My favorite cultural observation I’ve made about Singapore goes hand in hand with its rich diversity. The word “diversity” gets thrown around a lot, and I’d like to make an observation that goes much deeper than the typical definition. There is something to be said about Singapore’s diversity that can’t be said for many other countries around the world, including The United States.
The United States has historically been called “The Melting Pot.” I learned this term in school to explain how people from all over the world immigrated to The United States at different times and eventually created the country we live in now. As a young girl, this term was used to describe to me how diverse our country is, because we have people from many different backgrounds. “The Melting Pot” however, has very negative connotation. It describes a country where historically white colonists took power and created a culture of assimilation. Instead of preserving rich diversity through respecting others for their differences, they wanted everyone to be the same. The United States is not the only country that has done this, and I can see how something like this could easily happen when many people are fighting for power. However, Singapore is a great example of a country that has intentionally avoided this.
It was best described to me by one of my advisors, Shannah, from the Academic Internship Council at our first meeting. She told us that, “Singapore is not a fusion of people, rather it is an integration of different cultures.” She explained how there are certain laws in Singapore that prohibit mass groups of people of the same background from living in the same area. This is to prevent people of the same ethnicity from clustering in one area and thus isolating themselves. For example, they intentionally prohibit all Chinese people from living in one area, or all Malaysian people from living in another area. This intentional integration forces people to respect, and appreciate each other for their differences. There are still certain areas in Singapore, Chinatown, Little India, and Malay Village, where one can experience these cultures. However, the people that work in these areas cannot also live there. Shannah elaborated that for example, a Christian, Singaporean family might live right next door to a Muslim Malaysian family. They both will live their lives very differently, but maintain respect for each other. This also allows for people to learn about so many different cultural traditions and history.
There is a lot to be said about the fact that there is not one skin color or facial structure that encompasses Singapore’s culture. Many countries could learn a lot from Singapore’s integrated culture and ideals of respect and love of diversity.