Migrant workers form part of the social fabric here in Singapore.
They live alongside us, providing the labour that supports the core of our economy, building and contributing to the high standard of living that we are fortunate enough to enjoy.
Yet, because of their social status, they are overlooked -- existing in plain sight yet out of sight -- and invisible to many Singaporeans.
Take the recent outbreak of Zika in Singapore, where it was evident that those initially discovered to be infected belonged to one particular strata of society: Of the initial 41 cases reported, 36 were migrant workers who work in construction sites.
And then there are times when Singaporeans look down on them, leveraging on our privilege as citizens and conveniently subjecting migrant workers to our grievances.
One such incident was called out by Sheryl Chen, 22, who wrote on Facebook about her personal encounter with a Singaporean man who had hurled xenophobic remarks at a migrant worker.
Verbally abused by Chinese man
The fiasco began when a migrant worker who had boarded the bus around Jurong East was told off for speaking on the phone.
"That peace was broken as the bus started rolling out of the interchange. This Chinese uncle started shouting "Fuck can you shut up? Stop talking!" at a FW who was on the phone. The FW immediately told him that it's a public space and asked him what's wrong with speaking on the phone. I can't remember what the Uncle said but it was something along the lines of how he doesn't like the way he talks and the FW should know his place as a foreigner AND THEN the uncle told the FW that he should be respected because he's an Elderly Singaporean(wtf dude?)"
After Chen stepped in to intervene, the situation calmed -- until the Chinese man spewed xenophobic remarks that heated up the situation once more.
"The bus fell (awkwardly) silent, until the uncle was about to alight and told the FW to "behave himself as a foreigner." Oh that gall. FW obviously got dulan and confronted him about it so the uncle challenged him to a fight off the bus (LOL secondary school bengs don't die, they just graduate from toilet fights to bus stop fights). The FW next to me and I both had to restrain the victim FW who was obviously riled up. So I told the uncle that his ancestors were also immigrants and we are all immigrants (yeah bro, your ancestors are from China. What are you gonna do about it????). Uncle started being physically aggressive towards me (and the said victim actually physically shielded me from the uncle :'< ) At that point I shouted at the uncle to just get off the bus (and yes, no other Singaporeans came up to help.)"
Chen acknowledged that her privileges as a Singaporean Chinese female had enabled her to stand up successfully to the Chinese man -- privileges that migrant workers do not possess and cannot hope to protect themselves with.
"He also said that its okay if he gets scolded, but I shouldn't be scolded because I'm innocent and I'm female, which was why he was also physically shielding Crazy Uncle away from me. At that point I was rather emotional because I just kept thinking how shitty racist Singaporeans are, and also how I had used my Chinese privilege to stand up for something but I totally forgot about the privilege I possess as a female (and that I'm really more privileged than I thought.) What I really wish I said to him was that I'm really sorry that he had to experience this, and it's even sadder that I cannot guarantee that it will never ever happen again to him."
Fellow Singaporeans did not step in to help
Aside from the xenophobic encounter with the Chinese man, another disappointing observation was that fellow Singaporeans had not come forth to help Chen.
"At this point EVERYONE on the bus was just silently looking at the commotion happening but no one was stepping in. I understand if the rest of the foreign workers didn't want to step in due to fear of escalating the situation, but there were definitely other Singaporeans on the bus who could have stepped in to get the uncle to calm his giant mantits. At that point I interjected and (politely) told the uncle to calm down. He just kept telling me not to "act smart" and kept verbally abusing the FW with Hokkien vulgarities (classy)."
Of the many times we thought disapprovingly of people who shun migrant workers for the way they look, and the many times we clicked "Like" on a video that shows the kindness migrant workers portray -- how many times have we actually stood up for a migrant worker when they needed help?
It seems like there aren't as many people like Chen as we'd like.
We leave you with this thought-provoking comment by her:
"I'm pretty sure the situation will be much different if it were an Angmoh talking on the phone. We also love east Asia (don't get me started on K wave) and we treat them so well. But when you hear someone is Filipino/ Indian/ Bangladeshi/ PRC you immediately start looking down on them and want them out of your space. You give them so much shit on a daily basis and yet you blame alcohol intoxication for causing riots. #neverforget"
Top photo via ZiJing Flickr