faces of (the human) race #5
Name: Astrid Rimba
Current residency: Singapore
What was it like for you growing up in Indonesia as someone born into Chinese family?
I lived in a southern province in Indonesia in a town called Pontianak, the capital city of the island Borneo. I grew up amongst many cultures as someone who was born in Indonesia and 4thgeneration Chinese. When I was young my family was protective of me hanging out with local kids, which was strange to me at the time. Mostly my parents would arrange hangouts for me with other Chinese kids when I was in preschool. Rarely with the local Indonesians.
When I was 8, we moved to a smaller town called Ketapang to a house tucked away at the end of the road, which was surrounded by jungle and a wide river. My mother was concerned about who I would bring over to the house sometimes. I felt nervous because I didn’t know what she wanted.
During 8th grade, I started to ride motorbikes to school because all my other friends, locals, and Chinese, were doing it. It was my first taste of freedom and rebellion. It made me feel included and most of all connected. Later we became a clan, friends who helped each other, did silly things together, sang with the guitar, ride motorbikes on the road with no destination and study together. The diversified experiences with different types of people helped to open my mind.
One time my mom questioned me about who these people were. I was baffled as it was obvious to me that they were my FRIENDS and it was not to her. Later on only I understood her behavior towards them was a result of her experiences.
Did she believe you were in danger because you were Chinese?
I think it’s human nature to sense danger, but it felt much more real when human reaction is involved. My family runs a big petrol distribution business in town. There were times inflation hit the economy in Indonesia and it automatically impacted the cost of gasoline, and it was all over the news. Many of the locals were so angry and affected. They threatened to come at night and burn down our home, which is surrounded by tanks of gasoline. My mom understood from that day that those people were capable of crazy illogical actions and didn’t see us as humans because of their rage.
After that, we had boats ready and stocked as an escape plan. One time it got so close to happening, my sister and I slept in the boats.
Were these types of violent attacks against the Chinese common?
There was a Chinese Genocide that happened in 1965-1966 and later happened again in 1998. Indonesia was run by President Muhammad Soeharto for 31 years. He was a powerful military general and would kill anyone who said no to him. He was corrupted and stole billions of dollars from the people. The riot in 1998, in his last year as the president, was targeted at the Chinese. The government would start rumors about the Chinese keeping all the money or cheating the system to take the attention off his crimes. The ‘98 riot is known as the Chinese Massacre today.
Jakarta was such a mess then, many pictures and records of what really happened were destroyed. Until this day the only people who lived through it really know what happened. It’s hard to let the next generation see. It’s too much for the future Chinese generation to even be angry about.
Do you remember the massacre?
I was living in the town where it had less impact. However one of my friends, who is Chinese, told me she was in the car with her dad during the riot. She remembered they were stuck in the traffic, and a bunch of people was running amok between the cars, smashing cars and dragging people out.
She remembered some guys looked into their car windows to see if they were Chinese or not. She got lucky because they are Chinese but they had darker skin and didn’t have small eyes and didn’t look typically Chinese. How racist can it get? Basically, if you had pale skin and small eyes, your destiny was decided. Women were raped, men were shot and beheaded.
I finally understood why my mom behaved in that way before…She wanted to protect everyone.
Have things changed in Indonesia since your childhood?
It’s pretty cool now that I see it after traveling for a while. In my little town, we have local Indonesian Muslims families who make Chinese food in Halal style. When you go to a restaurant, sometimes you see local and Chinese people sitting together. You see young kids sharing the same experiences, enjoying life. I’ve seen a pretty good percentage of transformations. Local Indonesians sometimes try to say Chinese words to us jokingly. But we still have a long way to go.
What’s fuelling this change in Indonesia?
Young Indonesians are focusing their energy on making something. They’ve become crafters. They’ve started realizing how Indonesian resources can be used in a positive way. So you have the younger generation trying to make Jakarta into a better place. They borrow ideas and ways of life from other countries, work around to challenge Indonesian culture that could potentially bring togetherness. I think that’s a wonderful intention. I see people more connected through music from the west, through foreign films, through a sense of community, and through diversified experiences.
Where do you think racism in Indonesia and around the world comes from?
Racism can be found in every country, state, or even home. There is this profound lack of knowledge where humans forget it’s their duty to fill the gap. The disconnection between human relationships leads them to feel less for others. As much as we like to help each other, it’s got to be two forces finding a middle ground.
As humans what are some things we can do to combat racism?
Now in modern times, we have the beautiful opportunity to live, to share and find ways to counter subconscious racist behavior. After all, if one human could feel exactly what the other human they treated horribly felt like, they would not like it either. It is beyond looking at racism in a country, or groups of people. It can happen easily in small encounters between two people, even without them realizing it. The education system alone can’t help with this stage of social development. However, I hope this story will reach people who are also searching for a better future and want to start from within to will to find the truth with love.