Consuming the Nation: National Day Parades in Singapore
Every 9th August, thousands across this island nation witness one of the most spectacular displays of national identity in the world. The National Day Parade (NDP) occurs on a date that pertains to Singapore’s own history, unlike most of the other public holidays celebrated by its citizens which originate from diverse cultural and religious identities. Hence, National Day is often emblematised as the one day to celebrate the very fact of being Singaporean regardless of ethnicity.
So what does it mean, then, to be Singaporean? Dr Lawrence Wai-Teng Leong (Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology) in Consuming the Nation: National Day Parades in Singapore (2001), provides a critical analysis of the NDP to assert that nationality is a constructed concept. The ‘nation’ is simply a story, and in Singapore’s case, the government is the author. The NDP, then, becomes a yearly platform to narrate the desired Singaporean identity; one of racial harmony, economic progress, and military power. According to Leong, the NDP doesn’t celebrate what the Singapore identity is, but rather projects a grand image of what the Singapore identity should be. Even though multiple alternative narratives exist of what it means to be Singaporean, the one celebrated on National Day favours state-imposed grandeur.
As we celebrate the founding of this nation, Leong’s article reminds us to take a critical look at the kind of national identity we co-opt. Moreover, his criticisms imply that there could exist a certain freedom to understand and interpret being Singaporean.
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