An Evening at Hong Lim

Hong Lim Palestine

Photo cred: #sg2gaza

I have now been to three separate events at Hong Lim Park, each with a different agenda and each, extremely close to my heart.

The first event was held on March 8th, International Women’s Day. It was the first ever celebration for IWD at Hong Lim Park and it was my introduction to how “gatherings” work in Singapore. There were permits, rules and regulations that needed to be followed in order to secure the space and make the event happen. Although the event was “All Fired Up!,” the passion from the crowd was missing. Participants of the march were rather confused as to how a march works but I figured this was something novel for most who were there so I lowered my expectations. Channeling your emotions in the form of a protest is something that is a part of who I am. I have protested budget cuts at my university, joined in celebratory street marches when Obama was elected (only the first time) and angrily marched to city hall in solidarity with global movements. Although All Fired Up was not as grand, it was still a space where community was built and felt. The most touching and beautiful part of the event was our candlelight vigil in the end which included lighting tea candles in plastered bellies and singing in unison to “We Shall Overcome”. Overall, the event was intimate and meaningful for all in attendance.  It was a space where issues were discussed and personified. It was a celebration of the women’s movement, how far we’ve come and a reminder of how far we have yet to go.

My second event was Pink Dot. As a Muslim woman who wears hijab and also identifies as an ally of the LGBT community, I knew my attendance at Pink Dot was unconventional to say the least. I was conflicted whether I should actually go or not because it was the first night of Ramadan and I didn’t want to miss Taraweeh prayers. I also knew that because of the Wear White campaign, my presence in that space was important. I ended up going for a few hours, but missed the formation of the dot. Nevertheless, I was glad I went. The sense of community, of love and of belonging was absolutely amazing. I had never seen so many people from so many walks of life join hands to celebrate acceptance, family and love. I floated through a crowd of pink and witnessed the diverse families that make up Singapore. My experience of Pride events has always been much more blatant and extravagant. In San Francisco, Pride was more than just a space for the LGBT community. It was a space for engagement on issues pertaining to the LGBT community and beyond including HIV/AIDS, cancer, homelessness and animal welfare. The vibe was much lighter and there weren’t any critical discussions taking place about the legitimacy of the space created, yet it was still very powerful. It made a statement – we are here, we are real and we are Singaporeans.

My third event, and the event I was the most emotionally invested in, was the Singapore to Palestine Peace Gathering for Gaza. This took place organically over the span of 24 hours. In response to the rising violence against the Palestinian people in Gaza, a facebook group, known as From Singapore to Palestine, rallied up a group of volunteers to organize a peace gathering to show solidarity to all those who are suffering. They only confirmed the acquisition of the police permit 24 hours before the rally was supposed to take place, yet the attendance was astounding. Close to 1000 individuals attended the event with signs, t-shirts, balloons and clothing all showing their support for the Palestinian people. Although the speeches were not representative of Palestinian voices and some of the speakers misinformed the audience about certain issues, it was still a very well done event. Everyone that was there truly believed in the cause and the need for such a space to exist. It had been stifling for me to be in Singapore and watch my friends around the world march, protest and visibly speak out against the loss of life and violent war crimes taking place in Gaza. This event at Hong Lim Park provided many of us who have been feeling paralyzed, a place to be visible. A place to make the issue visible in Singapore, and for Singaporeans to show Palestine that we also care and we are with you.

Hong Lim Park has now become a sacred space for me. It is a place that symbolizes freedom from the regulatory culture of Singapore. It is a place that symbolizes community for Singaporeans who believe in real issues. It is a place I can now associate with belonging, family and home.