Pledge ourselves as one united people.
The mantra echoes in my heart, the distant echo of a school hall filled with over-excited children pledging allegiance to a country they know little about, except that this is where they were born.
Regardless of race,
I was colour-blind without a full understanding of the word. It didn’t matter to me whether you were pale as fresh bean curd or if your skin was dark as a chocolate bar. Because you played with me during recess times, and the concourse was our arena in keeping the paper ball afloat. Plastic bottles became soccer balls, and every so often, someone would fall into the Eco-pond trying to get it. Everyone would laugh, even the one who came out of the icky pond dripping wet and smelling like fish.
When the bell rang at 10:05am, we went back to class all the same, skin glistening with sweat, the odour of wet uniforms the only threat to our classroom peace.
My mother is Peranakan and so is her entire family. My Mama speaks Malay and Singaporean English, although her IC says she is Chinese. The gold brooches on my royal blue nyonya kebaya top glisten with pride as we settle around the table. Every family dinner is a feast of dishes I haven’t learned to fully appreciate yet.
Back then, contentment was a full bowl of steaming ayam pongteh, and a messy table with spots of thick gravy and stray bits of chicken strewn everywhere, especially where the kids fought over who would get the last potato. We learned Mama’s names for all the dishes, rolling them around on our tongue until they sounded right, doubling over in hysterical laughter when we couldn’t pronounce them. I was ten when I wanted Mama to teach me her language.
Mama is getting old now, and sometimes she forgets that her grandchildren never learned to properly speak Malay. I nod encouragingly anyway, clinging on to the few words I do understand, stringing together an unfinished puzzle of the tale she is trying to tell. I never fully learned Mama’s language. But her love is still the same; the same brilliant gummy smile that greets me as I come bounding into the kitchen, the same warm greeting “eat what today?” The same love she freely gives, even if sometimes she can’t find the right words to tell me.
The steeple of my church had been a shelter all my life, and I nestled within, a cheerful child oblivious to what other places of worship were like. I was fourteen when I pushed those sanctuary doors open and dared to discover more about the faith that made up the people I hold dear. A close friend told me to never sleep in front of a mirror and always apologise if you accidentally trod on joss paper. Another folded her hands into a flap door and told me how
The mantra still drums in my head even now, as I walk through life with a partner from a different race and religion, holding on to hope that our children will fully understand what it truly means.
The only race in our home will be the morning rush to the bathroom. The only difficulty with language will be finding the right word to describe that one itching thought. The only gripe with religion will be that we can’t accurately teach them about all of it.
Our children will live through what it means to be Singaporean – regardless of race, language, or religion.
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