being a Singaporean is about conviction and choice. Firstly, conviction in the values in the Singapore pledge, values that did not grow organically but was the result of a vision of the modern Singapore state's founding fathers, that all people should live together in a just and equal society, regardless of race, language or religion. And a deliberate choice to pursue national policies to make this happen.

If new immigrants can similarly subscribe to the same convictions and make the same choices, they should be welcomed with open arms.


  1. Thanks Calvin for responding to my recent article.

    I am glad that you acknowledges that the move to integrate was at least partially organic. You claim that the Government's deliberate public housing policy encouraged racial mixing. Was PAP Government's ethnic integration policy purely altruistic?

    "In the late 1980s,the PAP government introduced two more schemes to manage ethnic relations in the country.To guarantee the political representation of ethnic minorities, the PAP government pushed through an electoral quota scheme (Group Representative Constituency, GRC) which brought brought a multi-member district party block vote plurality system to its single-member district plurality system. The following year the government imposed a racial quota on public housing (Ethnic Integrated Housing Policy, EIP) to prevent any ethnic minority group from exceeding 20 percent in one constituency. In the first-past-the-post electoral system based on territorial constituencies, the geographical distribution of voters is critical to the outcome of votes." (Link:

  2. Sorry mate. Don't wanna speculate on the PAP's motives. But regardless, it's housing policy did encourage mixing. The abolition of language-based schools helped also.

    If you look across the causeway, there is still a lot of segregation. Worst of all are the race-based political parties. Different races still study in different schools.

    The dream of a Malaysian Malaysia may be all but finished.