I still remember how difficult it was for me growing up. My Dad is from Chinese origin. My Mom is Javanese. Dad’s family are mostly Christians and Catholics, Mom’s family are mostly Moslems. Being a Chinese-Javanese and also a Moslem in the 80s-90s was complicated and could be overwhelming at times, especially for a kid.

I realized how I felt so different during my early childhood. I couldn’t get close to my cousins from my Dad’s side because I didn’t go the Sunday school like everyone else, I didn’t know the titles of those Chinese movies they talked about, I didn’t know how to call my aunty or my uncle properly in Chinese, I didn’t celebrate Chinese New Year, and so on and so forth. I couldn’t get close to my cousins from my Mom’s side either, because physically, I look Chinese, I didn’t join their Quran lessons every Friday, and… I went to a Catholic school.

It made all the difference.

I didn’t know why it seemed like I had to choose between being Chinese, or being Javanese. Why couldn’t I simply be an Indonesian?

Thus, during childhood, I preferred spending my time alone in the confinement of my bedroom, reading books, or just hanging around with my Mom or my Dad. Here, at least, I wasn’t being judged. I was free. This was the place where people didn’t care about me being Chinese or Javanese or both.

Some family members from my Mom’s side bitched around because I was sent to a Catholic school—where I (despite like around 12 other subject lessons) learned about Jesus and liturgy. I didn’t get it. It was indeed a Catholic school, but it welcomed students from any religion. I didn’t know why it mattered so much, why they were so pissed off. I got good grade for my Catholic religion lesson: 9 out of 10. To me, I was simply studying history.

One day, in 5th grade, I walked to the school’s pretty chapel with a Catholic friend of mine. We went there to pray, so that we’d be doing great in our national exam.

I remembered myself asking my friend, “Can I come in? I mean, I’m not Catholic.”

And my friend replied, “Why not? We’re praying to God, and God’s everywhere. So we can pray everywhere. And a chapel is a place to pray.”

I wished I could bring her to the mosque and said the same thing. Came to think about it now, children, naturally, do have beautiful minds.

I spent my school days in the same Catholic school until I graduated from high school.

During Ramadhan, a Moslem teacher led our afternoon prayers. There was a clean room next to the school’s health unit, where we could do our prayers. While we were reciting Al-Fatihah at heart, we could hear faintly the choir team serenading Ave Maria from the room upstairs. Sometimes, when the choir team were lacking of people and needed some extras, I would be joining them singing songs from the hymn book for the masses. At times, we hanged pretty Ketupat made of Japanese ribbon in our class’ Christmas tree. I got a chest full of greeting cards from my Catholic friends during Idul Fitri and I saved some money to buy them Christmas cards.

Those were the times when I learned about tolerance. Growing up, I realized how important it was for children to meet other children from different backgrounds, social classes, races and religions; to understand from such a small age that it’s definitely okay to make friends with those who are different from us. I do believe that the world would be a better place if adults would stop corrupting the minds of young children—telling them all the nonsense there is in the world, scared them out carelessly by simply saying that if they don’t listen, they’ll end up burning in hell.


43 Responses

  1. eventhough i didn’t go to the catholic school (i went to state school), somehow i know your feelings about not being the same on both sides of family.

    well, it may be because my father is a java-chinese Indonesian, while my mother is a sundanese Indonesian. #curcol

  2. i’ve been reading many of your entries & this one is simply my fav. maybe because i can easily relate to it, since i was once a moslem, christian, read a lot about buddhism, atheism, and so on, and end up being a deist.

    i’m sure if everybody thinks the same way as you do, this country will be a better & warmer place. above all, there is something more important than nationality, ethnicity, religion, and all the fucking idealism of narrow-minded people; that something is called humanity.

    1. A friend one day told me, “Someone need to be an atheist to understand God and all his/her wisdom. Strange isn’t it?”

      I think it is indeed strange, and also beautiful : ) we need to learn to see beauty from a distance.

  3. Yeah, I know how it feels being excluded, because they are think that You are Chinesse. It happen to me as well, back then in mid 90’s.

    It was sad moments. No one wanna be your friends, and no one wanna seen talk to me or walk around

  4. .. Walk around with me. That’s because They think I am Chinesse. Because of this slanted eyes!

    Well, I never asked for this eyes. It’s descendants. But, who’s care anyway. 🙂

    *td blm selesai komen udah kepencet publish*

  5. Same halfling here. 😛
    When I was a kid, everybody always bitching around how un-indonesian me and my mother are. They even go so far to create a song about eating pigs, etc, etc…
    Curse that.

    Strange enough, the same “fate”, if I must say, doesn’t happen to my friend from Arabian descendant. I think it is more about religion than race.

    Now, we… ups, harus Indonesiawi ini, ntar kalau kebule-bulean dibilang yahudi dan semacamnya… Sekarang kami berdua jalanin radio, dan bikin acara “Membahas harga pasar bersama baba Lihan dan Ami Boe”. Pendengarnya banyak, jadi jagoannya radio mengalahkan siaran Sahur Bareng Waria yang lagi naik daun. :mrgreen:

  6. very interesting to know. I always hear about how hard children with mixed race or religion had it growing up, but I never had it explained out in detail like you did. And of course having a curious mind like mines, I immediately went to look up what Javanese is, and so on. I love learning about different cultures and religions. I have had people think that just because I am African American and a Christian, that I shouldn’t be curious about other things that some people find weird. Its only weird because we don’t know anything about things. We grow by learning, so thank you for helping me grow a little more.

    1. Hi, Deanna! How did you get here at the first place? LOL. Well, before the year 2000, those of Chinese origins are still facing discrimination, sadly, from the state. For instance: people need to replace their Chinese names w/ Indonesian names (also goes from restaurants/brands), they have a special letter stating that they are non-native, the use and teachings of Mandarin language is limited, people can’t celebrate Chinese New Year openly, can’t perform Chinese arts openly… it was like gradually and systematically, the younger generation were being “shaped” to be ashamed that they are of Chinese origin 🙁 But great to know that things have changed greatly after the year 2000—now even Chinese New Year becomes a public holiday in the country ^^

  7. *tempelin jari telunjuk*
    *buka google translate*
    Ooo… perbedaan itu indah, yah mungkin di era itu sangat mencolok sekali perbedaan yang ada antara etnis satu dengan yang lain.

  8. Children naturally have beautiful minds. True. Unfortunately, not always. Ignorance and intolerance continue even until now. Children in our neighborhood refused to let my daughter play with them when we moved to the area three years ago, saying “jangan main sama Amaris, dia kan Cina”. My daughter came home crying. I don’t know what their teachers/parents teach them in school/at home. Sigh… Anyway… Love your beautiful article. Maybe my daughter will read it someday and get inspired by your story 😀

    1. How sad. I know that in some Islamic schools, teachers told the students not to say Merry Christmas because it’s a sin (- -‘) It’s heartbreaking to see how children, in such an early age, have been taught to hate instead of to love. But it’s our duty, our role, to ensure that we pass on the beauty of tolerance to our children and the young ones 🙂 *kisses to Amaris*

      1. Mbak Hanny, mohon maaf sebelumnya. Tp melarang ngucapin merry christmast ke saudara2 non muslim itu bukan ngajarin kebencian, hanya ngajarin secara hukum islam memang haram. keluarga saya jg ndak pernah ngucapin selamat natal k tetangga yg merayakan, cuman kami selalu bantu angkut pohon natalnya yg gede ke dalam rumah. Dari kecil kami diajari toleransi, hanya tetap berpegang pada akidah. makasih 🙂

  9. Sweet post, my sweet bff! On my first day in high school, a friend asked me, “Why are you here? It’s a musholla”. She thought that I’m a Chinese. Kekekekekk…

  10. Hihi, guess I was slightly luckier, because I went to a private school – so there was no strict differentiation between religion. My religion teacher always wondered why I was in the class, though, because I look slighly Chinese and my name sounds Hindu, but I am a moslem. 🙂

    I think the curriculum taught us a lot about tolerance, but we learned more about it from our surroundings. And sometimes they’re world apart. Particularly on the 90s and early 2000.. 🙁


  11. *nangis*
    Mirip masa kecil gueeeee…

    Bedanya, papa Jawa, mama Cina. Dan sedikit dibumbui rasisme. Dua keluarga saling hina. “Orang Jawa itu malas,” “Orang Cina itu pelit sampe kubur,” diucapkan bolak-balik ke gue yang masih kecil. Gimana gue gak bingung? :))

    Gue beruntung soal agama. Keluarga mama lebih musingin tradisi daripada agama. Keluarga papa… Yaaa, Islam KTP gitu deh. Jadilah gue beragama Kristen pas SD, Katolik (tanpa baptis) pas SMP, dan Islam pas SMA. Sekarang? KTP Islam, hati tetap cinta segala manusia apa pun warna kulitnya. *tsaaahhhhh*

    Sekarang gue bersyukur pernah mengalami kejadian itu. Jadi bertekad, kelak bakal mendidik anak-anak secara Islam moderat, tapi begitu mereka berumur 21 tahun, bakal gue fasilitasi dengan buku-buku agama lain. Dan wajib ambil mata kuliah filsafat apa pun jurusannya!

    Kalau Islam memang bagus, mereka bakal tetep pilih Islam. Kalau gak, gue tetep cinta mereka.

    Makasih ya, Han, udah sharing. Cakeup tulisannya. *peyuk*

    1. Aku mengalami hal yang sama untuk kedua keluarga itu 🙂 sampai akhirnya mereka sekarang jadi baik-baik aja dan sudah bisa menerima satu sama lain, bahkan udah bisa bertemu di satu acara keluarga. Kenapa ga dari duluuu?!! >.< LOL but I am thankful, tidak ada kata terlambat utk sesuatu yang lebih baik 🙂 Aku sependapat sama kamu, untuk membebaskan anak-anakku untuk menjadi diri mereka sendiri, untuk memilih keyakinan sendiri, yang penting mereka jadi orang yang baik :') Amiiin 🙂 Makasih udah sharing juga di sini, aku nggak pernah tau ceritamu sebelumnya :') *peluk balik* – eh iya, jangan keseringan begadang ya, jaga kesehatan baik-baik ^^ – 😀

  12. hahaha. i didn’t care much about it actually back then. being a mixed up is just my faith. i have too many mixed up, i didn’t care much about it anymore.

    now i’m leaving my son with his own faith. i took him to any religious places, even though we’re not religious at all. let children learn their own way. what’s important for me is basic humanity, empathy and love. let him choose or not siding to anything like me now. LOL

    1. kinda’ feel it through some stories in your blog 🙂 agree with you to let the children find their own way, we’re just opening up the opportunity for them to experience humanity, empathy and love, as much 🙂

  13. membuat saya diam dan berpikir.
    ada apa dengan sistem nilai sekarang ini, mengapa begitu penting mengidentifikasi diri berdasar perbedaan, dan melihat perbedaan sebagai sesuatu hal yang menakutkan.

    memang keluarga adalah awal berpijak nilai-nilai tersebut (prasangka, toleransi, dll) bersemai ya…

    btw, foto-foto ilustrasinya bagus, di mana saja itu?

    1. Ya, kita harus mengubah cara keluarga dan sekolah mendidik anak-anak. Banyak nilai-nilai untuk membenci perbedaan ditanamkan ke anak-anak dari kecil, baik itu dari keluarga maupun guru. Karenanya ekspos terhadap perbedaan itu sesungguhnya penting.

      Dan itu fotonya dari Visualize, photo bookmarking site 🙂 Kalau gambarnya diklik, itu langsung tersambung dengan link aslinya di sana ^^

  14. i am so lucky i read this. thank you for sharing.

    i remember growing up in a non-practicing moslem family, went to public-oriented private SD, then to a catholic SMP, where i realized that difference is a gift. After, lightning struck when in SMA, my islamic teacher said that simple Christmas Greeting is a sin. Lucky enuff, there was no FPI-kind masses smashing warungs and cafes back in 80-early 90, which will further blur my believe in religion.

    one more time! thank you for sharing, dear hanny

  15. jadi inget pengalaman sholat tarawih, orang-orang di mesjid ngelihatin terus bisik-bisik gitu. awalnya heran kenapa orang sering ngelihatin (mungkin karena manis kali ya. *digetok karena kepedean*) tapi lama-lama nyadar karena kalo ada yg ngajak ngobrol, nanya “orang mana?”

    mungkin karena muka agak oriental, disangkain cina (emang ada sedikit keturunan cina sih). aaaah aku jadi kangen hanyiiiiii!

  16. i was grow up in moslem and chrisitan family. My dad’s family, they are Javanese moslem, my mom’s family are Christian. I lived near Pondok Pesantren, my family was the only one Christian in that neighborhood. I never been alienated by the environment, but sadly while my dad passed away, the family from dad side alienated us, since me, mom, and sis be the only one Christian in the family tree.

    1. owh 😐 for some people it comes from friends, families, neighborhood… no matter what, we just need to pass the spirit of tolerance to whomever we can touch :’)

  17. Oh my God it’s like reading my own writing! I’m Chinese-Sundanese and that’s exactly how I feel. The family thing, the culture thing. Except for the fact that I don’t look chinese at all. But I did go to catholic school until junior high and continued to a christian high school.. and well the rest has been perfectly written above. Thanks for sharing!

  18. woowww.. i really didnt know where javaneese people came from, very informational post, i love it it seemed like you went through a lot..but it has made you who you are today.. 🙂

  19. perbedaan itu rahmat, katanya. tapi bagaikan biola yang digesekkan anak kecil yang baru mulai belajar saat kita mendengarkan perbedaan itu diperdebatkan. berisik dan bahkan menyakitkan dikuping. tapi lihatlah ketika biola itu dimainkan oleh orang yang sudah ahli. maka perbedaan itu akan sangat merdu dan indah sekali saat di bicarakan…perbedaan itu adalah rahmat..

If you made it this, far, please say 'hi'. It really means a lot to me! :)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.



Legs and Apples
Do it because it’s fun. Because it brings you joy; because it’s meaningful to you. Do it because it gives you simple tiny pleasures. Do it because it makes you smile.
The view from De Klok
I took another digital detox this weekend—I limited myself to a 5-minute screen time on Saturday and Sunday to quickly check my business account. I closed my social media account for the rest of the days.
Hanny illustrator
I am an Indonesian writer/artist/illustrator and stationery web shop owner (Cafe Analog) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I love facilitating writing/creative workshops and retreats, especially when they are tied to self-exploration and self-expression. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am, documenting life—one word at a time.