Some foreign residents to Singapore might be surprised when they are asked to state their race on official documents. For many, the idea of ticking a box to determine their ethnicity is strange and wonder why nationality is not enough for official records. Singapore currently uses a system of racial categorisation when it comes to the government housing system and probably in other areas not publicised. I know from personal experience that this Chinese-Malaysian-Indian-Other model dictates the ethnic quota for persons buying a government flat.
When I bought my HDB in Toa Payoh two years ago, we noticed terms like 'Chinese quota filled' and 'all races welcome'. Luckily for us, my husband and I had decided to state 'Eurasian' on our identification cards. I'm not sure how I feel about this term as it's a bit vague but that's another story! Also, my mother taught me at a young age that 'Eurasian' in a Singapore or Indonesian context traditionally mean something else - see the Eurasian Association's website for more details! And once you've done with the academic stuff, have some sugee cake...yum!
But I digress, sorry. So when our agent told us that the flat we were interested could be bought by 'Others', we were relieved. Because there are so many Chinese living in Toa Payoh, the 'Chinese' quota for our building had already been filled, meaning that only non-Chinese were allowed to buy the flat. In fact, had we followed traditional Chinese thinking, my husband and I should have both written 'Chinese' on our ID card as our fathers are of Chinese descent.
I was recently asked to give my views on issues related to the CMIO categories at a discussion initiated by Singapore University of Technology and Design on mixed marriages and parenting in Singapore. It was interesting to be with a roomful of mixed race parents and hear about their diverse experiences growing up in terms of language, culture and education. The debate about whether this model suits modern Singapore will no doubt continue with business leaders such as Ho Kwon Ping saying that, "The CMIO model ... has helped to create common ground among those of different tongues and dialects, but it also has had the effect of oversimplifying the diversity that is our social mix. How we define people often shapes how they behave, so the less we pigeonhole people, the more chances we have for a cohesive diversity." The CMIO model has worked in many ways, and it will be interesting to see what changes will be made to it in the future.