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.