Disebarluaskan oleh jaringan Vincent Liong atas
permintaan penulis: "Evi Mariani"
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Time for Chinese-Indonesian to claim equal rights as
citizens

Evi Mariani, Jakarta

I am a Chinese-Indonesian, a member of the minority.
But on top of that, I am an Indonesian. I am proud to
be one despite the rampant corruption that has tainted
the nation's image.

For a person of Chinese descent like me, however,
having the word Indonesian attached to my identity is
not a matter of birthright. My family had to struggle
to obtain our Indonesian status.

Indonesian citizenship is not a coveted status, to be
honest. But we have nowhere to go. Tracing up the
family tree, six out of my eight grandparents were
born here.

As people of Chinese descent, my father and mother had
to present legal evidence in the 1960s that they were
Indonesians. At that time many Chinese-Indonesians
fell victim to forged citizenship documents, including
my father. He realized he had no valid documents after
he married my mother in 1970.

Under Indonesia's paternalistic legal system, all
their children consequently had no citizenship, due to
my father's fake papers. My mother, on the other hand,
had valid papers.

To make a long story short, they faked a divorce just
before their first child's birth. They have four
children. I am the third. We all have birth
certificates saying that we are children born out of
wedlock to a Chinese-Indonesian woman. That way, we
legally became Indonesians, and legally became
fatherless.

Just having citizenship documents, though, is
apparently not enough for Chinese-Indonesians.

On the street, in public places, at school, some of us
occasionally have the misfortune of having to prove
that we are Indonesians.

So we try to keep a low profile in traffic and in
public places. We don't fight back. We give more money
than anyone else every Independence Day, and we give
bribes every time the authorities ask. In a nutshell,
we don't want trouble. We have seen how a traffic
accident involving a Chinese person can set a city on
fire.

Besides having nowhere else to go, many of us have
somehow developed an acquired taste for being
Indonesian after seeing both the dark and the bright
side.

My parents in Bandung, West Java, have experienced at
least three anti-Chinese riots: in the 1960s, in the
1970s and in 1998.

We have seen the ugly, racist face of Indonesians. But
we have also seen the kind face. What my parents
mostly recall about the 1970s riot was hiding their
toddlers under the bed, with their hearts pounding.
They also remember a savior. He was a neighbor my
father called Pak Haji (signifying someone who has
done the hajj), who stood in front of our house and
told the rioters and looters not to touch those "kind
Chinese folks."

Perhaps unwittingly, at the end of the day we choose
to forget the ugly faces and remember the kind-hearted
people instead.

I grew up believing in a multicultural Indonesia. I
believe in the kind-hearted people who work at
respecting differences. Spending my university years
in Yogyakarta, an exemplary home to multiculturalism,
only confirmed my belief.

So strong is that belief that the horrible 1998 riot
did not dampen it. Instead, I saw Chinese-Indonesians
overcome their fear and actually do things to fix the
situation. Many of them timidly became more open, more
involved. Some Chinese-Indonesians formed
organizations which encourage their members to be more
open.

In times of riot and trauma, we manage to look up and
find the silver lining. Instead of clouds, I see the
sun on the horizon.

But the news from Makassar, where last week students
threatened to target Chinese-Indonesians, made me
think again. I have probably been over-confident about
the state of multiculturalism.

One student, Ibnu Hajar, told reporters: "They
(Chinese-Indonesians) are newcomers, but they act how
they like toward locals."

I thought Chinese-Indonesians would never have to be
called newcomers anymore. New what? Coming from where?

Not only in Makassar, but even in Jakarta, we still
have to put up with the word Cina uttered not in a
friendly tone but with suspicion. For example, my
neighbor (he is the head of the neighborhood unit)
once mentioned his disappointment about having a
Chinese-Indonesian neighbor to my housemate.

A middle-rank police officer in Jakarta once told me
he preferred pribumi (native) corruptors to
Chinese-Indonesian corruptors.

Considering these prejudices, many of us have reason
to put high fences around our houses. We have reason
to be exclusive. Not that poor and middle-class
Chinese-Indonesians like myself can afford
exclusivity. Only the wealthy, just like rich people
from other ethnic groups, can be exclusive.

But the government and the majority only seem to make
half-hearted efforts to change our role as the
scapegoats people blame every time they feel an
economic pinch.

There has been no serious effort to rehabilitate our
name in the history books. Just like any ethnic group
in this diverse country, we've had our traitors, but
we've also had our national heroes in the struggle
against colonialism.

In my justified anger, I am telling you: as a group,
we Chinese-Indonesians have collectively done a lot,
given our limitations as a minority. We want a
peaceful multicultural country where we can be equal
Indonesians, and we have been working on it.

We have hunkered down for years. It is time for the
minority to stand up and tell the government and the
majority: we have done our part. And we want you to do
yours.

The writer is a journalist at The Jakarta Post.
Evi Mariani
The Jakarta Post
Jl. Palmerah Selatan No. 15
Jakarta 10270
+62215300476


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