I was born in Indonesia. The first language I learned was Indonesian. Both of my parents are Indonesian citizens and my mom is a Sundanese speaker. Before university, I only attended one international school; even then, I was still surrounded by other Indonesian citizens and some classes still used Indonesian as a medium of instruction. In high school, I was surrounded by students who spoke with various regional accents. I started to form relationships with foreigners when I became active in social media, when I was eighteen.
But, somehow, my Indonesian-ness started emerging when I was an adult.
I grew up preferring foreign foods and looked down on Indonesian ones which I dismissed as ‘traditional medicine but in food forms’. I preferred to appreciate western-influenced arts over ones with distinctively Indonesian characteristics. I also hoped to leave Indonesia for good. I felt like a westerner.
Of course, I have changed.
I am now able to eat Indonesian dishes and watch traditional art performances with sincerity. My desire to leave and my western inclination have also diminished.
I still don’t know why my old self was like that.
Maybe it has something to do with my childhood which lacks exposure to anything Indonesian. Maybe it is my mom who inexplicably did not teach her children a regional language. Maybe it is me constantly eating foreign foods.
But, after I thought about it, what I just said were also experienced by others; from my knowledge, they never feel alien in their home country. Their identity has always been Indonesian.
Of course, my horizon widens as I get older. I undoubtedly get exposed to more things western. But, at the same time, I am also exposed to more things Indonesian.
The more I taste different types of European cheese and bread, the more I taste different types of gulai and Indonesian ‘salads’ like gado-gado and urap. The more I listen to western music, the more I listen to Indonesian folk songs and works of musicians like Guruh Soekarno Putra and Kua Etnika. The more I listen to cases of sectarianism in western countries, the more I realise how our inter-ethnic relations are relatively peaceful and harmonious according to international standard.
I am finally able to compare Indonesia with the western world more meticulously and the comparison shows how Indonesian-ness is a very unique and complex which is impossible to be summarised.
Some of our traditions are clearly results of different foreign influences, we boast cultural diversity which can only be rivalled by India, Papua New Guinea and certain African countries and Indonesia is a predominantly-Muslim country which national symbols are Hindu in origin. How can you summarise that?
Indonesia is a country that can easily shine. If its citizens sincerely embrace our Indonesian identity, we would be more accomplished in generating innovative ideas and hence, making us more contributive to world developments.
Obviously, I don’t praise things simply because they are Indonesian.
Our cooking is still too dependent on palm oil and white rice, our pop culture is unsophisticated in regards to its aesthetics and originality, we are too dependent on conservative mindsets which hinder us from being reasonable. Moreover, our inter-religious and inter-racial relations are not as good as advertised.
Counterintuitively, the more I know about the ugly side of my nation, the more I embrace my Indonesian identity.
Unlike my old self, I am no longer infatuated with absolute perfection, a thing that only exists in fairy tales; presenting it as the truth is deceitful. Imperfection is never compelled to be so; as a result, the authenticity of its good side is more guaranteed.
Blind nationalism comes into being because the citizens feel their country is entirely ‘attractive’. But, from my experiences, they don’t know how the ‘attractiveness’ looks like.
Because of their black-and-white perspectives, they don’t realise how life is full of grey haze which is almost impenetrable. They are certain stereotypes are a hundred percent valid. Unless you see prejudice as a virtuous trait, you surely realise stereotypes will always mislead you and drag you to a deadly dark realm which you will have a hard time escaping from.
I do sound over-the-top. But, that’s what I have experienced myself.
I should tell you that my biography is incomplete. My old self did dislike anything Indonesian. But, at the same time, I was also a blind nationalist.
I did not care what being Indonesian entailed. I only cared about the ‘Indonesian’ label. I looked down on anything that had foreign labels stamped on them, even though I secretly preferred them and I did not want to admit it. In fact, I used to believe we were obliged to defend our country all the time, even when it was in the wrong.
Nationalistic, but did not know anything about his own country and refused to respect his ancestral heritages.
I admit that my story is confusing and unbelievable. Moreover, I don’t know how to persuade others to believe me. So, all I can do is to ask these questions:
Why do you consider yourself Indonesian? Don’t answer ‘citizenship’ and/or ‘was born and raised here’. It is too easy.
What are the things you love and hate about Indonesia? Have you experienced or observed them in person? Or are they things you only have heard and read about AKA rumours?
I consider myself Indonesian because I am already emotionally attached to the country, no matter how ugly it is. Even if I end up living overseas for good, I am sure my Indonesian-ness will never go away.
You already know what I love and hate about Indonesia and they are the things I have experienced and observed in person. Most of the feel-good stories disseminated by parents, schools and the media turn out to be balderdash; the splendour is either exaggerated or never exists in the first place.
Indeed, public figures constantly call us to collectively contemplate about our national identity. But, I don’t know if I miss the memo, I have never heard them make any calls to contemplate individually.
A group definitely consists of ‘members’ who are distinct from one another. Therefore, I find it strange if a contemplation that involves many is not implemented on an individual level.
Donate to this deadbeat, preachy blogger on Patreon.