June 25, 2017

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immigrants

by Joshua Ip

IN THE wake of all the controversy of the United States ban on immigration from seven Muslim countries, here is a human interest poem on the struggle of four immigrant ladies who traveled across the oceans and fought against the odds to make America great again.

An immigrant aged seventeen,
Mary MacLeod, sailed serene
From Glasgow to New York upon the SS Transylvania.
Her listed job: “domestic maid”
The fisherman’s kid scrubbed and stayed
Till she was naturalised with citizenship twelve years later.

Ms Knavs, from former Yugoslavia
Entered on a visit visa,
Found illegal jobs before she got her work credentials.
Twenty-six, she modelled
Five long years before she got her
Green card on her “extraordinary“ glamorous potential.

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Elisabeth Christ of Bavaria
Daughter of Anna Maria
Was a tinker’s child who wed eleven years her senior,
Friedrich, who promptly dodged
The draft and was compelled to lodge
A claim for US citizenship by unclear procedure.

Ivana Zelnickova
Born to Czech Marie Francova
In the tiny town of Zlin, showed talent as a downhill skier.
She traveled to New York to tout
The Montreal Olympics out
Found love, marriage and a new passport in eleven years.

What these girls have in common
Besides struggling from the bottom
Is that the USA is not their first nation of residence.
Immigrants of various
Legalities, they came to us
The mother, last wife, grandmother and first wife of the President.

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Wan Ting Koh

MADAM Ma Siao Yi, 40, who moved here two years ago with her husband and eight-year-old daughter, joined the Shaanxi Association in April this year as she missed the food and language of her hometown and wanted to mingle with people she could relate to.

The homemaker said that if she faced any problems, she could turn to members who have been here longer for help. “For example, if I wanted to go to a Chinese doctor here, I could ask around for recommendations as those who have been here for years would know which is better,” she said.

She made most of her friends from attending the association’s meeting once every few months. “I felt a bit lonely when I first came as Singapore was unfamiliar to me and I don’t speak very good English,” Madam Ma said in Mandarin.

“But now I don’t feel as lonely as I can speak to my friends in the Shaanxi dialect, which gives me a sense of home. We also cook for each other sometimes and I get to eat my favourites such as liang pi (cold wheat noodles) and rou jia mo (pork belly buns).”

While she belongs to the Shaanxi Association, there is also a Shanxi Association. It takes someone who knows something about Chinese geography to know that there isn’t a typo somewhere. Or people who live in or near the two provinces; Shanxi located in northern China and Shaanxi somewhere in the centre.

Both are among new immigrant groups that have sprouted up in the past five years or so. The Hua Yuan Association formed in 2001 with its 5,000 members is still the predominant group but other groups are quickly filling up as well, such as Tian Jin Association with some 3,000 members and Kowloon Club with around 2,000 families it counts as members.

These groups have boosted the membership of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations which counted just four such groups in 2011 but now has 11. It reflects a rise in the number of new immigrants from China, whether to work, study or live here. No one knows what their numbers are and estimates have ranged from 200,000 to 500,000.

New Chinese Immigrant groups with SFCCA

1. Tian Fu Association (Singapore)
Year formed:1999
For: Immigrants from Tian Fu province

2. Tian Jin Association
Year formed: 2008
For: Immigrants from Tian Jin city

3. Kowloon Club
Year formed: 1990
For: Immigrants from Hong Kong

4. Hua Yuan Association
Year formed: 2001
For: Chinese immigrants

5. Shanghai Jiao Tong University Alumni Association (Singapore)
Year formed: 1999
For: Shanghai Jiao Tong University Alumni

6. Singapore China International Culture Exchange Association
Year formed: 2011
For: Singaporeans and Chinese immigrants

7. Confucius Descendants Association of Singapore
Year formed: 2015
For: Descendants of Confucius

8. Shanxi Association
Year formed: 2010
For: Immigrants from Shanxi province

9. Shaanxi Association
Year formed:2011
For: Immigrants from Shaanxi province

10. Shandong Association (Singapore)
Year formed: 2012
For: Immigrants from Shandong province

11. Guizhou Association (Singapore)
Year of membership with SFCCA: 2015
For: Immigrants from Guizhou province

Mr Mark Mah, executive director of the SFCCA, placed the figures at much higher than 500,000. “If you include the wives or parents of those who come to work here and those who accompany their children who study here, the numbers are much higher,” he said.

Nor does he know the number of immigrant groups, usually clustered by province or region, surname or dialect, that have been formed.

Said Mr Mah: “We’ve been consistently reaching out to more clans with more programmes targeting new immigrants too. We hold education talks to explain to the clans what we do. The clans are free to join us and they see whether we will take care of them first.”  The federation’s key objective, he said, is to help the clan members, especially the new Chinese Immigrant groups, integrate into Singapore society: “We want to be always there to help new immigrants blend into society.”

It has been scaling up its activities with 30 to 40 events annually from just 10 to 20 five years ago or so. It appears that the SFCCA’s effort is slowly bearing fruit.

Of the 11 groups, four joined this year, including Shaanxi association which did so because, according to its president, Mr Zhao Bingli, 52, members considered “the long term development of the association and wanted to integrate better into the society”.

Asked why they didn’t join existing immigrant groups, Ms Shu Ran, 40, the secretary of the association, said that they formed a clan specifically for people from Shaanxi so that those who miss home may indulge in their sense of nostalgia together.

“We participate in and support the activities that the SFCCA organises enthusiastically, such as their 30th anniversary celebrations or cultural exchanges.”

Membership of the SFCCA means a chance to get to know other clans and to take part in activities that are centred on Chinese culture. It is also a quick way to get into the mainstream lifestyle of the Chinese here, under the protection of the SFCCA umbrella.

Mr An Qian Xue of Shanxi Association, for example, said the federation offered the budding association “learning opportunities”. “The federation is made up of many older clans that can guide us so we wanted to learn how to communicate better from them,” he said. He cited similar reasons for forming an independent clan, saying that the culture of his particular clan was distinct from other parts of China.

Despite the different cultural niches of the new clans, their objectives are the same – to bring new immigrants together and give them a taste of home (town). One regular feature is a visit to the hometown.

It appears that the clan leaders are aware that they cannot turn inward onto themselves. Mr An, 49, said his objective was to “unite and gather those from his hometown and help them integrate them into Singapore society collectively”, a goal which is in line with the SFCCA.

Another newcomer is the Confucius Descendants’ Association (not to be confused with the Nanyang Confucian Association) joined the SFCCA this year shortly after its inauguration in April. It has 50 members, a mix of locals, Chinese nationals and Malaysians, said its president Henry Hong, 63.

“So long as they are descendants of Confucius, they may join. But members from other countries may have their own Confucius associations back home, so we encourage them to join those unless they are staying here for long,” said Mr Hong.

The association wants to “spread the teachings of Confucius” to society. “Children in Singapore lack culture, such as independence. We want to set up a school to present his teachings and help the younger Singaporeans,” Mr Hong, a 74th generation descendant and a Singaporean, said.

 

Featured image from Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations’ website.

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Rush hour crowd in the MRT
Rush hour crowd in the MRT

by Kwan Jin Yao

THE 6.9 million figure from the White Paper on Population – emphasised by the G as a projection and not a target, after rigorous debates in Parliament and rambunctious protests at Hong Lim Park in 2013 – is far from forgotten. In fact, it dominated the political dialogue organised by the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) last night.

Discussions on “hot button issues” turned quickly on the themes of population growth as well as the influx of foreign workers, both cited by representatives of the opposition parties as root causes of dissatisfaction in Singapore today.

Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party (RP) and Mr Goh Meng Seng of the People’s Power Party (PPP) first highlighted population growth as a big issue, with Mr Goh describing it as “the mother of all problems for Singaporeans”. As a result of poor planning, Mr Goh said, people felt squeezed within this tiny red dot, and the contributions to healthcare and retirement have also been inadequate.

But Mr Tan Jee Say of Singaporeans First (SingFirst) had the harshest criticisms, which provoked a feisty exchange with Ms Sim Ann of the PAP. Citing his experience as a civil servant who was in charge of manpower, he argued that the massive influx of foreign workers underlies the issues of housing, transportation, and healthcare. “The PAP has not forgotten about the Population White Paper”, he added, insisting that influx, which he maintained will continue post-GE, was part of a political agenda, since “new citizens will tend to vote for the government of the day”.

Ms Sim countered: “It does not make sense for the government to import foreigners for their political allegiance. Born and bred Singaporeans still form the majority of the electorate”. When she pressed Mr Tan for evidence, Professor Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) cited the research of the then Associate Professor of Singapore Management University, Ms Bridget Welsh, who found that new citizens strongly supported the incumbent PAP. Ms Sim Ann replied that even if these findings were accurate, they “are not the basis for policymaking”.

Clearly, the G’s attempts to slow down the rate of growth of foreign workers isn’t being appreciated very much. In a recent interview with Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also explained that the G has calibrated and brought the rate of foreign workers and immigrants down. Foreign employment gains were 5.9 per cent and 4.2 per cent in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Immigration and foreign workers were a big issue in GE2011 and looked likely to be seized upon by opposition politicians as an indictment of the PAP’s go-for-growth economic strategy of the past. This had depended on cheap foreign labour and the strategy had been “maxed out”, as Mr Jeyaretnam quoted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as saying recently. Yet, attempts to improve productivity to make up for less manpower hasn’t worked either.

There was some agreement that improvements have been made to infrastructure such as housing and hospitals since GE2011, but Ms Jeannette Aruldoss-Chong of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) noted that the recent MRT breakdowns showed that the transport problem had yet to be fixed.

The theme resonated with the audience, made up mainly of members of the National University of Singapore Society who are likely to be PMEs, the segment with the highest unemployment rate. One member of the audience reflected the concern that those in the 40s to 50s age group were quickly finding themselves out of work and have to settle on becoming cooks and security guards. They even have to compete with “graduates from a hawker academy”, he said, aghast, that the old ambitions of becoming doctors and lawyers had come to this. He wanted a promise from the G that companies would hire Singaporeans first, instead of cheaper foreigners.

It would seem that he hadn’t heard of the Fair Consideration Framework, which requires companies to consider Singaporeans before foreigners for job opportunities. Mr Harminder Pal Singh of Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) responded to his point with a different approach: Why ask for promises? Vote in the opposition to get what he wants done.

All of which placed Ms Sim Ann on the spot. She said that the focus should be on the longer term issue of caring for an ageing population who would need the services now provided by foreigners because Singaporeans do not want the jobs. Who will look after them, she asked, given the low fertility rate of the population. And while some Singaporeans may grumble about their presence, there are others who can’t get enough of them. She told of how the problems she saw at her Meet-the-People sessions were no longer about being able to acquire a first HDB home, but Singaporeans who want permanent residence or long-term visit passes for their spouses, and employers who argue that whole projects would be destroyed because they were depending on some key foreign personnel to do the job.

“The question is, how do we continue the economic activity that is going to support a lot of the services and amenities that Singaporeans have come to enjoy and expect, and in fact, hope to see more of,” she said.

One member of the audience drew gasps when he said he has 30 employees, two-thirds of whom are foreigners. Without the foreigners to complement his team, the locals would not have a job either.

SDP’s Paul Tambyah had the best crowd pleasing retorts. If the problem was an ageing population, then the G should be bringing in foreign babies to supplement the population instead of bringing in mature adults who would later become a burden to society as well. As for the shortage of critical caregivers, he claimed that there was no lack of doctors, except in the public hospitals.

The problem was that public hospitals weren’t as forthcoming as in the past about dealing with problems that Singapore doctors face. Instead, they’d tell young ones that they could move to the private sector because they could always be replaced by cheaper imports. If doctors were given such short shrift, what more nurses?

As for employers’ laments that they cannot find Singaporeans to do critical jobs, it showed that the education system had over the past 50 years failed to produce people with the right skills.

It would appear that the 6.9 million question isn’t about to go away.

 

Featured image by Rush hour in Singapore. by ND Strupler, CC BY 2.0.

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