Growing up in Singapore, many of us will recall Racial Harmony Day as an event for dressing up. Despite the significance our teachers would try to drill into us, the occasion is still best remembered as one of those rare times when we could ditch our school uniforms for an ethnic costume.
And clearly, the tradition has continued, prompting MP Ms Sim Ann (Holland–Bukit Timah GRC) to organise a traditional outfit swap so that kids who outgrew their outfits can swap for different ones. “It allowed nearly new outfits to be put to good use again”, she noted.
But other than a chance for children to play dress-up, is Racial Harmony Day still relevant today? Walking around Singapore, looking at different ethnic and religious groups living and working closely to one another, one would be hard-pressed to think that a riot to the tune of 1964 could start all over again. However, to assume history would never repeat itself is naïve, and maintaining racial harmony at a time when identity politics is on the rise will continue to be a delicate work in progress.
As MP Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang SMC) shared his reflections on the matter, “Racial harmony is neither preordained nor a natural state of affairs… and it is important to learn about respecting differences and the issues related to living in a multicultural society.”
That is why throughout the year, our MPs (together with volunteers and grassroots leaders) are constantly on the ground, organising events and acting as a magnet to encourage Singaporeans from all walks of life to come together and build friendship and trust.
Attending a block party at Taman Jurong, MP Mr Shawn Huang (Jurong GRC) was heartened to see strong bonds of friendship growing among his residents as they played and interacted with each other.
Meanwhile, a monthly Teochew porridge lunch includes a special bubur menu for Muslim residents, shared MP Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC). It might be a tiny gesture, but considerations like this can make all the difference in our mission to build an inclusive society.
Ultimately, successful racial harmony takes more than getting diverse groups to share the same physical space. It is also about forging a more profound understanding to cultivate trust. To accomplish that, the Government have since refreshed our Harmony Circles, a platform promoting racial and religious harmony through regular inter-faith and inter-ethnic activities.
As part of Racial Harmony Day celebrations this year, Harmony Circles have organised a series of events, including the inaugural Harmony Sports Fiesta full of cultural music, dance performances and local delights to tantalise our taste buds. In addition, heritage institutions such as the Indian Heritage Centre and Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall will hold a series of cultural programmes, guided tours and drop-in activities to give us a deeper understanding of our multicultural roots.
Every year, we commemorate Racial Harmony Day on July 21. But the hard work that goes into fostering social cohesion and racial and religious harmony goes on every day – without rest, without fail. Because only then can we draw on the strength of our unique differences and achieve unity through diversity.
Photo Source: MCCY/Baey Yam Keng/Shawn Huang/Sim Ann via Facebook