I have been staying in multiracial country Singapore for quite a while, 5 years to be exact. Whenever I meet new people, although I already told them that I am Indonesian, most of them will ask the similar questions : “Are you Chinese? Can you speak Chinese?”
Cannot blame them since I was born from Chinese-Indonesian family and have an oriental face. I understand basic Chinese but not really good to speak in proper tone. I usually laugh and answer: “一點點.” or “Just a bit.”
Even for this morning, I went to office canteen (which owned by a mid-age couple) to buy tea. As I greet them and chat with auntie in English, he interrupted and said in Chinese, “不要跟她讲英语! 她是中国人, 她一定要说中文!” or roughly translate “Don’t speak English to her! She is Chinese, she HAS to speak Chinese!”
So I was wondering, do the millennial generation of Chinese-Indonesian have to be able to speak Chinese?
WARNING! Please take note that this story is wondering thought, NOT facts. Information below was written after internet research, based on personal experience and acquaintance stories.
Touch a little bit of history, living in Indonesia with natural oriental look in general used to be tough. Indonesia have dark history in 1965 and 1998. Due army coup in 1965, there was Indonesian Massacres event that targeted toward Communist and Chinese. Overall, it was like clearing immigrant with some extras, which traumatized most of our parent’s generation for years. It become a real life survival situation. There were only two available options during that time; out from the country ASAP and start from zero or remain strong and survive. For those who stayed and survived had been lived with caution. Chinese-language institute closed down, no Chinese publication released and any kind of Chinese commemoration were totally prohibited. Our parents generation tried their best to blend with local, both culture and aesthetic wise, while some of them still continue their heritage culture in secret.
In 1997, Asian Financial Crisis happened and Indonesia hit the hardest among all. The event actually proved the Indonesia system at that time has huge holes which rocked the country even worse. The unemployment rate was skyrocketed, food shortages, fuel prices increased and frustration toward the system built-up. During May 1998 riot, the angry mobs turned violent toward police post and business districts, which unfortunately properties owned by Chinese-Indonesians were the most common targets. Most of the Chinese-Indonesian families rush to flee out of the country for safety. Millennial children might remember the intense situation, especially from Jakarta. It took times to settle down. Some families remain to stay put in another country, some families fly back to Indonesia once the country stabilized. Parents become more careful than before and kinda make their children paranoid despite the system and economy recovered.
It might be slow but the growth showed progress after the unfortunate event. Chinese culture and language ban had been lifted, Chinese New Year becomes a national holiday, TV news is allowed to use Chinese and Chinese schools are now able to be established as an international school. It does relieve most of Chinese ethnic in Indonesia, as being Chinese is not illegal anymore. A little exaggeration maybe?
But then back to the question of “Do millennial generation of Chinese-Indonesian have to be able to speak Chinese?”
The culture which once has been forbidden for 30 years; our parent generation has been lived intense caution during New Order period (1965 – 1998), taught us for adapt national culture more than their original ethnic for safety precautions, although minority family continue to teach Chinese culture during that time. Which also cause the identity crisis for the newer generation.
From short stories on top, I will leave it to every individual to judge. :]