Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 100th Anniversary of the Eurasian Association on 27 July 2019.
Dr Alexius Pereira, President of the Eurasian Association, Patrons, Trustees and management committee of the Eurasian Association, distinguished guests, bong midia, good afternoon to you all.
I am delighted to be here to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Eurasian Association with you. Coincidentally, we are also commemorating the Singapore Bicentennial this year. As we look back at our history, we remember how Eurasians made up one of the important strands of our Bicentennial story, coming together with other communities to make us who we are today.
In fact, Europeans came to this part of the world since the 1500s – many from Portugal, but also the Netherlands, Britain and Spain. Around 1630, a Flemish gem trader, Jacques de Coutre, who wrote a memorial to the King of Spain to build a fortress in Singapore because of its strategic location, but was rejected. Instead of the Spanish being here, it was Stamford Raffles, an Englishman, who arrived in 1819 to found the settlement, and to establish a free and open port for the British. In the following years, many Europeans, as well as Eurasians from settlements in Malacca, Penang, Batavia and Bencoolen, and even farther ones in Macau and Goa, came to Singapore. Some were attracted by the vibrancy and promise of our economy. Others came to support the administration of the island. Over time they sank roots, inter-married, raised families here and made many contributions to the community and economy.
By the early 20th century, the Eurasians had formed a sizeable group here, and developed a distinctive identity. The community embraced the East and the West, and created for themselves a unique position in British Singapore. They had their own proud heritage, but remained inclusive and embracing of others. In 1919, a hundred years ago, the Eurasian Association was formed, with a mandate to take care of the welfare of Eurasians, and to promote their interests.
During the Second World War, when Singapore was occupied by the Japanese, the Association was known as the Syonan Eurasian Welfare Association. But the Eurasian community suffered greatly under the Japanese, many were persecuted because of their closeness to the British, whether actual or perceived. Some were imprisoned in Changi. Others were sent to Bahau, in Negri Sembilan in Malaysia, and ordered to live off the land. When they arrived, they found dense tropical jungle. They had to clear the jungle to build houses to live in, and to create the farmland they were meant to survive on. The conditions were very rough. Many died from malnutrition, and malaria and other diseases. Those were dark days for Eurasians. Those who survived returned to Singapore after the war, with a different impression of their colonial masters.
As Singapore became self-governing and then independent, Eurasians participated in the battle for independence and served the nation in many roles. Quite a few distinguished themselves, like President Benjamin Sheares, Labour Minister Kenny Byrne, Law Minister Eddie Barker who drafted the Separation Agreement, and two Heads of Civil Service – Stanley Stewart and George Bogaars. And there were others too, like Ernest Monterio, the professor who was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his work on polio and served as an Ambassador of Singapore to the United States.
But it was not an easy adjustment for Eurasians to make to independent Singapore. For years, the Eurasians had been part of a privileged class, and overnight they found themselves in a country where all races were to be treated equally. The community had to adapt and work hard to foster a new identity of being a Eurasian, and at the same time a Singaporean. Not everyone stayed, quite a few emigrated to Australia, Europe or Canada, where they have often kept their links to Singapore. But a core stayed behind and decided to continue making Singapore your home. This core continues to be loyal to Singapore to this day.
Today, your community epitomises and embodies Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-cultural society. In you, there is Singapore, and in Singapore, there is you – more than a little bit! And because of this inclusive psyche, Singaporean Eurasians have immersed themselves in nation building.
You have not only progressed, but thrived. You continue to serve the nation, whether in the armed forces, the police, the teaching service, the foreign service, or in the private sector. The commander of Clementi Police Division, Jarrod Pereira, is a Eurasian. So is Alfred Fox, who recently retired as a Brigadier General in the SAF and was chaired last year’s National Day Parade.
It is not just the Pioneer Generation of Eurasians who have contributed and left an imprint on our country and society. I mentioned Professor Ernest Monteiro just now, he was a member of the Pioneer Generation. His son Edmund Monteiro was head of the Communicable Diseases Centre, and his first cousin’s grandson ventured into a different field and he is none other than Jeremy Monteiro, our Jazz King! A talented family in a talented community indeed.
Many in the Merdeka Generation made their mark too, the Flying Dutchman, Mark van Cuylenberg, and Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash nee de Cruz, who was the first woman to be appointed to the Court of Appeal.
We have younger ones too, of course. Joseph Schooling won our very first Olympic Gold – in Olympic Record time! I am very happy that the Eurasian Association has set up the Joseph Schooling Sports Grant to support young Eurasian athletes, to add to your suite of bursaries and scholarships and recognise young talents.
Joseph’s success continues the string of sporting contributions by Eurasians, including by Alice Pennefather, the badminton and tennis champion featured on the Bicentennial $20 note, and Melanie Martens, who captained the Singapore women’s hockey team to a Southeast Asian Games Gold in 1993.
Eurasians gave of themselves so generously because they believed that contributing to community life in Singapore is important, and the Eurasian Association plays a central role in that.
The EA has done much good work over the century. In 1994, in recognition of your unique contributions and place in our society, the Association was designated as a Self-Help Group, joining SINDA, CDAC and Mendaki. It was a milestone for the Eurasian community. The decision signalled that notwithstanding your community’s size, you are an important part of Singapore, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other communities. The EA’s mandate has evolved to promote education, family services and community development. You have amply fulfilled this mandate.
You have also worked hard to promote your customs, identity and heritage. Your participation in community events like Chingay always brings extra flair, colour, and spontaneity to the atmosphere. In the EA Community House, I hear Quentin Pereira dishes out mouth-watering Eurasian makan – his restaurant is open to all Singaporeans to try! You are also setting up the Eurasian Heritage Gallery, which President Halimah Yacob will open this September. I hope your efforts will help keep your heritage alive for future generations, and provide them with both a window into their past, as well as a sense of who they are into the future. I would like to commend you for all you have done to promote Eurasian life, as well as interactions across ethnic groups.
The success of the Eurasian community is a litmus test for our multi-racial meritocracy. It shows that ours is truly a society of equal opportunity, not one where the spoils are grabbed by a single majority group, or carved up among a few powerful groups while marginalising the rest. In Singapore, even a member of a small community, perhaps around 17,000, expects to receive full and equal treatment, to be assessed on his merit and contributions, to enjoy the same opportunities and rights as any other citizen, and of course to bear the same obligations of citizens. It so happens, and long may this continue.
Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank the volunteers and community leaders who keep the EA going, including those who have put so much work into organising today’s Festival, and your immediate past president, Benett Theseira, who stepped down last year after six years of distinguished service. Benett joins an illustrious list of people who have done much for the EA, including Timothy de Souza and Edward D’Silva, who continue to serve as your Trustees. I am confident the Government’s excellent relations with the EA will continue under Alexius’ leadership.
Congratulations once again on your centenary, Happy Birthday to Phyllis, who is also celebrating her centenary, and thank you Eurasians in Singapore, for opening the doors of your community to all of Singapore and enriching our society. I wish everyone a good time today, learning about Eurasian culture, heritage, and so much more. As for me, I am looking forward to the Devil’s curry, meaty cutlets and sugee cake.
Mutu merseh, thank you very much.
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