Somebody posted intriguing threads on twitter on the other day. I wasn’t sure what subject that triggered her posting, but she was ranting about Indonesians living overseas who pretend to know more about Indonesia [compares to those who are inside the country], who only like to criticise but do not help. She surprised me when she then said these people should stop being self-righteous, and should do something real to help Indonesia. If they think that the country is beyond help, these people should just stop being Indonesians.
It is the same question asked to me by a researcher from Glasgow University a couple of weeks a go. The research is looking into the nationality and immigration aspects in Scotland, but half of the questions were about me being an Indonesian. Her questions have opened up my eyes on issues I have never thought about before.
So, what does make you an Indonesian? Is it by birth, by ancestry, or by domicile? Do you have to have all three aspects to be a true Indonesian?
I was born in Indonesia, my parents are Indonesian, I have spent most of my life in Indonesia, but have been away from the country since a couple of years a go. Does it make me an Indonesian, still?
How about my friend Rose*, who was born in Indonesia from Indonesian parents, has spent most of her life in Indonesia but since she is married to a British, she has been living overseas for a couple of years and is holding another country’s passport. Is she not Indonesian anymore? No? Then what is she, British? Do you think British people will call her British?
How about my friend Ali*, who was born in Indonesia, from Indonesian parents, but has moved to another country since he was 6 years old. Is Ali still Indonesian? If Ali speaks bahasa Indonesia fluently, is he more Indonesian than if he doesn’t?
How about if it is the other way around, like my friend Uni*, who was born in Austria from Indonesian parents, but they have been living in Indonesia for a very long time. Is she Indonesian?
How about my uncle, who was born in German, from German parents, who has been living in Indonesia for over 30 years and is holding Indonesian citizenship. With his blonde hair and blue eyes and fluent bahasa Indonesia, can we call him an Indonesian?
Can you erase your original nationality and adopt a new one completely?
To me, birth and ancestry play more important role rather than residence, or a piece of paper or a stamp on my passport. I can be anywhere else and/or hold any other nationality, but I am truly Indonesian. I can’t stop being one, even if I want to! It’s here in my blood, my veins, my skin, eyes, and hair colour, in my custom and culture, in my body language, in… everything! It is like the air we breath and the gravity we take for granted. It’s there, it’s ours. I have not met any single Indonesian who lives abroad, no matter for how long, and denies their home country or their origin. Never. Everybody will immediately call themselves an Indonesian, even if they have spent more than half of their lives outside the country.
I also wonder if those who live outside Indonesia know less about the country compare to those who are living their lives in there, as suggested by the twitter lady. With news spreading faster than the light by the help of internet and social network sites, I guess as long as we have the access, we will get the updates. Maybe we will know later than today, but we would find out quickly enough to keep up with the news and gossips. What separates me from the others, is probably just the degree of interest in different issues. Some will keep up with the celebrity gossips, some will follow politics, some will focus on pop culture, some only will talk about photography, and so on. Even those who do live in Indonesia would not follow all issues – my maid is interested more in celebrity gossips than local elections in her area, for example, so naturally she knows more about local celebrities than politicians. Actually, those who live abroad tend to get news from different sources, which can enrich the perspectives of the news itself. For example, when Indonesian former president Soeharto died, all Indonesian media were being very gentle and only talked about the good stuff, but international media were more blunt, harsh, and quite the opposite, as I wrote it here. But when the bomb blasted in Jakarta last month, UK media reported in similar way as Indonesians, none but all praised the government’s success to crack down the terrorism groups and how the bomb was condemned by the whole nation.
I am not sure either if we need to be physically present to criticise our government. Just like any sport match which everybody thinks they are better than the players or Alex Ferguson plus Jose Mourinho combined, whether they were actually at the match or just watching it on television wouldn’t matter. I guess the only job where you have to be there in order to review it, is food critic. Maybe years from now we could taste food by fax or internet, but not today. I never knew that people who are geographically challenged are not allowed to criticise their government. Everybody has a right to do so, regardless where they sleep tonight, and only our credentials will determine our voice and will make people decide whether we are worthy to listen to. I will definitely listen to Habibie rather than my own siblings about politics, even though Habibie has been spending his days in Germany and they are living and breathing in Indonesia.
I believe nationality is a more complex matter rather than just a geography (ask Barack Obama!). As it is defined in Wikipedia, nationality is about the relationship between a person and their state of origin, it’s about loyalty, it’s about what we feel. It is personal. It is not what the country, nor man, dictates us. It cannot be printed on us and it cannot be taken away from us. It’s who we are.
* = names are made up.