Racial Harmony Day is on 21 July. Let’s embrace the beautifully blended, multicultural, mixed-race families in Singapore
In celebration of Racial Harmony Day coming up on 21 July, we asked families in Singapore to tell us what having different races and cultures within their family means to them.
Racial Harmony Day is a unique celebration of Singapore’s vibrant races and religions; as of 2019 one in four citizen marriages in Singapore involves a non-resident spouse and 22.9% of marriages are inter-ethnic, and only in about 50% of births in Singapore are both parents Singaporean. All this means that multiculturalism and multiracial families will only continue to grow here in the Little Red Dot, just one more reason we love raising our children here!
Being mixed race and raising mixed-race children in Chinese-majority Singapore does have its challenges. But it has also provided us with the opportunity to have teachable moments with our children at an earlier age than most. Lessons about racism, intolerance, empathy and diversity have been weaved into everyday conversations from the start. Our children are also raised understanding that their differences in looks, beliefs, heritage and culture are things to be celebrated and not something that needs to be hidden or made to feel like they need to conform to be accepted.
It is lovely seeing them grow up in this multicultural and multiracial environment, being able to straddle different cultures and situations with ease, while also recognizing the uniqueness of their mixed heritage and culture.
And as my son puts it, one of the main perks of being mixed is he gets to have ang paos and presents for pretty much all the different racial and religious holidays! Bonus!
– Sunita Tay
Our eldest son Spencer was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was 5 months old when we brought him home to Singapore. His arrival gave us the family we were waiting and wanting to have in more ways than one. We only had him to ourselves for 5 months before his sister Coco was born. Then 18 months later his brother Harvey arrived. With three children under 2 1/2, our days were busy! And they still are, but every new stage with them gets better and better. Neither of them remembers life without each other and our discussions about where we each came from occur organically. Children are a wonderful blank canvas for detail, so all the information we tell them is met with a beautiful acceptance as simply normal. Which is exactly how our family is. It is our normal.
We are beyond fortunate to have Spencer as our son. He has bought to our family far more than we ever imagined prior to adopting. He has broadened our minds and outlook on life; he has given us an indelible link to Ethiopia; we have met remarkable families and individuals that have been a part of our journey and who’ve helped us through the adoption process. We are fortunate to have close friends whose families are also formed through a rich tapestry of beginnings – whether through adoption, blended, surrogacy, IVF or egg donor. Life isn’t just black and white – it has colour and diversity. It is our most good fortune that as a family we start our day and end our day with colour and diversity within our home. It is a beautiful thing.
– Tiffany Bond
I am from Belgium and my husband is Chinese Australian. We have two kids, a girl who is 8 years old and a boy who is 5 years old. Growing up I always pictured my babies to have blue eyes and blond hair like me but when the nurse handed me my daughter I had a shock. She had jet black hair and Asian eyes. However after that all I saw was my daughter. Living in cities like Hong Kong and Singapore where mixed marriages are getting more and more common made it a lot easier too. I still get stares when I travel alone with my kids to Europe, but I got used to it.
As for my kids, they have never raised this issue. Their struggle is not so much racial rather than where they are from. If you ask them they’ll say they’re either from Hong Kong, Australia, Belgium or Singapore or all of them. We chose an international school that had a great mix of races and nationalities so they would not feel out of place. In Josephine’s class, for example, there are at least 5 kids with mixed race parents and 8 with parents of different nationalities. We realise that Singapore is an exceptional place for multi-racial families and we are grateful to be able to bring them up here where their difference doesn’t matter. We know that sooner or later the issue might come up but for now they are just children!
– Emilie de Cannart
Even between two Asian races, there can be confusion when mixing heritages. All the mixing and matching happened for me way back even when my paternal grandparents got married – both were Indian but back then, a North Indian marrying a South Indian already raised eyebrows and created conflict in the family. The confusion started with my dad, who was born out of that marriage, 100% Indian whether North or South, yet born and raised in Singapore in a Malay village where he was mocked and made fun of most of his childhood for being the Indian kid who spoke Malay and embraced Malay customs and rituals. In his early college days, he met my mom and just for the fun of it, decided to mix it up a little by marrying into her 100% Javanese family. It wasn’t easy to convince my maternal grandmother but eventually he was accepted into the family. Perhaps being raised within the Malay culture helped him to integrate better into the Javanese family (who being in Singapore, were closer to the Malays than any other race).
I think this sort of mixed childhood and marriage is what made him decide to give his three daughters (my sisters and I) what he referred to as “international names”. He knew we would spread our wings and go places and he wanted us to integrate easily anywhere. I’ve continued my family tradition of mixing things up – my daughter’s father is Belgian – and my husband (her stepfather) is another mix of Germany and Chile! My daughter struggles with “where are you from?” – to which she often answers Belgium as she was born there – but only spent the first 18 months of her life there before we moved to Singapore. Because we are very close to my side of the family, most of the cultures and customs she adopts are that of the Malay culture, so a baju kurung is what she wears to Cultural Awareness Day. But she celebrates both Hari Raya and Christmas with the same amount of importance.
– Nadia Ederer
I’m not going to say that racism doesn’t exist in Singapore. I’m also not going say that majority race privilege doesn’t happen either. But as someone very passionate about inclusivity, especially so now, with my multiethnic “Blindian” (Black & Indian) baby, I love that I can build a multi-cultural environment for him in Singapore.
I may not be able to choose my child’s friends but I can aid him in creating as diverse a social circle as mine is, and has been, growing up and working in Singapore. We’ve lived in Los Angeles, South Jersey and Singapore, and there’s nowhere like this beautiful city of mine that makes cultural awareness and inclusion so organic in our every day lives.
What a privilege it is.
We are a proud mixed up family. By that, we are comprised of a Taiwanese Australian mum, a Scottish-Australian Sikh father with two little Eurasian boys growing up in multicultural Singapore. Our extended family and friends, too, see love between and across cultures; multiracial tribe is our norm. We feel very grateful to be bringing up our children with cosmopolitan world views, respect for all people and an understanding of their ancestry.
– Lisa Lee
My heritage is 100% Chinese. Born in Hong Kong to parents from Hong Kong (originally from China), my parents moved to the UK when I was only 3 months. So I grew up with a Western outlook, with British friends and of course dated a few Caucasians along the way. Still, my parents stuck to their roots and the expectation of me marrying a Chinese was very high. So when I met my husband, who is Australian, they weren’t very pleased. I was the first in my whole family history to marry outside my race. It was tough for a while but with time they accepted him into the family with open arms.
When he became a father, that is when they truly started to love him and realised that not only was a great dad and role model, he really loved his family and protected them with his whole heart. My kids are a beautiful blend of Chinese and Australian – they have taken the best features and characters from both of our families. They don’t feel in any way different because in Singapore we are blessed with having a very international, multicultural society. At school, they have so much diversity that it is very normal to have friends from all over the world. Most of the families we know here come from everywhere with mums and dads from different countries.
The only question I think my kids get stuck on is ‘where are you from’. It’s a tough one as they have a Chinese mum who grew up in England, a Dad from the Australian Outback, yet they were born in London and have lived most of their childhood so far in Singapore. My son supports Liverpool in soccer but Australia in the Rugby and dresses in a Chinese costume for International Day at school — he embraces all cultures equally. My daughter says she’s English because that is where she was born, I guess there is no straight answer but that is as close as she can get. I am proud and privileged to have a blended family. It makes me feel that we are a united world.
– Andrea Semmens
This article first published in 2018 and was updated in 2022