When people ask me where I come from, I almost respond with a cheer and say, “Singapore!”, which often is met with an even more enthusiastic response, like “wow cool!” or “I would absolutely love to go there”.
Often, this follows with, “But what exactly is your origin, because you don’t look Singaporean, you know, you’re not Asian-looking” or even “Are you sure you’re Singaporean?”
With a considerable dose of patience, I then launch into a full-length explanation of Singapore’s history, its demographics and the fact that I am a third generation South Asian Singaporean. Of course, my South Asian language-speaking capacity comes into question, to which I shamefully say no and quickly redeem myself by highlighting my proficiency in Mandarin and Malay. Luckily, most Réunionnais whom I’ve shared this with have been empathetic – even admitting regretfully that they can only speak Creole and French, but not their mother tongues, like Tamoul or Mandarin. This follows with a slow understanding glance and smile, and to change the subject, a self-comforting round of drinks for good measure.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Singapore, here’s a quick breakdown:
- Formerly a British colony, Singapore is a sovereign city-state/island country located in Southeast Asia
- It is three times smaller than Reunion island and has a population of approximately 5.5 million
- Singapore is a multiracial country with a majority population of Chinese (about 75% of the resident population), with Malays comprising of 13% and Indians making up 9%. A smaller percentage of minority groups include Eurasians (people of mixed European and Asian descent)
When my husband first brought up the idea of moving to Reunion Island, I did a quick google search and was thrilled to find some similarities between this tropical paradise and my tiny sunny homeland. Besides having similar climates, both are island states, have a history of European colonisation and most importantly, are distinctively multicultural with firm long-standing traditions.
One of my favourite traditions here is the Festival Liberté Métisse, which not only celebrates freedom and abolishment of slavery but also the harmonious living of diverse cultures which has helped shaped the island’s identity. Never will I forget the powerfully moving arts exhibits and the trance-like drum rhythms which got people from every corner swaying and tapping to the same beat for a good hour or so.
The closest event to the Festival Liberté Métisse is probably the Chingay Parade in Singapore which showcases a marvel of dazzling floats, dancing dragons and stilt walkers, celebrated by Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians alike. It is renowned for being the largest street performance and float parade in Asia; certainly impressive and wondrous in its own right but it doesn’t quite deliver the same impact (not on me at least). To me, the Festival Liberté Métisse had a raw sense of energy and I felt this directly as I had meaningful exchanges with the participating artists, musicians and craft makers. A resounding quality that was common among all these wonderful individuals was a strong sense of passionate authenticity – needless to say, they all felt free to be this way.
I’ve seen more diversity here than I have elsewhere, and it’s almost integrated in daily life – from passing through small towns with colonial vernacular style buildings and vast sugar cane fields to witnessing resplendent waterfalls, lush primary forests and undulating mountains. For this, I stand proud and tall of my Reunion, which occasionally evokes nostalgic thoughts of my past in Singapore, but more importantly has enriched and made me feel free in accepting my ‘assorted’ self along with the diversely rich cultures and surroundings here through respect, patience and tolerance.
Embracing these values is true freedom, to say the least, and I’ve never felt more at home!
cheer – acclamation
full length – longue
shamefully – honteusement
a round – tournée
redeem – sauver
breakdown – détail
to bring up – raconter
besides – en plus de
to shape – former
moving – émouvant
to sway – se balancer
to show-case – exposer
raw – brut
needless to say – inutile de dire