Chinese-Indonesians, Agents of Change

Chinese, young, fresh, phenomenal, brave and non-Muslim Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok (Zhong Wan Xie) managed to captivate the hearts of a Muslim majority to win the regent post in East Belitung. Seven years later on Oct. 7, 2012, he took office as the deputy governor of Jakarta, accompanying Joko Widodo.

It is one of the landmarks in this country’s political history, which became possible after Indonesia adopted laws that protect the rights of minorities.

After going through a long period of discrimination, Chinese-Indonesians finally breathed the air of freedom when fourth president, the late Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) declared Chinese New Year as a national holiday through Religious Affairs Ministry Decree No. 13/2001 and repealed Government Regulation No. 14/1967 that banned Chinese-Indonesian cultural activities.

Law No. 40/2008 on the elimination of racial and ethnic discrimination complements the previous regulations, although the law does not only refer to the ethnic Chinese. Discrimination may still occur as a change of mindset will take time, but legal protection has already been put in place. There are sanctions for offenders.

Ahok’s election as Jakarta deputy governor shows the efficacy of Chinese-Indonesians’ freedom to work, including in the socio-political field which was practically taboo during the New Order. The next question is, why Ahok is so phenomenal and perhaps outshines Kwik Kian Gie, the first Chinese-Indonesian minister since the rise of New Order, and Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu?

There is no definitive answer to this question, but we can see some differences. First, Kwik and Mari are publicly known for their opinions while Ahok was virtually a nobody. Ahok was not even recognized by Jakarta residents before running for the deputy governor post. Second, Ahok is young and fresh, the preferred type of leader today.

Third, you can see how Ahok initiated an astounding breakthrough, which has become apparent since he took office. He has the charisma of a young man who dares to take a different, tough decision and make changes although they may cause resentment among people who are not ready to accept his initiatives.

At the same time, he does not care about his minority status, which the public appreciates very much. The issue is not ethnicity but how he can work to fulfill public expectations for the future. In doing so he manages to stave off negative comments.

Let’s take a look at another exemplary Chinese-Indonesian figure. Early in December, singer Agnes Monica delivered an opening speech at the Global Youth Forum 2012 in Bali. Her seven-minute speech captivated international youth audiences and whoever saw her speak.

I am spellbound when Agnes explains how she dares to dream big and go forward even though the world around deems her as arrogant. Agnes has proven herself. Hard work led her to collaboration with Timbaland — a famous American record producer, songwriter and rapper. Agnes is one of only a few Indonesian singers who have successfully built cooperation with international singers.

There are many other young Chinese-Indonesians who do not consider themselves victims of discrimination. They work for the nation in diverse fields: economic, cultural, entertainment, education, social and even political. Most of them are unknown, but they continue working without expecting returns. They break the stigma that Chinese-
Indonesians crave only profits.

There are many social organizations and groups, in which millions of Chinese-Indonesians are involved, extending humanitarian services to people. We cannot deny either the achievement of many Chinese-Indonesians who have donned the national colors in international competitions, either in science or sports.

No one can choose the ethnicity they are born with. The fact that I showcase the aforementioned achievements does not mean the Chinese-Indonesian ethnicity is superior or deserves more attention because they suffered discrimination for a long time in the past.

My point is Chinese-Indonesians are an integral part of Indonesia’s struggle for national glory and at the same time promote diversity in accordance with the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or “Unity in Diversity”. In this case, the Chinese-Indonesian younger generation has to play a key role.

As agents of change, young Chinese-Indonesians have to work hand in hand with other ethnic groups in pushing the nation toward progress. The Chinese New Year is the right moment for all Chinese-Indonesians and the entire nation to celebrate diversity and craft a new strategy to help Indonesia prepare a better future. ***

Jakarta Post, Sat, February 09 2013 (Page 7)

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