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Monday, February 18, 2008

Chinese Indonesians

By Lilian Budianto

Elizabeth Widjaja, a Chinese-Indonesian housewife who has opened her cozy home to disadvantaged children, is well known throughout the community.

Since 2003, Elizabeth has designated an area of her home to be a classroom for dozens of needy students. All of her pupils are non-ethnic Chinese children from the surrounding community in Kemang, South Jakarta. Her school promotes an understanding and appreciation of people’s differences and seeks to counter any prejudices.

She says she never designed any special curriculum to educate the children on mutual respect and how to maintain harmony in diversity. She believes children can learn better by the example she sets in breaking prejudice.

“I have learned to be an open-minded person and this school is the result,” says Elizabeth, who is married to an American.

Racial prejudice in this country dates back to the Dutch colonial period, when the Chinese community was placed second in a caste-like social system above other Indonesians. During the Dutch administration, integration among communities was almost impossible.

The post-colonial regimes of Sukarno and later the New Order continued to preserve the Dutch legacy of prejudice by endorsing laws that discriminated against ethnic Chinese descents.

Under Sukarno’s leadership, there was, among others, Government Regulation No. 10/1959, which restricted the business activities of Chinese Indonesians to cities.

The social and political position of Chinese Indonesians worsened during Soeharto’s regime, which banned Chinese names, characters and cultural performances in public. Chinese Indonesians also had to produce an Indonesian Citizenship certificate (SBKRI) to obtain official documents.

Although the government abolished the SBKRI in 1996, Chinese Indonesians were still asked for the certificate when dealing with government institutions.

Since the reform movement of 1998, discriminatory policies have been slowly phased out. In 2002, the government declared Chinese New Year a national holiday. The Chinese Indonesian community has since celebrated the day openly.

Although previous regimes institutionalized discrimination, many members the Chinese Indonesian community were able to advance not only in business but also in Government.

Johanis Tanak, who heads civil legal aid at the Attorney General’s Office, says his Chinese ethnicity has never inhibited his career as a state prosecutor. Hailing from Makassar, he applied to the prosecutor’s office after earning his degree in law.

“I enjoy working here. While people warned me of the many difficulties I would encounter because I am of Chinese descent, I don’t find it true,” he said. “If you show people you are self confident and do not tolerate discrimination people will not dare to take benefit by discriminating against you.

From The Jakarta Post
Published on Friday 8, 2008
Page 9

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