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Intergroup Relations and Group Maintenance

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Malaysians-singaporeans/Judith Nagata

The Malaysia-Singapore community in Canada is distinguished by its cultural diversity. Among the preponderantly English-educated Chinese middle classes, most ceremonial and social activities are in a Western mode. Having moved from one plural society to another, Malaysians and Singaporeans become easily aware of the different expressions of multiculturalism in Canada. Professional and economic interests are often as powerful as ethnic ones, and Malaysians and Singaporeans have many ties with other Canadians.

Some Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese find common interests with fellow Chinese from other places, particularly when they share the same dialect. They may join Chinese associations, although newer immigrants are less inclined to belong to the traditional clan organizations. Nevertheless, there is considerable sensitivity to the differences between Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore and other Chinese. Because of their sometimes imperfect command of a Chinese language, the Malaysians-Singaporeans may feel more comfortable with other southeast Asians. Further, since many are English-educated, they wish to be seen as culturally Canadian and to minimize differences with the host society. A subjective sentiment of being “more Southeast Asian” in many matters of local custom, hospitality patterns, lifestyle and even language also invades the identity of many of the ethnic Chinese from these areas and differentiates them from their cousins elsewhere.

In the over ninety Chinese Christian churches in the greater Toronto area, approximately 1 to 5 percent of the membership is of Malaysian-Singaporean origin, a significant ratio given their proportion in the overall Chinese population. A comparable number participate in Buddhist activities at temples run by other Chinese, and a few attend meetings of the Taiwanese-based Buddhist association, Fo Kwang Shan. Students tend to discover Chinese friends other than those from their birthplace, though they maintain ties with the Malaysian Singaporean Students Association. The very small number of South Asians from Malaysia and Singapore living in Canada interact with the various Indian and Sinhalese communities.

Malaysians-Singaporeans educated in English are increasingly active in non-ethnic organizations and interest groups, such as professional associations, charity groups, and school boards. Students have their own clubs, including the Nanyang Students Association for alumni of the former university of that name in Singapore. Few members of the community care to become involved in minority-rights or racial issues and tend to resist identification as a visible minority.

Despite their diversity, the sense of a distinct Malaysian-Singaporean community is affirmed by the content of a few periodicals. The monthly journal, ASEAN Reporter (Brampton Ont., 1993– ) is devoted to events both in the homeland and in Canada, as is a smaller occasional news bulletin with the Malay title Kampung (Community). Individuals may choose to identify themselves as Malaysian or Singaporean, but their institutions in Canada are invariably joint. Chinese New Year is one occasion that brings Malaysians and Singaporeans of Chinese, Indian, and Malay (Muslim) ethnic backgrounds together in a Toronto restaurant. The event is uniquely Malaysian-Singaporean in that it is distinguished by its linguistic melange and its concession to Muslim dietary requirements by offering a halal, that is, a religiously pure pork-free banquet. Similarly, at the end of the fasting month of Ramadhan, the four Muslims in the community invite Chinese and non-Muslim friends to their home, and such hospitality is also practised by the Malaysian consulate.