Wesley’s Interview with Mrs. Xiao

Audio File of Entire Interview:

Transcript of Entire Interview:

Introduction:

Mrs. Xiao is a 45-year old Chinese Indonesian woman, who is a wife and mother of 2 boys. She lives in Indonesia and is a Christian (Roman Catholic). She isn’t willing to disclose her last name, but she does have an Indonesian name, Nova, although she prefers to go by her Chinese name, Xiao. Her mother is a 2nd-generation immigrant, while her father was a direct immigrant from China. 

Although Mrs. Xiao is aware of her intersectionality, as well as the oppression she faces as an immigrant, it seems like it doesn’t bother her much. She says that:

I (she) understand that being ethnically Chinese in Indonesia makes you a minority, but at the same time I don’t really think it matters much. Mainly because it’s something that I’ve already accepted a long time ago, and have never necessarily viewed it as something bad”. 

– Mrs. Xiao

The main takeaway from this oral history is that: Although generally speaking, Chinese Indonesians are less privileged in Indonesia, this does not mean that all Chinese Indonesians face oppression. 

“Being a Chinese Indonesian isn’t necessarily bad or hard. Of course when you are a minority, your voice matters less, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good life”. 

– Mrs. Xiao (on being an immigrant)

Immigration: 

Born and raised in Indonesia, Mrs. Xiao herself did not have to go through immmigration. When asked if she wished she wasn’t an immigrant, she replied:

“That’s a tough question. Although I still hold to my Chinese culture, I am still happy to be an Indonesian citizen and love living in the country. Perhaps because that’s the way I was born and I grew up here”.

– Mrs. Xiao

Representation:

Regarding her representation, Mrs. Xiao’s identity representation in the media has both positive and negative depictions. Typically, a lot of Chinese people are discriminated against simply for being Chinese, and therefore they may be represented poorly not necessarily because of a certain aspect of their stereotype, but simply because they are Chinese. 

On the other hand however, being ethnically Chinese does have some positive stereotypes in the media. A lot of business conglomerates are of Chinese descent, and thus Chinese Indonesians are often stereotyped to be wealthy and educated. 

Furthermore, another positive representation of Chinese people in the media is that they are often considered attractive by the media simply because of their lighter skin. Since Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch for nearly 300 years, the beauty standards have been shaped by colonialism.

Despite all this, Mrs. Xiao has stated that she isn’t too concerned about what the media depicts of her representation.  

“Yes, people might make fun of your race a little bit, but sometimes I just don’t really care, as long as I’m safe”. 

– Mrs. Xiao

In Jolie Brownell’s TEDxTalk “Call Me By My Name, Not My Stereotype”, she talked about how the intersections of our identities influence the way we walk through and are perceived by this world. For example, she talks about how no matter how soft she speaks, she will always be referred to as “the angry black girl”. 

That being said, Mrs. Xiao has stated that her only concern regarding how her identities influence the way she walks through is simply regarding her safety. Despite claiming that her wellbeing has overall been well, she has also stated that at times, she questions her safety. 

“In regards to myself specifically, I guess sometimes I question my safety. I don’t know if it’s just me but sometimes I feel like because I’m Chinese, people can have prejudice against me more, and that makes me question my safety, although nothing bad may necessarily happen”

– Mrs. Xiao

Does racial oppression automatically discard safety?

1998 was without doubt the darkest year in Chinese Indonesian history, with the May 1998 riots of Indonesia taking place. The riot was initially sparked by economic problems (such as mass unemployment and food shortage), in which many Chinese Indonesians were targeted and assaulted, both physically and verbally. The president at the time was Suharto, who made a rule in which Chinese Indonesians had to stop using their Chinese family names. 

Mrs. Xiao experienced this atrocity, but was privileged enough to experience the lighter side of the situation. 

“I was lucky to be in a more privileged area where it was safer. But I heard many scary stories such as how cars and stores were destroyed on the streets. My good friend’s company got bankrupt as their store was raided during the events”.

– Mrs. Xiao

That being said, Mrs. Xiao has stated that she could have left Indonesia due to the 1998 riots, had she experienced a worse situation, like her friend who’s store got raided and fell to bankruptcy. She felt like despite the oppression, everything was still safe and well for her ever since.

“Perhaps if I witnessed more of the bad things from a direct perspective. Again I’m lucky I didn’t go through some things, and so it’s hard for me to say”. 

– Mrs. Xiao on what may have prompted her to leave Indonesia.

What could be a reason why she had a different experience than other Chinese Indonesians?

According to the “Doing Race Through the Culture Cycle” article and video, race operates across different levels of society. These are: the individual level, the interactional level, the institutional level, and the ideological level. All 4 of these levels are represented in a “culture cycle” which can be used to represent how individuals, interactions, institutions, and ideas all work differently in society. In other words, these 4 notions form what is considered race in society. 

While Chinese Indonesians are generally less privileged in Indonesia, Mrs. Xiao’s intersectionality does have positive effects on some of these notions. For example, her everyday interactions with others doesn’t bother her safety. Furthermore, because of her biological appearance (ideas), she is considered privileged because of her light-skin. 

Her intersectionality is also defined by the 1998 riot (institutional level), in which the nation’s policy institutionalized racism, as the President banned Chinese surnames. 

Being a double-minority:

Mrs. Xiao lives in a country where she is a minority both ethnically and religiously. As the 4th largest populated country in the world, less than 1% of Indonesians are of Chinese descent. Furthermore, as the world’s largest Muslim country by population, only 10% of the country are Christians. 

When asked whether or not she feels oppressed, she has stated that it’s hard to say since not every scenario applies to her. For example, she has stated that it is impossible for a Chinese-Indonesian to be a politician, but it does not bother her since she never wanted to be one.  

“Well, some of them don’t apply to me but for example, if you want to be a politician, it’s quite impossible if you are Chinese”.

– Mrs. Xiao

Another learning aspect from class that relates to her oral history is how race and intersectionality can determine one’s class system. In Paul Kivel’s “Where are you in the class system?”, he raises questions that may indicate one’s social class. While Mrs. Xiao did not verbatimly determine her social class, one can conclude that she is leaning towards the top of the pyramid in Indonesia, as she: lives in Menteng (the most expensive district in Indonesia), sends her kids to private international schools, and has claimed to have witnessed the lighter side of events like the May 1998 riot. 

Future & Younger Generation:

Although Mrs. Xiao’s children share similar intersectionality, they are living in quite a different scenario. Unlike her, both her kids are going to international schools, and are male. 

Mrs. Xiao isn’t sure whether or not her children’s life would have been different had they been born and raised in China. When asked on whether or not the future is bright for women and immigrants in Indonesia, she has stated:

“Honestly, I don’t know. Anything can happen anytime. But so far, I believe the situation for younger women in Indonesia is doing alright”. 

– Mrs. Xiao

In conclusion, Mrs. Xiao has stated that of course she doesn’t speak  for all Chinese Indonesian women, but has implied that being a minority isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. Furthermore, she claims that despite holding firm to her Chinese roots, she is still happy to be an Indonesian citizen, and isn’t sure if she wished she wasn’t an immigrant.

“That’s a tough question. Although I still hold to my Chinese culture, I am still happy to be an Indonesian citizen and love living in the country. Perhaps because that’s the way I was born and I grew up here”.

– Mrs. Xiao

Personal Perspective:

The biggest takeaway I’ve learned from Mrs. Xiao’s story is that being an immigrant does not automatically make you oppressed. As a double minority and being a Chinese Indonesian Roman Catholic myself, I very much resonate with her experiences a lot. I wasn’t born yet when the 1998 riot happened, and I am also grateful to be privileged enough to not face much oppression. 

I’ve known many Chinese Indonesian women who have experienced the 1998 riot, and I could tell you that different people have experienced it differently. Mrs. Xiao’s recalling of the incident was a lot softer than what actually happened to other people, at least based on what I’ve heard from others. 

That being said, both Mrs. Xiao and I are aware of our intersectionality, and do not feel discriminated against in our country. I believe one significant factor is because Indonesia values diversity, as our motto is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” which is Javanese for “Unity in Diversity”. Furthermore, tolerance is the center of Indonesia’s national ideology, “Pancasila” (5 Principles), with the first principle being “Belief in the One True God” (Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa), which brings religious tolerance to everyone. 

Amidst all of this, it’s important to remember what neither Mrs. Xiao nor I speak for all Chinese Indonesians, but with her oral history, one can conclude that being an immigrant (and even a double-minority), does not mean you can’t live an enjoyable and safe life.  

References:

Stanford University. “RaceWorks Toolkit – Culture Cycle Concept Guide.” SPARQtools, Stanford University, 30AD, sparqtools.org/raceworks-toolkit-culture-cycle-concept-guide/. 

Brownell, Jolie. “Call Me By My Name, Not My Stereotype.” TED, TEDxSalem, 23 Jan. 2020, www.ted.com/talks/jolie_brownell_call_me_by_my_name_not_my_stereotype. 

Kivel, Paul. “Where Are You in the Class System?” PaulKivel.com, Paul Kivel, 1996, paulkivel.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/whereareyou.pdf.