The question of I. Identity.

Would like to share on a recent event which I felt was interesting and thought-provoking.

It was a reading / discussion group session at Select Books. The session was chaired by an amazing lady, Constance Singam, who was such a warm host, she made me feel valued and happy to be there even though it was my first time attending such an event.

The topic for the evening was Identity, and covered comments made by a locally important person, Kuo Pao Kun (KPK), in his plays, interviews, commentaries and interactions with friends.

I didn’t know much about KPK so it was pretty amazing to hear about him from his friends (who wrote a book about him no less!). KPK’s work did not specifically mention about i, but he explores about the interactions of individuals across generations and cultures in his plays and writings.

As the discussions began, I took out my notebook and started mind-mapping. So I must state here that the text below largely follows the flow of the discussions.

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What is identity (i)?
i is a human search for deeper meaning and understanding.

i can be fluid, situational and diverse. It can be an entire supermarket of identities, or permanent and fixed. For individuals who are insecure of who they are, an unchanging i is an attractive option.

who is to define what i is, and under what circumstance?

To the sociologist, the topic of identity is tiring. So much has been written about it, yet it is tied in with politics.

The question of a Singaporean identity came up in the SG Conversations. For those who attended the conversations, it was clear that there was no clear answer to a Singaporean identity.

Ask the people “What do you identify yourself as?”, the answer comes back: “Singaporean”.

So a 2nd question, “So… what does being Singaporean mean to you?” … Silence.

People do talk about it, and they mention it in aspirational terms. The pledge is an aspiration. It is harder to say what we want, and easier to state what we are not.

It is an exciting time to be an Singaporean because we have this opportunity to be part of the creation of a singapore identity.

As you ask the question, you answer it. As you answer, you ask more questions. As you question, you inherit. As you inherit, you create. – kpk

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Does Singapore really need to an i?

Is it important? We may feel proud of the progress Singapore has made over the years. The country started with good values – hard working, honesty. It is not just about having a good government; the people played a big part in making Singapore what it is today.

If Singapore becomes less of an economic powerhouse, are we still proud of Singapore?

What is the value of i? When things don’t go well, the people are still proud of the i.

If Singapore goes to war, will people die for their country? Nationalism is something America does very well. A visiting tourist shared that joining the forces is a way to show their love for the country. It is something that the government, schools, etc have incalculated into them from young. As he listened to the news on the radio, he feels, “Yes, we must go in”.

A problem in Singapore is that our identity is tied to materialism, not about who we are. We have not learnt to value who we are as individuals, persons and as a nation.

How can you assert yourself without knowing yourself? – kpk

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There was a question posed to those older than 47 years.

Was there a stronger sense of identity in the past?

Constance shared that there was a sense of oneness. Excitement was in the air in those early days. In the 1960s, there were many new countries in Asia. People felt, “We could be”. Now, there is a intense sense of marginalisation, alienation and unease that was not there before.

It is a good thing to be questioning i.

In the past, people don’t question about their identities, so what changed?

People are becoming more conscious about the race. There didn’t use to be such an obvious differentiation in the past. Could this consciousness be due to the fact that our identity cards, housing allocations, etc are tied to race? We have racial quotas for public housing areas. Without these quotas, will people necessarily cluster together? Having to divide by race is troubling – one can borned in a certain family/race, but you don’t necessarily die in it. Some noted that many children these days do not have friends from other races.

America is similar to Singapore in that its people are mainly immigrants, yet the people in America don’t primarily identify themselves with where their forefathers came from. Could this be because America has over 200 years of history, and Singapore only 47?

The concept of race is not necessarily a bad thing as it reminds us of our roots. I shared with them how learning about the pioneers buried at Bukit Brown inspired me to want to learn more about my family’s history.

Race can be an non-issue if the government says so. We all heard about “racial harmony”. What does “harmony” really mean?

Is race is really a figment of our imagination? Stereotyping is the easiest thing to do, but in truth, there is no relation to how you look and who you are as a person. In our discussion group, we had an eurasian who doesn’t look caucasian and speaks chinese, and a chinese who looks filipino.

What does it mean to be indian outside of India? – kpk

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Some lamented the loss in the ability of younger generations to communicate between generations and across racial groups.

As we become more and more monolingual, are we losing some potential over time?

Indeed, I wish I could speak the dialect of my grand-parents.

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How Singaporean does one get when one is overseas?

A young Singaporean shared how she is a token Singaporean when she’s overseas for her studies, and how disconnected she feels when she’s back in Singapore.

I totally understand her.

When I was overseas for my studies, I suddenly felt more Singaporean than the average Singaporean. Suddenly, I had to know all the ingredients in the popular Singapore dishes, describe the wonderful kopitiam culture we have here, etc. I had this very strong desire to fly to Melbourne (from Sydney) for a 1-day Singapore Day, featuring Singapore food and local tv artistes.

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So – indeed, what is identity?

i can be varied and ever changing. The identity of a 10 year old and a 50 year old is very different.

i can be inclusive and exclusive.

A common i can keep people together – IF we believe that it is true, and that it has a important role to play in our lives.

To create a common i, we need to share the same values. We need a strong sense of who we are, and know what our values and motivations are.

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Online identities.

Technology brings the excitement that there are others like us.

We all have in us this innate need to connect (we are not alone!).

Our FB updates (and this blog) are really an empowering true fiction! :)

the sites of this power are in people’s minds. – kpk

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2 thoughts on “The question of I. Identity.

  1. thnx fr sharing :)

    Like

  2. welcome, erakansha! :)

    Like

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