Category Archives: Current Events

and….I’m back!

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hey hey HEY!

It’s 3am in Vancouver so why am I still awake. I’ll tell you why. Because I am losing this fight with Jetlag. Yup. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem but the second I turned my back on Jetlag, Jetlag turned around and bit me on the ass. Yup. On mi ass. MI. ASS.

Ok.

I might be slightly high seeing that my brain is kinda confused right now.

3am Vancouver is really 5pm Singapore so my body is telling me to stay awake and watch TV. Because that’s probably where I was for the past 6 weeks at 5pm in Singapore. In front of the TV. Or eating.

WAHOO!

Did I mention I was high?

In all seriousness, I am back in Vancouver for the forseeable future and in this state of self-reflection and jetlaggedness, my brain is stumbling and trying to process everything that has happened in the past 6 weeks. I can’t say that I am willing or able to sit down for the next few hours and type out a coherent reflection on the question ‘What just happened for the past month and a half and why I am not asleep’ so that question will have to wait for tomorrow. Or the next day or the next. Suffice to say, I AM BACK after my absence of blogging. My brain just needs to catch up with my body and then we’re good to go. And all you people who actually care about what I have to say and what I have been thinking about for the past few weeks…can get to read about it. YAY!

Not tonight (this morning?) though.

Right now, imma sleep. Or force myself to.

Peace.

Singapore feminism: Fertility and Transnational Immigration

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Picture courtesy of http://seijieiga.blogspot.ca/2011/01/singapores-fertility-rate-at-lowest.html

I have a new piece up on Women Suffrage and Beyond - a website based out of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. It was started by one of my professors, Dr. Veronica Strong-Boag, to connect various transnational movements for suffrage and political equality and concentrate on the historic evolution of woman suffrage in various countries across the globe.

I wrote on Singapore feminism and connect issues of fertiltiy with issues of transnational immigration into the country. I briefly talk about AWARE and its role in Singapore as a leading feminist organization.

Below is a teaser:

Post-World War II Singapore witnessed crucial nation-building decisions. Women were given the right to vote and right to stand for election on July 18th, 1947, two years after the end of the Japanese occupation. In subsequent decades, public policy targeted fertility and immigration, issues that directly affected women. Although today its international image as an Asian tiger has afforded this tiny island-nation notoriety as one of the richest countries in the world (“The World’s Richest Countries”, 2012), progress remains gendered, raced, and classed. Feminist alliances and protest have started to address resulting inequality.

To finish reading my piece, please click on:  http://womensuffrage.org/?p=1013

Day Off campaign success!

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I’m a little slow on the uptake but I just found out that as of 2013, a new law has passed requiring all employers to give their foreign domestic workers a day off per week in Singapore.

I’ve written about the connection between women’s reproductive rights, immigration and the need for ‘exporting’ countries to create sustainable economies and ‘importing’ economies to stop building their nation-state on the broken backs of poor, brown women here.

I was following the opposition that came from many Singaporeans when the Day-Off campaign started and I must say that I was really ashamed to be Singaporean. How can I profess citizenship to a nation and to a people who think that it’s ok to treat women who take care of your own bloody children for God’s sakes…like shit?

Most opposition came from people who said a day off would mean their ‘maids’ (I fucking hate this word by the way) would have more of a chance to ‘engage in inappropiate activities’ i.e. HAVING A LIFE besides taking care of your snot-nosed children.  Yea…because it’s ok to keep people in your house like they’re animals.

I am especially upset at those in the Malay community who opposed the Day-Off campaign because SHAME ON YOU. Our own people were enslaved in various colonies like South Africa in the late 19th century/early 20th century…where Malay women were exported as slaves to work for Dutch families. They were raped and abused and today, there is a legacy of half-Malay, half-Dutch people living in South Africa who carry these painful histories with them. How can you stand by and support the same system of exploitation of other brown people today? Shame on you astagrifullah.

My annoyance at select members of the Malay community and the general Singaporean public who were too dense to see beyond their own selfish worldly needs was overshadowed by the joy I had after watching the video below. I was estatic that came out in support for the Day-Off campaign –  it made me smile and happy to know that there are young Malay people in the community who recognize the importance of allying themselves with FDW rights. If you skip to the end, you will see that the staff behind the video are mostly Malay and this makes me proud.

Although I did have some problems with the video especially with the lack of actual FDW voices and the ‘hermaphrodite’ comment at the beginning, I thought the video was great otherwise especially in showing its support for the Day-Off campaign.

I am so glad that the new law has passed –  Singaporeans who are opposed to it can sulk in the corner and lick their wounds. I atually don’t give a shit what they do because as far as I’m concerned, this law is one (very very) small step towards a more just world.

In solidarity.

Read my other post on the issue of foreign domestic workers:

Getting to the root of the Foreign Domestic Worker issue

Interracial relationships for a post-race future? My ass.

I’ve not written on the subject of interracial relationship in a while but something came across my Twitter feed recently.

“1 in 15 marriages now interracial!” cited a new American study which purports that 8.4 percent of all current U.S. marriages are interracial.

So I did some research to the places I feel connected to and here’s the sitch -

As of 2006 in Canada, ‘mixed unions’ make up 4% .  As of 2007 in Singapore, interracial marriages make up 16.4%.

I always get mixed feelings when I read studies like these. On the one hand, yes it is awesome, it is amazing that interracial unions occur. But wait a minute. ‘Interracial unions’ have been happening since pre-colonial times. Heck, at one time, my mom being Bugis and my dad being Boyanese was probably considered an ‘interracial marriage’. Today, both my parents are known as Malays. Do I go around boasting that I’m a biracial kid? No, I don’t because I’m not deluded to think that my existence can bring about a post-race future. I am not deluded enough to think that race is ‘something personal’ to me. It is not something ‘personal’, it is very much public. Race is a social construct. Race is determined by power relations between people of different skin colors.Which is why my mom and dad are not considered ‘interracial’. Growing up, it was such a big deal (and arguably it still is for the Malay community back home). I’m half Bugis, half Boyanese or half Javanese, half Acehnese…if only someone had told me that most of the world wouldn’t give a flying frack what I was and just see me as another brown person.

What I really wanted to highlight was my mixed feelings towards people exclaiming how interracial relationships herald a post-race, utopic future filled with ‘Kumbaya’ love. They don’t.

‎An author writes (and I wholeheartedly agree): “I hate to admit that I share the pessimism of others — the supposed blurring of racial and ethnic lines will probably not translate into the end of race and ethnicity, rather simply a reformulation of racial and ethnic boundaries and hierarchies.”
Yes. As fracked up as it seems, even children (yes, can you believe it) of interracial unions are subjected to the racial hierarchy.
I see it happening in Singapore right now. If you’re half-White and half-Chinese, you are viewed as potentially more beautiful, more desirable than someone who is let’s say…half-Malay and half-Indian. Half-White, Half-Chinese faces dominate the local media as actors in TV shows, game show hosts, radio deejays… how many half-Malay and half-Indian faces can claim ‘local celebrity status’? Being half-White, half-Chinese  gives you self- identification with two racial groups who currently have huge political, economic and cultural influence on Singapore. This puts you near the top of the currently reformulating racial/ethnic hierarchies.
Mixed-race children in Canada are placed in a similar position where they are seen as ‘quintessentially Canadian’. I recently read an article on Kristin Kreuk, the Canadian actress on Smallville, and the first line of the article emphasized her ‘mixed heritage’ (her mother is Chinese-Indonesian and her father is Dutch) and how ‘quintessentially Canadian’ it was. I wonder if the same thing would have been written if the piece highlighted someone who was half-Tamil and half-Black? Or half-Pakistani and half-Filipino? Are only half-White Canadians seen as ‘quintessentially Canadian’? If I was to marry and have children with a Fillippino-Canadian, would my biracial kids be considered less quintessentially Canadian than if they were half-White Canadian? Again, as a half-White Canadian, you can claim self-identification with a group that has huge political, economic and cultural influence in Canada which again, as in the Singaporean case, puts you near the very top of the reformulating racial hierarchies.
Is any of this making any sense to any of you?
What I’m trying to say is that this belief that biracial children and interracial relationships will bring forth a utopic future is very very flawed. Just because we want to think that everyone is on an equal playing field now doesn’t mean that this is actually so. Just because we want to believe that everyone should just be colorblind now doesn’t mean that this is actually so. It is not enough to be colorblind and kid yourself into thinking that insitutional racism doesn’t exist anymore because you know someone or lots of people who are in interracial relationships. It is so veyr easy to deny that institutional racism still exists in all our national systems. In our justice system, our schools, our workplaces. How can we claim to be post-race when racism still thrives in our institutions?
And don’t for a second kid yourself into thinking that interracial relationships are free from racism. I’ve written about my personal experiences witnessing friends in interracial relationships who do, say and think really racist things while dating someone ‘outside their race’. And here is more evidence that despite people thinking they are the most progressive people on Earth by dating someone ‘outside their race’, they are actually just exposing how horribly racist they are. Again, I emphasize: Just because you’re in an interracial relationship, it doesn’t mean you are free from racism. People can be dating, kissing and banging the person they think they love and still be thinking really racist things about that person’s ‘culture’.
I’ve been in an interracial relationship for 4 years this year and let me tell you – it’s not easy. I know many people who have been involved with ‘someone outside their race’ for far longer than I have and their stories are the same. Both parties have to be able to confront racial privilege and racial oppression individually and as a couple….not once, not twice but continuously for as long as they remain together. Talking about race openly and honestly is fundamental. C has had to confront his racial privilege many, many times and he continues to do so. Conversely, I have had to confront my racial oppression. It has been a long and difficult process for us to talk openly and honestly about race…along with religion, nationality, citizenship and immigration.
I don’t kid myself into thinking that we’re first Malay-White union to exist in the history of the world because I know we are not. I don’t kid myself into thinking we’re solving racism through our relationship. Most importantly, I don’t kid myself into thinking that if we had kids one day that our kids would be harbingers of a post-race future. They won’t be and I don’t expect them to be. In some ways, they will probably be privileged seeing that they will be half-White but just like everyone else, they will be constrained by the racist histories that hold me, their father, their grandparents and their ancestors in place.
I get really sick of talking about interracial relationships and arguing with people who think that it will bring a utopic, post-racial future. Which is probably why this blog post has been longer and more rant-y than others I’ve written. If you are conscious in our world today, and by that I mean awake, alive, involved with what is going on around you, you will realize  that nothing can be further from the truth.
There’s STILL a lot of work to be done.

New word of the day: Androcentrism

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According to Wiki, androcentrism means “the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing male human beings or the masculine point of view at the center of one’s view of the world and its culture and history.”

Sociologists are now using the word to mean more than putting male homosapiens in the center of the universe but to also describe a ‘new’ form of “ism”. (It’s only ‘new’ in that the word has recently been added to sociological lexicon. The concept has been around for a while now and I’m sure it has been called several different things.)

Androcentrism: Favoring of masculinity over femininity. Men and women alike are rewarded, but only insofar as they are masculine (e.g., play sports, drink whiskey, and are lawyers or surgeons ). Men are punished for doing femininity and women are required to do femininity and simultaneously punished for it.

- source: Androcentrism: It’s Okay to Be a Boy, But to be a Girl…

photo credits: Stephanie V who altered the original image, cover of Candy – fashion magazine

Osama’s death: A reminder of mortality

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It was last week when I was watching Star Trek and received a text from a good friend telling me that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I remember exchanging text messages back and forth with her and eventually telling her that all I wanted to do that night was watch Star Trek. When I thought about Osama again before going to sleep that night, I remembered what my grandfather had said years ago when my family and I were shopping in a textile store in Malaysia. He said “Kesian Osama. Aku betul betul kesiankan die” (English translation: Pity Osama. I really really pity him.)

I’m not sure why I keep thinking about those words everytime I read more news on Osama’s death. At the time, I thought it was strange since I had been taught (in school, from the news, from people around me) that Osama was an evil man who killed lots of people. I would have imagined that me back then being really happy about Osama’s death but the me today is more cautious and contemplative.

People still seem to be reeling from his death – what has been called “one of the most important events of the century”. Over the past week, news have broken out over people’s reactions on his death (including coverage on celebrations, mournings, frustrations etc). I’ve only seen and read a couple of reactions and have heard about a couple more. For those privileged few in the West, who can choose to ignore the “War on Terrorism”, this death is just another blimp on the news radar. I met a friend for tea recently and not once did we talk about Osama’s death. Life goes on. Sure we recognize its importance but we don’t feel its reverberations until something major happens to us or to someone we know as a direct result of Osama’s death. Only then do we wake up and notice. I can’t say I’m fully exempt from this sentiment but I would be lying if I said his death did not affect me at all. To me, Osama’s death means more fear. More violence. More threats of violence and thus, more uncertainty. I’m not just saying this because I fear for myself as a Muslim woman planning to continue living in the West but also because his death might bring more violence from either “side” of this ludicrous, wasteful, dehumanizing war onto more lives. It could be the threat of the next attack on American or Western soil or the threat of silent hatred when a woman wearing a burqa steps onto a public train in France.

Either way, I do not see an end to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I do not see an end to the war on Islam, on Muslims, on Muslim women. I do not see an end to hatred – festering just below the surface of the next interaction you will have with a friend. Call me pessimistic but Osama’s symbolic significance as America’s scapegoat is done. He is dead. But America or the world will find someone else to scapegoat. And maybe that is what my grandfather meant when he said he pitied Osama. Maybe he pitied how Osama has been scapegoated, villainized to the point of dehumanization. Maybe he was expressing a sentiment that many Muslims felt but could not safely express – we pity our fellow Muslim brother, demonized, wronged and doing wrong, dragging the rest of the Muslim world into the mud with him. Would you not pity another human being, so dehumanized, that his death is celebrated? Or is pity only extended to certain forms of life and not others?

Me? I pity the state of this world. Torn apart to the point where even children, the future generations, are taught to learn hate – towards a person, a religion, an enemy created from the mistakes of nations and the misforgivings of histories.

The world has always been an uncertain place. You could die from a car accident crossing the street today. An airplane might malfunction mid-air and crash into your house tomorrow. An earthquake could hit Vancouver the following day. Any number of things could happen to strip you away from the life you recognize. But instead of making life a bit better for everyone while we still have it, world leaders seem intent on making everyone’s lives harder for their own benefit. For more money or more glamour or to gain trust from the citizens of their countries.

Osama bin Laden’s death is a reminder of our mortality. It is a reminder of the precariousness of life. I was harshly reminded of this when the tsunami hit Japan two months ago. I found myself panicking at the thought of my father losing his job at the Japanese company he has worked in for over 20 years. It was a reminder that the privileged life I led here in Vancouver was nicely nestled on the safety net of my father’s job. The life my family had depended on his job which depended on his company’s functions which depended on the functioning Japanese economy. Bin Laden’s death reminds me yet again to never underestimate how precarious life can be. To never discount repercussions of a single event.

In a time when people are constantly reminded of their mortality, they tend to run back to what they (think they) know. They hold onto teachings from the past –  what they have been taught is “right” from a young age, “ideals” of what life should be like. It happened in the 1950s with the threat of the Cold War and it’s happening again today. People are stubbornly refusing to look to new ways of resolving issues instead favoring a nostalgia of the “good ol’ days” when white men were clearly at the top, white women shut up and stayed in the kitchen and everyone else was less than human. Perhaps this explains the resurgent white supremacy movements in the West, anti-immigrant sentiments, arguments invoking “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism”, the backlash against feminism and maybe even this trend in popular culture of films and television to re-create old movies, comics and TV series.

The world is in desperate need of a makeover – a full mind and body makeover. But that’s not going to happen as long as people are (conciously or unconciously) fearing for their lives every single day. There are groups fighting against this sentiment, trying to make the world see in a different way but these groups are themselves, affected by this fear. Fearing a loss of privilege. A loss of love, money, friends, family. It is actually pretty remarkable that anyone is able to exist fully right now – having to live with constant fear at the back of our minds. Yes, we distract ourselves with money, with things, with objects. We convince ourselves that accumulating wealth will allow us to escape this harsh  world, that accumulating objects would make our lives easier or guarantee more security. But deep down, we know it is all a farce. Deep down, we know something is wrong with this world that we are barely living in right now. Something is wrong and our guts know it. We grow older faster, we desperately seek out love and intimacy in the wrong places, we subscribe to warped ideas of wealth and of success…

I will say one last thing: All it takes is one choice. One decision you can make. You have the choice to continue on this bandwagon you know is going to fall off the edge of the Earth in the foreseeable future or you can jump off and find others who have jumped off as well. This will be a difficult choice to make – both in terms of reaching the point of choosing and then, eventually having to make the choice.  If you decide to jump and you’re lucky, you might be able to jump off with one or two loved ones. But you would be leaving what you know behind, all that you have worked for, all that you have achieved in your life…behind in the bandwagon. And once you jump off, life won’t be easy. You’ll constantly have to fight to be heard, constantly be called names you don’t identify with, constantly be misunderstood and maybe even demonized. You’ll be constantly tired and feel undervalued and so will others around you. You will cry at the stubborness of those who refuse to jump off as you try to understand why they do not seem able to make the choice you made. You will question yourself and your decision and yearn to climb back onto the bandwagon because life there seems easier, distracted by shiny objects and green paper rather than worrying about the future of your generation. But you will not climb back. You will never climb back because you know life on the bandwagon is an illusion. Because no matter how difficult life is off the bandwagon, you know, deep down, that you are working for something larger than yourself. That you will be a part of a new world that you helped create, no matter how small your contribution. That if death arrived on your door, you could say that you tried your best to make the world just a bit better for everyone.

But it is a choice. A choice that many do not get to make. So when you find yourself questioning if you should jump off the bandwagon and take a risk or stay nestled in what you know until you fall off the edge, choose wisely. Because you’ll not only be choosing for yourself. You’ll be choosing for your loved ones and for the world.

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