I DON’T KNOW how to write about something that isn’t there, such as longing. My entire life, it seems, I have been longing for a country, a city, a small space on the side of the road where I needn’t feel like a stranger, an alien – someone to be gawked at or studied. I am an Indonesian of Chinese descent, which in my case means that six or seven generations ago a man set sail from mainland China to this country, married a local and fathered mixed-race children. I have no idea who that man was, or what he did, or what his life was like before he came here. But his blood runs through me, and this blood is the curse that will forever brand me as an alien in my homeland.
The history of the Chinese diaspora in Indonesia is as complex as it is obscure for some – if not most – people. What documentation exists of how they began their journey is rarely brought to light, or put into context in Indonesia. Under President Suharto’s New Order regime, any involvement of national patriots of Chinese heritage in the struggle for independence was often overlooked. Soe Hok Gie, for example, an important activist who spoke out against the oppressive leadership of both Sukarno and Suharto, was virtually unknown to the general population until his biopic was released in 2005. The exclusion of Chinese-Indonesians’ contributions to the nation’s journey toward independence has created a ripple effect across generations. Instead of recognition, their roles have largely been eclipsed by other narratives that promote ignorance, even disdain, towards them. Eventually, this breeds entrenched misconceptions of how we may or may not fit into each other’s lives. That said, I am a perpetual exile imprisoned by the desire to belong somewhere, anywhere.
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