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Jakarta Post

Being Chinese-Indonesian

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, January 24, 2020   /   08:29 am
Being Chinese-Indonesian Barongsai dance was held at Bhakti Luhur Catholic Orphanage in Malang, East Java, on Feb. 3, 2019, to celebrate the incoming Chinese New Year. (JP/Aman Rochman)

Indonesia, a young nation, is not even 100 years old. Thousands of different ethnic groups living in the country have no doubts about their Indonesian identity, a recent survey indicates.

There is one exception, however. The survey, conducted by the Indonesian Psychocultural Consortium (KPI), discovered that Chinese-Indonesians do not share this view.

This, according to the consortium, could be for various reasons, including that some have lived through traumatic incidents — such as the 1998 riots that targeted people of Chinese descent — and the discriminatory treatment the group has persistently faced.

Recent incidents explain why it is not easy for a Chinese-Indonesian to confidently say, “Yes, I am 100 percent Indonesian, no question about it.” Doubts always linger.

In mid-January, a subdistrict in the East Java capital of Surabaya made headlines. Officials of a community unit in Bangkingan subdistrict, Lakarsantri district, circulated a letter saying it would charge “non-pribumi” (non-native) residents double the amount their neighbors had to pay if they wished to reside and run a business there. In addition to the one-time fee, the non-pribumi residents also had to pay a monthly fee to the community unit. This in effect targeted Chinese-Indonesians.

In East Jakarta, a group put up a banner in a neighborhood in Cililitan to express its opposition to the construction of a cinema nearby. The group said the movie theater was built by the “Chinese” and threatened to expel any "Chinese" people from the neighborhood.

Late last year, singer-musician Agnez Mo, a Chinese-Indonesian, was criticized by Indonesian netizens after she said in an interview in the United States that she did not have any Indonesian blood.

A lot of Chinese-Indonesians feel the same way as Agnez, despite a reform movement beginning in 1998, which marked sweeping changes to Indonesia politically and socially. Chinese New Year was declared a national holiday and Confucianism one of six official religions, but discrimination against the ethnic group persists.

In the face of this, young Chinese-Indonesians are speaking out against discrimination. The elections last year witnessed more Chinese-Indonesians join the race, with many winning. They defied concerns that Chinese-Indonesians would withdraw from politics after the racially charged Jakarta elections in 2017, which saw Chinese-Indonesian Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama as a leading contender. In other fields, more and more Chinese-Indonesians are assuming public roles as writers, actors, filmmakers, civil servants, lawyers, social media celebrities, comedians, journalists, musicians and civil society and political activists. In the years to come, they may have more parts to play.

When Chinese New Year comes, feng shui experts and fortune tellers will offer their predictions. Despite the ups and downs, the fact that Chinese-Indonesians and so-called “native” Indonesians have coexisted for many years shows there can be a bright and cohesive future as one nation.

Happy Year of the Rat.