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Eurasian Emigration from Singapore: Factors Giving Rise to a Shrinking Minority Ethnic Population.

1 Introduction

The Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore is a nation founded on immigration and British colonization. Following its independence after a short merger with Malaysia between 1963 and 1965, it celebrated its fiftieth year of existence as an independently sovereign nation in 2015. In doing so, Singapore has solidified its self-invented national identity as an East Asian one. Saddled with a declining birth rate and rapidly silvering population, the ruling party's liberal immigration policies have been designed to people the tiny nation-state, which lacks natural resources, with migrants from the source countries of its current citizenry, such as China and India (Ho 2006; Yeoh and Lin 2013). This policy was undoubtedly inspired by pragmatism to preserve the continuity of its self-invented national identity. Offers of citizenship and permanent residency to migrants of Western origin are therefore made in much smaller numbers. Populist Singaporeans condemning the government's immigration policy frequently allege that the rising cost of living, competition for jobs, and suppression of wages wrought by immigration are good 'push' factors for Singaporeans to seek emigration opportunities elsewhere. Anti-government comments diffused on social media by Singaporean dissidents living abroad have criticized the government's immigration policy for not doing enough to protect the interests of Singaporeans.

By comparison, dominant attitudes to emigration were coloured by a sense of national patriotism around two decades ago. From a historical perspective, applying for permanent residency or renouncing one's Singaporean citizenship in favour of citizenship elsewhere was deemed an affront to the city-state's homilies of loyalty and patriotism. This has also been reinforced through compulsory male military service, which was introduced in 1967. Singapore does not allow dual citizenship. Citizens of Singapore applying for new passports must also declare that they do not hold a passport from another country. In his 1994 research on emigration from Singapore, Yap Mui Teng found that local attitudes towards emigrants were negative:
On the other hand, certain segments of the Singapore population as well
as its leaders adopted a more belligerent attitude towards the
emigrants. In an interview in 1987, former Prime Minister Lee
reportedly said, '[T]here is no way in Singapore to prevent you from
leaving [...] Nobody is going to stop you. If you feel you have a
better life in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, America, good luck to
you. We feel we can get a Canadian or Australian to come to Singapore
and work or a Malaysian, or a Thai, or an Indonesian we will try [...]'
Other views on emigrants, as reflected in the mass media, included
feelings of betrayal. The former Prime Minister himself was visibly
emotional when he confessed that he could not empathize with the
reasons for wanting to leave Singapore. Some Singaporeans suggested
that emigrants be made to return the educational and other subsidies
they received from the country.
YAP 1994:422-3


Emigration from Singapore was considered a destabilizing force to the collective fabric due to the rapid economic and social progress of the small nation-state, which culminated in its achievement of first-world status in 1995. The haemorrhaging of talent through emigration and citizenship renunciations would negatively impact the country's need to establish its newly found image as a developed nation that succeeded through authoritarian communitarianism.

Singapore continues to pride itself on being a country that espouses the essentialized and ambiguous 'Asian value' of aggrandizing the imagined collective society over individualistic self-interest (Lingle 2000). During the 1980s and 1990s, Singaporeans who exercised their right to emigrate to Western countries were stigmatized by the ruling party as disloyal and individualistic for leaving after benefiting from Singapore's economic progress. For example, many middle-class Singaporeans who left for Australia and New Zealand in the 1990s had sufficient funds to retire with, larger living spaces, and a higher-quality lifestyle by selling their government-subsidized apartments at substantial profits driven by inflation. Before the year 2000, the notion of a brain drain precipitated by outflows of talented Singaporeans trained by tax-payer funds was pervasive in the city-state's censored print media (Yap 1994). State discourses designed to discourage the emigration of its citizens had therefore trumped up the adaptational difficulties that Singaporean migrants would potentially face in the form of discrimination and racism as Asian minorities in their destination countries (Seow 1998).

Over the past decade, attitudes towards emigration from Singapore have ceased to be negative. Verweij and Pelizzo (2009:23) point out that large numbers of young and talented Singaporeans are emigrating, with push factors including political anger at long working hours and low wages, and the unfair law that prevents unmarried people below the age of thirty-five from buying public housing. (1) In a 2012 poll of around 2,000 Singaporeans, approximately 56% indicated that they would emigrate, if given a choice. (2) According to Fetzer and Millan (2015), the city-state's authoritarian political climate and neoliberal immigration policy remained the most significant 'push factor' in the emigration of Singaporeans to Australia. In the past decade, the Singaporean government has placed less emphasis on denouncing the emigration of its citizens as 'quitters', instead channelling its efforts towards the pragmatic goal of attracting foreign talent. The peremptory way this has been achieved callously reflects the state's loss of faith in their own citizens' economic capabilities and its view of their reluctance to reproduce (Verweij and Pelizzo 2009:24).

At the grassroots level, this neo-liberal immigration policy has engendered populist reactions from Singaporeans of all races and ethnicities, who have found emigration to be an attractive option. Linda Lim (2014:33) explains why the high cost of living, reliance on foreign labour, and cost of child-rearing remain push factors for emigration:
Emigration to more land-abundant countries thus becomes more attractive
to young Singaporeans who do not foresee themselves being able to
replicate or approach their parents' standard of living if they stayed
in Singapore; they are faced with the ever-increasing costs of living,
declining quality of life, increasing job market competition and a
growing perception of discrimination vis-a-vis foreign talent and
immigrants. The feeling of being treated as a 'second-class citizen in
my own home', and being crowded out by foreigners, combines with the
loss of physical markers of 'home' (buildings, land, green and wild
areas, which in every country constitute part of the native's national
patrimony and identity) in discouraging the sojourner's return to be a
'stranger in a strange land'.


For all these reasons, the emphasis on a 'Singaporean first' brand of nationalism is gaining momentum (Ibrahim 2018). In this era, where the significance of national borders in neo-liberal nation-states is contested, national identity is increasingly performative in addition to being symbolic (Lavi 2013). It is now the norm for only those who have grown up in Singapore and experienced their share of similar, overwhelmingly negative experiences of life to claim their rights to distinguish themselves as true Singaporeans (Ortmann 2009:35). Immigrants and new citizens, who are able to secure employment and other benefits of permanent residency or citizenship without needing to undergo compulsory national service, for example, are not easily welcomed and recognized as real Singaporeans. In a similar vein, emigrating out of Singapore for the purposes of sparing one's children the burden of competing in the highly elitist educational system that Tan and Goh (2011:621) describe as 'cruel' and 'relentless', or to evade the onerous requirement for males to undergo two years of compulsory military service in the collective interest of the nation, are construed by the government and patriots as refusals to perform the required rituals that define Singaporean national identity. To supporters of the ruling party, it can even be stigmatized as a lack of resilience; an unwillingness to conform to the national norm.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, when emigration was frowned upon, it was quite a well-known fact that many Singaporean citizens of Eurasian descent opted to leave Singapore for Western countries, with Australia and New Zealand being the most popular destinations. Valerie Barth (2017:156) reflects that:
A number of government policies introduced in Singapore in the 1980s
were perceived by minority communities as leading to a Chinese
Singapore rather than a Singaporean Singapore. For the Eurasians in
Singapore, these developments coincided with a growing awareness of
their dwindling numbers and a sense of alienation from the rest of
Singaporean society. Large numbers of Eurasians began to emigrate from
1985 to 1989, and the flow has not stopped.


Though Barth does not state explicitly the variety of reasons for the emigration of Eurasian Singaporeans, the large outflows present an interesting case study for demographers and social theorists. The current population of Eurasian Singaporeans would have been more than twice its current size if not for the outward migratory flows that began after the Japanese occupation ended in 1945. Rappa (2016:5) notes that there are now only around 18,000 Eurasians in Singapore; some 30,000 Eurasians left for Australia and Canada, with smaller numbers settling in the United States of America and India between the 1960s and 1970s. There were also further departures after Australia and New Zealand liberalized their immigration policies in the 1980s. As the population of emigrant Eurasian Singaporeans overseas exceeds the current decimated numbers remaining, the Eurasian population in Singapore is at risk of extinction (Tope 2011:151). Emigration presents 'left-behind' Eurasian Singaporeans with a smaller pool of Eurasian spouses to marry. With intermarriages between Eurasians and Chinese, Malay, or Indians now common as a survival strategy (Lowe and Mac an Ghaill 2015; Rappa 2000), the overall population of this ethnicity will inevitably decrease.

To complement the perspectives on Singaporean emigration put forward by Yap (1994, 2008), Lim (2014), and Verweij and Pelizzo (2009), this article's point of departure is that research on Singaporean emigration should not omit the nexus between Eurasian ethnicity, emigration, and belongingness. This is because the country's most contested and under-researched ethnic group subject to erasure by the state's racial policies has contributed large outflows of emigrants from Singapore to Western receiving countries. While Yap (2008) points out that demographers only have access to the extremely limited, publicly available emigration and immigration data released by Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoint Authority, this article examines the relationship between lack of belonging, Eurasian ethnicity, and authoritarian state discourses and the vestigial Eurasian population in Singapore. The mixture of negative and positive reactions to the peripatetic lifestyle of Joseph Schooling, Singapore's very first Eurasian Olympic gold medallist, is used to illustrate the extent to which the government's much-vaunted ambitions to transform the city-state into a cosmopolitan hub are not coherent with current policies that discourage its citizens from developing cosmopolitan attachments beyond its borders.

2 Theorizing Eurasian Emigration from Singapore

Evidently, in empirical studies of international migration and emigration from Singapore, the focus is usually on the push-and-pull factors that are reducible to structural conditions. Currently missing are insights into how emigration for mixed-race Singaporeans can be due to a combination of disenchantment and the process of ethnic exploration, including attempts to engage more authentically with one's primordial past. In their discussion on the relationship between empirical data and theoretical concepts in social research, Mac an Ghaill and Haywood (2012:72) argue that the 'empirical is configured by its ascriptions about how it can speak. Therefore, a complex relationship exists between the empirical and the theoretical, where the empirical cannot speak independently, and [...] conceptual frames are refracted by that which is known as the empirical'. This section therefore explains the role of theory in understanding the empirical data on Eurasian emigration.

In Singapore, Pereira (2008:352) maintains that Eurasians and other ethnic minorities are protected from discrimination, but are inadvertently disadvantaged as a result of being 'minoritized'. In response, Loizos (2008:361) argues that Singapore's explicit constitutional entrenchment of minority groups, though flawed, remains rather attractive if compared to Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Cyprus, and Congo. It is therefore necessary to insert a caveat that, while this article is primarily about Eurasians who have emigrated due to their weak sense of belonging to Singapore or for other reasons, such as disaffection with the nation-state, or simply a lack of opportunities to explore their European ethnic roots locally, I do not deny that there are indeed Eurasians who are happy to remain in Singapore and have no intention of emigrating. At the same time, there would also be Eurasians who emigrated for the same reasons as the country's Chinese, Indians, and Malays. In a recent chapter on the prominent Eurasian contributors to Singapore's development and history, Pereira (2017:331) summarizes the achievements of contemporary Eurasian Singaporeans, who were either based locally or abroad. These eminent names include Joseph Schooling, diplomats Joseph Conceicao and Barry Desker, as well as Dr Noeleen Heyzer, a United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the highest ranked Singaporean in the United Nations.

Eurasians in Singapore are therefore not a homogenous group, as each family's genealogy is likely to have been peppered by the cultural nuances of different colonial outposts--such as Dutch Sri Lanka, Portuguese Malacca, and even Burma--before their arrival in Singapore (Braga-Blake and Ebert-Oehlers 2017:50). Thus, there are also variegated, unseen historical-structural conditions that have created problematic power relations among Singaporeans of Eurasian origin, culminating in historical class differences within this group (Braga-Blake 2017b) that shape how the different groups of Eurasians view themselves as Singaporeans. The fraying of Eurasian belongingness to Singapore has also been the result of the government's insensitivity in homogenizing the socio-economic, cultural, and class differences within this small minority ethnic group. Barth (2017:156) argues that the ignorance of Asian Singaporeans of the contributions of Eurasians to Singaporean society is an upshot of the government's treatment of Eurasians as a distinct group, which unfortunately exacerbated Eurasian alienation--a 'push' factor for emigration. While Braga-Blake (2017a:24) points out that Eurasian job-seekers have recently been facing discrimination, partly caused by difficulties in learning Chinese as a second language, it is also necessary to account for the possibilities that there were distinguished Eurasians who chose to leave Singapore for reasons that may not stem from feelings of disenchantment, but from a personal preference for living in an Anglophone country, or the allure of a more scenic, rugged, and rustic way of life not found in Singapore. In her chapter on middle-class occupations of Eurasians from the pre-war years up until the 1980s, D'Rose (2017:111) mentions a grand farewell accorded to a prominent Eurasian by the name of Lloyd Valberg--who was appointed chief fire officer at the Port Fire Service of the Singapore Harbor Board in 1952--when he migrated to Australia in 1972. While the personal reasons for his departure are unknown, it would seem illogical to assume that this vanguard left due to marginalization in the public service.

Given that the fluctuating status of Eurasian ethnicity in Singaporean society in the post-war years has been inflected by economic and geo-political conditions, in effect, the emergence of new ways of performing Eurasian ethnicity would have to be dependent upon the various re-articulations of the state's coercive power in re-defining the ideological contours of 'race' in Singapore. Thus, a re-calibration of Eurasian identities to that of Singaporean identities to fit the authoritarian state's ethnic scripts should not simplistically be understood as the breaking down of the normative contours of traditionally accepted negotiations of sanitized Eurasian identity; it may, at the same time, be the re-alignment or re-consolidation of a collective, Eurasian Singaporean ethnic identity that one may feel subliminally obliged to publicly exhibit. This can therefore culminate in disenchantment.

In migration studies, 'push' factors can be tied to structural conditions in the sending and receiving nations, but this falsely assumes that choices of migrants are structurally determined. As the population of Eurasians in Singapore declined sharply beginning in the post-war years, due to large flows of emigration, there are many questions about the trajectory of the already very small existing population that can be raised. The question of whether greater numbers of Eurasians will leave Singapore is pressing, and, if so, how many? Modalities of inquiry limited to the strictures of the nation-state (of history, of observation, of demography, of surveillance) are now being challenged by a social ideology that makes some explicit claims of 'objectivity' under the rubric of methodological cosmopolitanism (Chernilo 2006). These include most studies of migration adopting rational-choice theories, according to which migrants choose to leave for economic and other utilitarian reasons. The dominance of the economic rationale is evidenced by the popular use of the terms 'economic migrants' (Beaverstock 2005; Smith 2005) and 'skilled transients' (Findlay 1995:515). However, these studies tend to downplay the social and cultural dimensions of migration inspired by cosmopolitanism (Yeoh and Willis 2005) and do not examine the possibilities of a lack of belonging in their countries of origin as a 'push factor'. Much has been written about global metropolitan cities being hotbeds of new social and transnational practices, relations, networks, and sensibilities that offer 'pull' opportunities. The migration circuit for most Eurasian Singaporeans may not necessarily be driven by differences in the structures of economic opportunity, as other studies have contended (Findlay 1995; Cohen 1995), but may have been made easier through the sponsorship of family members already citizens in their destination countries.

As the agency of emigrants is usually socially structured (by one's gender, profession, class, or even topographical preferences) rather than structurally determined, it would be sufficient to say that the various categorical reasons underpinning each migrant's choice are seldom analytically distinct. In the words of Anthias (2012:128-9), categories in the real world already feed from each other and are 'contesting and splintering off in the forms they take (linked to the broader landscapes of power including political and economic practices and interests that are not reducible to the working of the categories themselves) but within time and space specifications'. To these ends, the notions of ethnic exploration and cosmopolitanism combined are useful in understanding how emigration can be conceptualized in allowing for one to preserve the continuity of the dimensions of what one considers an authentic form of Eurasian ethnicity in the private sphere. Broadly speaking, ethnic exploration is the 'personal examination of one's ethnic ancestry and its relevance for one's life and elevates ancestry as a merely descriptive category towards a meaningful sense of membership' (Shiao and Tuan 2008:1024). This work therefore provides an interesting case study that accommodates the possibility of examining how emigration allows Eurasian emigrants to experience the social process of becoming 'honorary Europeans' in Western countries that could compensate for the lack of opportunities to engage with the cultural elements of their Western origins in Singapore.

3 Research Design

During a one-and-a-half-year period (2013-2014), the narratives of the Eurasian relatives left behind were collected in Singapore. These included a total of ten males and nine females aged between 32 and 86. Additionally, in the summer months of 2015, through the personal networks of the author's father--a retired military officer who was close friends with two Eurasian military officers who emigrated to Australia in the mid 1980s--it was possible to meet up in Singapore with their surviving siblings who did not emigrate. Using the snowballing method, contact was established with the family members of a total of six other Eurasian military officers who had emigrated to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada after their retirement from the Singapore Armed Forces by the age of 45, between the mid 1980s and early 1990s. In addition, during a holiday to Christchurch, New Zealand in 2014 to visit a Eurasian Singaporean emigrant who is a longstanding family friend, networks were built with four other Eurasian families through his membership of the Singapore Club in Christchurch. Amongst these four families, one was a Singaporean citizen and a citizen of New Zealand who had yet to renounce her Singaporean citizenship, whilst the other three had already given up their Singaporean citizenship in the early 2000s.

Bearing in mind that many informant-centred research projects such as this one require participants in the field to speak about an issue pertaining to national belonging that is perhaps considered sensitive and politically incorrect by the government, the author adopted the 'mindful ethics' practice of Gonzalez-Lopez (2011:449), which is defined as:
[being] aware of the many social realities that exist beyond our own
self-centeredness, and given the changing nature of societies and
cultures, to be mindful is to be alert to the urgency of being present
at the moment and being cautious about what we take for granted.


It was necessary to be mindful of the fact that several relatives of emigrated military officers were consciously aware of the sensitivity of the topic, and afraid of being identified on the basis of the views expressed. Most were therefore reluctant to have the interviews recorded digitally, but consented to me taking notes by hand. When there was a discernible sense of guardedness and deference to privacy for those who were still living in Singapore, it was necessary to honour their requests not to elaborate on certain questions they felt might result in either their own or their emigrating family members being identifiable. The respondents in Christchurch, New Zealand were, however, more amenable to having their responses digitally recorded. Inspired by Riessman's narrative methodology (1993), the author analysed the data in an ongoing, open-ended, and inductive way for summative coherence, particularly along the lines of thematic belongingness. As quoting certain respondents at length can provide clues about their jobs and thereby reveal their identities, their responses will be summarized and discussed in relation to the literature on the politics of identity and belonging. To preserve the confidentiality of their personal identities, only pseudonyms are used.

4 Disenchantment with Eurasian Citizenship in Singapore

Eurasians in Singapore are the descendants of intermarriages between European colonizers (Portuguese, British, or Dutch) and locals that date back to the seventeenth century (Rocha 2014; Pereira 1997). As the spectrum of phenotypes that characterize Eurasian Singaporeans is increasingly large, due to the rapid thinning of European genes through intermarriages with those of Chinese, Malay, and Indian descent (Rappa 2016), Eurasians are ethnically ambiguous in Singapore. In their work on mixed race, Grier, Rambo and Taylor (2014:1010) highlighted that 'ambiguous racial attributes are not in line with societal norms and become problematic because race cannot serve as a reference point for reorganizing and redistributing resources along particular racial lines'. In Singapore, public housing, as a scarce resource, is allocated on the basis of race, with quotas set for Malay and Indian inhabitants that can affect a vendor's ability to resell a property at a higher premium to the preferred ethnic pool of buyers (Chua 1991).

Within the Singaporean nation-state's discourses on multiculturalism that Chua (2003) identifies as instruments of social control, Eurasian ethnic identity is awkwardly subsumed under the 'Others' label, alongside the dominant ethnic categories of Chinese, Malay, and Indian, which are deemed more integral to the state's invented national identity. Every Singaporean citizen and permanent resident over the age of 15 carries an identity card that unequivocally identifies his or her 'race' as Chinese, Malay, Indian, or Others, a status inherited and officially assigned based on that of his or her father. In her critique of this Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) categorization, Yeoh (2004:2442) argues that the requirement for citizens to have an 'unambiguous and unchanging ethnic identity' obstructs the nation's cosmopolitan aspirations, which require the resolution of essentialized differences. Yet, the concept has become so ingrained among the population that it has become 'a necessary step to belonging as a Singaporean' (Siddique 1990:59) and more recently, was considered relevant by the majority of Singaporeans polled in a Channel News Asia survey. (3)

The relegation of Eurasians to the 'Others' category in the authoritarian citystate's CMIO framework groups them in the same category as other foreign communities. As this gave the impression that the nation-building efforts of the pioneering Eurasians were not duly recognized, it sent a powerful message to Eurasians (Tope 2011:151). Within the 'Others' category, there are too few Eurasians to form a large minority. Under this existing framework of multiculturalism, which Lyn Parker (2011) describes as a 'box approach', there are hardly any definable markers of racial or cultural difference that juxtapose Eurasian-ness with the visibility of the Chinese, Indians, and Malays. Against the backdrop of the state-sanctioned geopolitical positioning of fixed racial identities that display predictable signs, most specifically phenotype or colour as the central marker of difference, the very notion of mixed race challenges the fallacious, pseudo-scientific idea of discrete, pure races. The CMIO categorization's reduction of racism to discrimination on the grounds of visible differences serves to deny the existence of anti-Eurasian racial discrimination. In this process, Anglo-Indian and Portuguese Eurasians, who could be easily mistaken for Indian or Malay Singaporeans, are rendered culturally invisible. The CMIO framework's elision of Eurasian ethnicity and identity in Singapore regards any visibility of Eurasian-ness in the public sphere, if applicable, to be a tokenistic acknowledgement of European ancestry as adjunct to its national identity.

The author of this article is of both Singaporean Chinese and European extraction and has lived with the personal and social consequences of not being that easy to identify based on physical appearance alone, having frequently been asked in various social settings in Singapore 'what is your race?' and 'where are you from?'. The 'what are you?' question, according to Grier, Rambo and Taylor (2014:1008), constitutes the process of reproducing and deconstructing racial order. The 'where are you from?' question, when raised in Singapore, assumes that one is not Chinese, Malay, or Indian and therefore does not belong in Singapore. As the official position of the government's CMIO framework reinforces the false notion that pure races exist (Veyalutham 2017), the notion of European-Asian hybridity disrupts the logics of the geopolitical certainties reified by the state. This is evident from the fact that Eurasians with Dutch, German, English, or Portuguese surnames have been mistaken as foreigners. (4) Furthermore, Eurasians who look more Chinese or Asian than European do not fall into the category of having Chinese surnames that might better fit their appearances. Decolonization, then, for mixed-race individuals in an era marked by the end of colonialism, is an ongoing process (Hewett 2015). The economies of the Eurasian politics of belonging and politics of identity will therefore evolve in a manner that is reparative in relation to the evanescence of the 'essence' underscoring Eurasian-ness.

In Singapore, Ackermann (1997:453) points out that the corporatist nature of the CMIO framework makes it 'difficult for Singaporeans to distinguish between illegitimate ethnic loyalties, admirable ethnic cultural values and legitimate ethnic interests'. It is especially difficult for Eurasians. Yuval-Davis (2010:266) states that identity politics 'elevate certain specific location categories of belonging assuming a homogenous narrative of primordial or quasi primordial (that is, "strategic") attachment to social groupings, which are assumed, or need to be constituted, around shared locations and demand prioritized political loyalty'. In this sense, maintaining Eurasian ethnicity means giving prioritized loyalty to the residual percentage of one's European ancestry, as this is the essence that distinguishes Eurasians from other 'races'. It is also symbolic of the need for survival as a dwindling demographic group. However, there is a price that has to be paid. From an auto-ethnographical perspective, as a Singaporean whose European ancestry is derived from a British-born paternal grandfather and a paternal grandmother of mixed European and Chinese heritage from Malaysia, the deepening maintenance of family connections with my Caucasian 'Others' (second cousins with whom I share the same English great-grandparents) during my extended periods of doctoral study and work in the United Kingdom engendered negative reactions from the relatives of my Singaporean Chinese mother. Some were quick to remind me that I should not forget my roots in Singapore, and that I am still more Asian than European and should not migrate to Britain. Contemporary Singaporean citizenship is based on a strong moral state that opposes Western values. In the words of Yao (2007:68), 'when the West is also what we welcome on our shores, it becomes an unmistakable symptom of displacement when it is "fixed" as a singular sign of failure'. Negotiating a politics of belonging by participating in a form of cosmopolitan mobility that is tied to the nostalgic exploration of one's primordial ancestral past raises questions pertaining to loyalty, as it indicates a proclivity to adopt worldviews that deviate from the authoritarian regime's moral scripts.

4.1 Politics of Belonging and Emigration

Belonging to Singapore assumes certain boundaries of belonging; it is both inclusive and exclusive. As many Eurasian Singaporeans have chosen to leave, it cannot be denied that the politics of belonging and politics of identity of some of these people do not fit within the state's boundaries of belonging. Left unexplored, due to the difficulties of finding a larger sample of Eurasian Singaporean emigrants from different countries, are the social relations and concomitant narratives of identity that play a role in the highly complex determination of their varying politics of belonging to Singapore. Surely, such information would be of importance to demographers and policymakers. There are highly complex processes underlying the social and political frameworks of power, which Chun (2009:345) broadly describes as the 'geopolitics of ethnicity' that bind ethnic identities to realities far from those based on the existence of group identities. These geopolitical processes, which are responsible for the fringe status of Eurasians, date back to the Western world's purported moral degradation and individualism that culminated in the adoption of the 'Asian values' ideology by Asia's political leaders, including Singapore's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Singaporean government appropriated 'Asian values' as a form of reverse orientalism in order to project the West as a 'White Peril'. The denigration of the West during this era, according to Yao (2007:69), was inspired by the need for the small island nation to have its achievements cemented as a newly developed nation: 'In the state discourse of Asian Values, we are to hear the clamoring for a fresh assessment of the world and Singapore's achievements'. The 'Asian values' of communitarianism and respect for authority were attributed to the country's economic success and conveniently invoked to suppress the demands for political freedom typically associated with a rising middle class. 'Asian values' were heralded as a bulwark against the country's susceptibility to Western immorality. During the 1980s and 1990s, the ills of liberal Western democracies, in the form of crime, permissive drugs, and the sexual promiscuity promoted through Western fashion, music, television, and film, were strategically used to bolster the government's authoritarian communitarianism and single-party rule (Thompson 2004:1086). During this period, the 'Asianization' of Singapore created a sense of unease among Eurasians and aroused suspicions about the group's perceived allegiance to the Singaporean state. This provided an impetus for Eurasians proud of their heritage to leave for the Anglo-Celtic dominated populations of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States of America.

The disproportionately high number of citizenship renunciations from Eurasians relative to those among the majority ethnic groups alarmed the government in the 1980s and 1990s. The substantial numbers of renunciations were caused by fear that the policies of the ruling party would marginalize Eurasians (Lian 2015; Rappa 2013). Lee Kuan Yew firmly believed that political preferences were in the blood (Lingle 2000). Eurasians were negatively perceived as predisposed to embrace Western liberal ideas and to lack the inborn 'Asian values' that made the majority Asian population compliant with the ruling party's policies. (5) Speaking to the left-behind relatives of retired Eurasian military officers who emigrated, there was one apparent theme: those who had actively played a role in establishing the Singaporean Armed Forces but later renounced their Singaporean citizenship resented the fact that few Eurasian officers were promoted beyond the ranks of Captain and Major. As they were not university graduates, this is hardly surprising, as even non-graduate Chinese, Indian, or Malay officers would have found it difficult to achieve promotion. Chong and Chan (2017:372) explain that the attempts by Singapore's military to maintain itself as a highly educated force reproduced the inequalities reflected in wider society. In a controversial study on the Singaporean Armed Forces by Walsh (2007), it was reported that the educational credentials of scholar officers compensated for their lack of combat experience. Though military experience mixes individuals from all races and religions, Chong and Chan (2017:373) point out the irony of the fact that race and religion were at the crux of a soldier's identity, ahead of nationality. Therefore, the rider to be added here is that during the 1980s, the marginalization experienced by these officers must be understood within the context of Singapore's tense ethno-regional politics; the educational background of these officers during this time period may have created a glass ceiling that was applicable to all officers. There would undoubtedly have been high-ranking Eurasian military officers who would have met the educational requirements for promotion to the senior ranks. In today's context, the presence of Malay officers reaching pinnacle ranks in sensitive units shows us that the Singaporean Armed Forces have changed (Chong and Chan 2017). It was commonly reported that emigrating officers--especially those with combat experience who had sacrificed much as pioneers in the establishment of the armed forces--groused about their superior officers not giving credence to their proven capabilities. Keeping this in mind, it is possible to conclude that the minutiae of each interlocutor's experience would have been affected by varying degrees of caution.

4.2 Eurasian in Singapore by Consent Rather than Descent

Yuval-Davis (2006:205) argues that the politics of belonging 'involves not only the maintenance and reproduction of boundaries of the community of belonging by the hegemonic political powers but also their contestation and challenge by other political agents'. With this in mind, the emigrating Eurasians ostensibly sought to reject any such unwanted interference in the trajectories of the politics of identities that related to them. This included rejecting expectations that the stereotypical, essentialist scripts of Eurasians, which disregarded the individuality of one's cultural milieu, would be actualized. The cultural theorist Ien Ang (2001) argued that while members of the Chinese diaspora who live outside mainland China may be ethnic Chinese by descent, in social settings there can be times when Westernized Chinese unwillingly consent to the politically imposed narrative of being Chinese. In a similar vein, the Eurasian interlocutors also expressed that although they felt that their cultural identification with the majority Chinese was strong, with some even capable of speaking different dialects, such as Hokkien and Cantonese, they were negatively perceived as somehow less Singaporean than their Malay, Indian, and Chinese counterparts. Thus, there were exoticized notions of Eurasian-ness that they felt obligated to live out and acquiesce to, if not consent to, in certain social settings. David, in his fifties, explained that when he worked in the 1980s as a flight attendant for Singapore Airlines, there were frequently times when Singaporean passengers whom he tried to converse with in Mandarin would prefer to reply in English, or would even ask where he was from rather than reciprocate by responding in the Chinese language. This experience resonates with Wallerstein's (1991:71) criticism of pan-ethnic identity group categories as being over-simplified because they include 'multiple possible subgroups' that can be disregarded. Though Eurasian subjects such as David may exhibit the identity markers of Singaporean Chinese, the projection of an essentialized, Eurasian identity rides roughshod over the efforts taken to submerge themselves with the cultural identifications of the majority.

In some ways, not being treated as real Singaporeans also provided motivations for the Eurasian emigrants and former Singaporean citizens in Christchurch, New Zealand to 'connect' with their Western roots by immersing themselves in the Anglo-Celtic culture of their new country.This was a form of ethnic exploration that allowed them to validate their Caucasian ancestry without being judged as not conforming to authoritarian Singapore's ethno-national scripts. 'Pull factors' included the attraction of living and working in the more scenic environments of New Zealand that offered a gentler temperate climate, and a better work-life balance. Other reasons enunciated included the ease with which they felt they could blend in with their European surnames, which most said facilitated a faster process of assimilation and acceptance on the part of their 'hosts', and also accorded them status as 'honorary Europeans'. Inherent in most interlocutors' statements was the consciousness that their decision to secede from Singapore had not engendered pleasant reactions from their Singaporean friends, colleagues, and neighbours. As a female interlocutor and former Singaporean civil servant in her sixties stated: 'before I left in 1992, my colleagues started giving me the cold shoulder after I informed them that my New Zealand residency application had been approved and that's when I realized I had made the right choice to leave; there was clearly no point staying put in Singapore when somehow everyone treated us with a different yardstick and was waiting to point out that we were not loyal'. This resonates with the observation that in Singapore, 'everyday authoritarianism' from below takes place as ordinary citizens legitimize the state's authoritarian scripts of citizenship by denouncing the forms of behaviour that Lee Kuan Yew personally condemned (Ibrahim 2008:228). While the notions of a cosmopolitan outlook and realism, according to Beck (2006:14), are essential for survival in the twenty-first century, there is still resistance to the embodiment of a cosmopolitan ethos in Singapore, as the pluralization of one's local attachments and enhancement of solidarity with groups exemplifying transnational modes of living that are the result of cosmopolitanism (Mehta 2000) can evoke notions of disloyalty.

The Singaporean government has been forthright in stating that for the nation to sustain its economic competitiveness, Singaporeans must build links with other countries, in particular its neighbouring Southeast Asian nationstates. Despite the avowal of this cosmopolitan vision, Yeoh (2004:2442) states that 'it is unclear how notions of global cosmopolitan living, heterogeneity and hybridity can be balanced with the hegemonic meta-narratives of ethnicity and race which have been the mainstay of nation-building in the globalising yet interventionist milieu of ethnically diverse Singapore'.

5 The Peripatetic Joseph Schooling
'I'm Singaporean and my race is Eurasian. That's how I introduce myself
overseas.'

          JOSEPH SCHOOLING (in Pereira 2017:344)


In the above quote, the way Schooling introduces himself when overseas is telling about how he positively embraces the constructed 'race' of Eurasian that fits so well with the patriotic Singaporean discourse of identity promoted by the government. Thus, even if his interlocutors do not comprehend the nuances of 'Eurasian' in Singaporean parlance, it is evocative of this cosmopolitan traveller's rootedness within the nation. Beyond the shores of Singapore, one of the most common criticisms of cosmopolitanism is that it cannot accommodate the exigencies of nationalism and patriotism required for a locality or nation-state to sustain a common sense of belonging and solidarity amongst its people. In short, the cosmopolitan ideal, which ranks the unlimited inclusion of humanity over one's neighbours, country folk, and other local affiliations, is deemed detrimental to the requirement for local lives to be sustained (Ossewaarde 2007:383). The openness required also results in competing translations of the global into the local and vice versa, both at the level of societies and within the minds of individuals (Delanty 2006:44). The conspicuous manner in which such cosmopolitanism does not fit with a localized Singaporean identity was manifested in the combined thrust of both the negative and positive reactions to Singaporean Eurasian swimmer Joseph Schooling's gold medal at the 2016 Olympics. It raised questions about the acceptance of cosmopolitan lifestyles in Singapore. In short, Joseph Schooling, the son of Singaporean businessman Colin Schooling and May, his Malaysian Chinese mother, was the very first Singaporean to win a gold medal at the Olympics. In defeating Michael Phelps, who had won a total of twenty-three gold medals, Schooling's heroic win was undoubtedly a historical tour de force that placed Singapore on the Olympic map of global sporting excellence.

The small city-state had been criticized for naturalizing foreign athletes who later demonstrated loyalty to their countries of origin, despite representing Singapore in the 2008 Olympics (Ortmann 2009:24). Singaporeans feel that the government has not invested enough in the development of facilities and other resources to support locally cultivated sporting talent. While there were Singaporeans who identified with Schooling's tenacity and self-made success through perseverance without help from the government, there were, nonetheless, negative reactions to his achievement. When I previously taught in Singapore, Joseph Schooling's then-recent heroic win dovetailed with the examinable topic of the arts and sports. Schooling's name therefore featured quite prominently in tutorial discussions. In summary, the students reacted both positively and negatively to Joseph Schooling's win, as it raised questions about the extent to which he was a true Singaporean. These pertained to his protracted training stints abroad, the deferment of his national service, and his American accent. Classes were mostly divided, with around half agreeing with the statements that Schooling was either Singaporean to a large extent or to a limited extent. Like other Singaporeans on social media who defended Schooling's medal as an honour for Singapore from a civic perspective, some pointed to the fact that he was a true Singaporean as his mother was Asian (Chinese) and his father speaks with a Singaporean accent and is fluent in Malay. Such defences revealed an inner sense of unease about affirming European-ness as part of Singapore's national identity. Surely, there would have been no requirement for such ripostes if speaking Singaporean English (Singlish) and being Asian were not elements of belonging to Singapore.

As mentioned earlier, national service for males in the form of compulsory uniformed military service is an institution and serves as a prerequisite for admission to the country's universities. It is also a rite of passage that inculcates ruggedness and marks the transformation from boys to men (Da Cunha 1999). Between the ages of 13 and 16.5, parents intending to educate their sons abroad need to first obtain approval from the Ministry of Defence and furnish a bond in the form of a banker's guarantee of either 75,000 Singaporean dollars, or half of the child's parents' combined salary, whichever is greater. (6) This bond will be forfeited in the event of the pre-enlistee committing the offence of failing to return for enlistment. National-service defaulters who acquire residency or citizenship abroad and then take the calculated risk of choosing not to return are no different from self-exiles. They are subject to arrest and imprisonment upon any attempted entry into Singapore. This policy was engineered to eradicate loopholes allowing males to renounce their citizenship before discharging their citizenship obligations. The government's stance is that males below the age of 21 are minors and are therefore incapable of making such major decisions for themselves.

The conservative city-state's print and news media did not elaborate on the tremendous effort undertaken by Joseph Schooling's parents to defer his enlistment beyond the normal age limits for the extraordinary purposes of training to represent Singapore at the 2016 Olympics and enrolling at the University of Texas. While Schooling has undoubtedly won a much-desired gold medal for Singapore, this was achieved only through culturally non-conforming, elite cosmopolitan ways not normally available to Singaporeans without vast financial resources. The views of the students who commented negatively about Schooling's win resonate with the comments collected from various social media platforms that suggest that Singaporeans ought not to have celebrated the victory with pride, as the costs of Schooling's win in the form of prolonged periods of training spent overseas were expensive and, coupled with his Caucasian genetics, failed to qualify him as an authentic, Singaporean talent. There were several disapproving students who claimed that as it was now very easy for him to acquire foreign citizenship and thereby evade national service, they would have no qualms in treating him as a true Singaporean had he already completed his compulsory stint. There was, therefore, a general awareness that extended periods of time spent abroad create cosmopolitan sociability 'in the forms of competence and communication skills that are based on the human capacity to create social relations of inclusiveness and openness to the world' (Glick Schiller, Darieva and Gruner-Domic 2011:402). Through his newly found fame, it was obvious to many that Schooling could put down roots in another country without much difficulty.

Cosmopolitanism, it has been widely argued, is only achievable for the elite (Calhoun 2002). Thus, the elite form of cosmopolitanism exemplified by Schooling's training and education abroad is broadly associated with embracing geographical mobility and is marked by the ability to network, adapt, and 'fit' seamlessly into a new environment (Hannerz 2000). This, however, is not considered congenial to the security and population interests of Singapore. The influential work of Waldron (2000:231), for example, describes how allegiances to a country or particular culture make little sense when most cultures are, by definition, already cosmopolitan. This clearly cannot be said of Singapore. Responding to the criticism that cosmopolitanism fails to recognize the importance of the various cultural attachments that people have difficulties choosing between, Appiah has created the notion of 'cosmopolitan patriots' to accommodate the possibility of becoming a rooted cosmopolitan who is attached to one's cultural particularities but nevertheless is allowed to 'take pleasure from the presence of other different places that are home to other different people' (Appiah 1997:618). As Schooling has personally responded to questions about his jet-setting way of life prior to his enlistment by saying that Singapore remains his 'comfort zone' and that he won the medal for Singapore as opposed to for individual gain, it might be logical to surmise that this form of rooted cosmopolitanism best fits Schooling's lifestyle, even if it has yet to gain cultural legitimacy in Singapore. This is due to state policies that have institutionalized conscription as a liminal rite of passage for males. This should not come as a surprise. In distinguishing communitarian citizenship from cosmopolitan citizenship, Delanty (2009:114) points out that conscription is tied to an organic notion of communitarian citizenship wherein the nation is a shared cultural community based on blood ties. For comparison, cosmopolitanism already exists to a great degree in New Zealand, a country that allows dual citizenship. Instead of conscription being a rite of passage, it is the cultural norm and expectation for New Zealanders of both working- and middle-class backgrounds to undergo overseas stints of employment (Conradson and Latham 2005). The embracing by its citizens of transnational ways of life, which celebrate what Bauman (2001:56) dubs the 'irrelevance of place', has yet to permeate mainstream logics in Singapore and remains treated with suspicion.

6 Discussion: Whither Eurasian Ethnicity in Singapore?

In the current era, the networks, skills, and competencies developed by a nation's ex-citizens and immigrants are necessary to enhance a country's own standing in an increasingly competitive global order (Benhabib 2007:24). As an exception to this pattern, the Singaporean government has adopted the more pragmatic approach of building upon the capital and networks of its immigrants rather than those who have renounced their Singaporean citizenship. In her study of Singaporean attitudes towards cosmopolitanism, Ho (2006:397) argues that while the government's position is that Singaporeans should encourage new migrants to make the city-state their home, they have made it clear that Singaporeans should not put down roots in other nations. Ho also found that Singaporeans were unwilling to accept migrants with the cosmopolitan welcome that they hoped to receive as migrants in other countries. Where the one-sidedness of this vision of cosmopolitanism espoused by the Singaporean government is concerned, it is important to bear in mind, as Nolan et al. (2016:255) explain, that boundaries of belonging are redefined within a nation that provides the structure through which belonging is distributed and socially organized. As the government's policies distribute its self-invented cosmopolitan image in uneven ways that legitimize the performances of cosmopolitanism on the part of immigrants, the heroic win of a Eurasian Singaporean with a surname revealed to be German in origin7 has possibly amplified the stereotype of Eurasians being more predisposed to transient lifestyles and attachments compared to the city-state's Chinese, Malay, and Indian citizens. At a time when Eurasian identity in Singapore is still marked by uncertainty in the aftermath of numerous departures, the effect of Schooling's win has ignited in Eurasians a renewed sense of pride and even nostalgic hopes for a renaissance that has repelled fears of extinction. However, the stereotype of Eurasians using their Western genetics to assimilate into Anglo-Celtic countries may still continue to cast doubts on their perceived loyalty to Singapore.

Writing in response to the Singaporean government's immigration policy, which markets the country as a gateway between East and West, Montsion (2012:475) found that the increased links to China had revived the importance of, and created a renewed interest amongst Singaporean Chinese for returning to, their dialectual roots and learning more about the provinces of their origin. This, however, clearly goes against the government's engineered policies of the 1970s and 1980s, which sought to unite the Chinese population through the use of Mandarin. By contrast, coming back to Singapore after time spent on genealogical work in England often raises questions from colleagues, relatives, and friends in the form of 'why did you go to the UK just to find out more about the occupations of your great-grandparents?', 'are you planning to migrate to the UK?', 'how close are you to your European relatives?', 'how accepting are they of you?', and 'how culturally different are they from you?'. These questions create a sense of ambivalence but are a reminder that the maintenance of cosmopolitan ties to the West preserves the 'essentialism' of Eurasian-ness derived from the past. Living off a chapter in history that for most Singaporeans is closed, is of no sentimental value, and has been selectively erased from the national consciousness, can still be a form of therapeutic catharsis rather than a journey simply to satisfy one's desire for nostalgia.

The subaltern-studies scholar Gayatri Spivak (2005) seminally argued that subordinate groups making claims to a shared identity strategically appropriate cultural essentialisms. In other words, discursive representations underpinning the politics of difference and politics of identity can only be valid with claims about a shared essence. However, in this nexus between mixedrace hybridity and minority ethnic citizenship it is important to note, as Avril Bell (2014:119) aptly states, that 'there can be no political representation (Vertretung) without the discursive representation (Darstellung) that claims an essence--"the worker", "the woman", "the indigenous" or "the colonized"'. In this regard, Riccardo Orizio's (2000) Lost white tribes, which studies the descendants of intermarriages between European colonials and locals in Sri Lanka, Brazil, Jamaica, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadeloupe, is worthy of mention. Orizio's work focuses on Eurasians who were caught up in a tension between the collective memory of colonial privilege and pressure to integrate in a manner that would result in the extinction of their hybrid ethnic identities and their traditions. In spite of the variegated forms of mixed European ancestry in the six countries, it was the rapidly declining loss of the genetic European 'essence' that represented the biggest threat to the ontological security of Eurasians in their different countries of citizenship. In the similar vein that marginalized groups deploy strategic essentialisms to recover the glories of the nostalgic past for the future not predicated on the realities of the present but as collectives that "walk backwards into the future", (8) the Eurasians in Orizio's work engaged their pasts in highly sentimental ways.

In the case of the descendants of Indonesian Dutch (or Indisch) people in Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and the United States of America, Dragojlovic (2014:484) found that travel served as a form of mediation and genealogical work in these geographies of loss: '[t]ravel has a potential to reactivate, re-embody, and thus intervene in the sense of absence'. From an autoethnographical perspective, the maintenance of attachments and relationships with the continuities of one's own Western roots in the form of travelling to attend weddings and funerals generates affective feelings that establish some semblance of normality in being a mixed-race Singaporean, by not depending on the postcolonial nation-state's prescriptive categories of identity for meaning and understanding. Thus, travel heightens reflexivity in understanding the changing trajectories and temporalities of one's own politics of belonging. Travel and emigration are indeed different. The decisions of Eurasians to put down roots in new countries are self-actualizations of a strategic essentialism that fashions independent ways of reconnecting with their Western pasts. This can be seen as transcending the banality of being Eurasian within the boundaries of the Singaporean nation-state.

7 Conclusion

In closing, this article has examined how Singapore's Eurasians, who are ethnically ambiguous and 'missing' from Singapore's official racial categorizations, have emigrated out of the country in large numbers due to the issue of belonging being a 'push factor'. The limitations of this article include the lack of an adequate quantitative sample to disaggregate the different migratory experiences of Eurasians of Portuguese, Dutch, or British extraction. Nevertheless, the geopolitical conditions pertaining to the local government's construction of the West as a 'White Peril' can be situated as a 'push' factor, as they raise questions about Eurasians' allegiance to the city-state. As a consequence, it is well known that many Eurasians have left the country and renounced their citizenship in favour of entrusting their futures to the liberal governments of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The mixed reactions to Joseph Schooling's Olympic win, which was the result of a transnational, cosmopolitan lifestyle that involved elite training in Texas, are ostensible in revealing that loyalties or connections to Western countries do not mix well with the localized norm of what constitutes loyalty to Singapore. Furthermore, some have questioned his loyalty to the country as he deferred his national service and speaks with an American accent. In a country that is highly intolerant of any form of potentially subversive dissent, Schooling's win may have set the precedent for the Ministry of Defence to consider allowing Singaporean males to defer national service if doing so would further develop their sporting or artistic talent in the collective interests of Singaporean society. In this regard, the Schooling family ought to be credited as entrepreneurs. Indeed, should future Singaporeans succeed in becoming national heroes in the same way, his achievement and enlistment deferment will have served a greater good. It remains true, however, that cosmopolitanism has hardly been persuasive in solving the problem of Singapore's lack of sporting talent in this age of international flows of labour across state boundaries. It has also failed to cultivate any sensitivity towards the need for Eurasians to satisfy their desire to find their 'lost', mythical, primordial land through emigration.

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John Lowe

Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences, City University of Hong Kong

johnlowe@cityu.edu.hk

(1) In Singapore, flats built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) are classified as public housing.

(2) Joyce Hooi, 'Singapore's emigration conundrum', The Business Times, 6-10-2012.

(3) Faris Mokhtar, 'CMIO model still relevant as S'poreans "value importance of race": Study', Today, 8-11-2017. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/cmio-model-still-relevant-sporeans-value-importance-race-study (accessed 19-2-2018).

(4) Ang, Benson (2014). 'Some Eurasians frustrated at being mistaken as foreigners in Singapore', The Straits Times, 5-10-2014. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/some-eurasians-frustrated-at-being-mistaken-for-foreigners-in-singapore (accessed 20-2-2018).

(5) According to Rappa (2016:5), the textual reference to Lee Kuan Yew famously saying that Eurasians are a group of transients is difficult to find.

(6) https://www.cmpb.gov.sg/cmpb/before-ns/pre-enlistment-process/exit-permit-and-bond/ (accessed 19-9-2018).

(7) Ang, Benson (2014). 'Some Eurasians frustrated at being mistaken as foreigners in Singapore', The Straits Times, 5-10-2014. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/some-eurasians-frustrated-at-being-mistaken-for-foreigners-in-singapore (accessed 20-2-2018).

(8) For an example of the ways in which strategic essentialisms are marshalled by repressed identities looking simultaneously to both the past and future in the present, please refer to Lowe and Tsang (2018).

DOI:10.1163/22134379-17404003
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Author:Lowe, John
Publication:Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania
Date:Oct 1, 2018
Words:10917
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