Amid Singapore’s unique blend of races, culture and the accompanying cuisine, it has always been easy for minorities to get lost in the world’s idea of what makes Singapore what it is.
Even on home ground, awareness and understanding of Singapore’s many ethnicities are often underrepresented and worse, completely misunderstood.
With this in mind, literature that encourages interest and knowledge on a group that is a further minority still within Singapore’s minorities is more than a niche interest point. If we are to coexist and thrive within the different races that make Singapore what it is, then it is a necessity.
Being Eurasian in Singapore
Diving deep into what a Eurasian is – and then deeper into what it means to be a Eurasian living in Singapore – Melissa De Silva takes us on a journey to learn her mother tongue, Kristang.
We’re taken on a fishing boat along the straits of Malacca to be educated about common condiments in any Eurasian household, chinchalok and belachan. We also learn about the subtleties of sugee cake and the mandatory Malay lessons that most Singaporean Eurasians will have inevitably ended up taking.
Conversations with the writer’s grandmother are precious and very personally captured, while classroom stories and taxi driver tales are thoroughly relatable. First person narrative from the perspective of an observant mosquito and comparisons to WhatsApp emoji, however, take on too much.
An otherwise affecting personal journey and exploration of self identity is at times undercut by overly florid prose and distracting digressions. It is difficult to stay committed to the writer’s experiences with unnecessary additions and parts of prose that are altogether purple.
The issue of ‘Others’ as a race
Another issue that stands out right from the start is the description of ‘Others’ as a race. While De Silva rightly points out that Eurasians make up the bulk of the category, she goes on to explain that ‘Others’ now refers to new citizens including “Caucasians, Africans and Japanese”.
It is a shame that what will go on to become a fascinating look into the Eurasian community will draw a line between Eurasians and new citizens, leaving no room for other Singapore-born minorities who do not identify as Eurasian or any of the more represented ethnicities.
In an attempt to shine a light on Singapore’s Eurasians and the plight of being an ‘Others’, De Silva makes the already debated title of ‘Others’ exclusive to Eurasians.
All in all
The book goes on to include narratives from De Silva’s family and continues to paint a picture that will be new to most. This remains the most striking part of the book, for what is a story of one’s culture and history without the voices of the generations that came before?
All in all, ‘’Others is not a Race” is a personal tale of the writer’s roots, and the roots of many in her community. It is a tale that is undeniably interesting to anyone with interest or ties to Singapore or the region, but it is not without irony. ‘Others’ is not a race, true – but there is also room to consider that ‘Others’ isn’t exclusive to Eurasians.
Order your copy from Math Paper Press here.
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