Indonesia, you broke my heart.
I have always taken pride in my Indonesian identity, especially after having left the country at a young age. For the most part, it does not really matter to me that the Indonesian government is corrupt, or that we’re hopeless in keeping environmental sustainability, or that it is a little embarrassing that Google said we sparked the selfie-stick trend in Asia. What has been more important is that I love this country, because it makes up a lot of my selfhood. Just as you would to some lovers, I gave Indonesia chances time and again to explain itself when it fucks up. But lately, it has been difficult.
I missed its showing at the Seattle International Film Festival in May 2013, but I watched The Act of Killing later that summer in a small, oldie theater in the heart of Seattle’s University District. I went with one of my best friends, Imana Gunawan. We were the only Indonesians there. A few things amused me even before the film started playing. One was the fact that I was watching a feature film about my country—which is by extension, my identity—in this faraway place and another was that what looked to be at least thirty non-Indonesians that night bought tickets to watch a film about my country. As the theater dimmed its lights, I began to get anxious. I hope this will be good, I thought. I hope these people would understand it. What if they don’t? You know how terrible the world is and how much you have internalized your oppression when you as an individual feels the responsibility to explain “your people” and in this case, all 259+ million of them, to others almost all of the time.
It turned out that even I did not understand it.
I felt betrayed, confused, and terrified. I felt betrayed by the Indonesian education system that robbed me of the dark and bloody part of my history. I felt betrayed by my parents who never sat me down to explain how religion was used to justify the kidnapping, torture, killing and mutilation of approximately a million Indonesians as recently as the 1960s. I felt betrayed by our tradition of keeping things hush hush; safely abandoning them in rivers and underground because of course, once those secrets disintegrate and were out of sight, they no longer exist.
In the next two years after that showing, I slowly struggled while making sense of the Red Scare; of alleged and self-identified communists being crossed out of the Indonesian population under Orde Baru or New Order. Leila S. Chudori’s novelPulang helped tremendously, giving me a new perspective from which to look at what essentially I can best describe as utter fuckery (Joshua Oppenheimer called it for what it too, was: genocide). The characters in Pulang are journalists who fled to Europe avoiding execution during that period, who then created Indonesian diaspora in France and neighboring countries. They took chances and brought to Europe our food, culture, and pain.
I found solace in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and the Department of History at the University of Washington, with their faculty members and students who provided me assistance to examine the New Order with their interest in my history, their film showings, their discussions, and their choppy, verbal Bahasa Indonesia. I was at times shameful for only learning about Indonesia so extensively and focused from American scholars. I was afraid I was giving them white people too much credits for articulating my complicated history. I was afraid that I was not giving Indonesia a chance to explain itself directly to me. But how would I go about doing that? The mass killings has been erased out of the mainstream in Indonesia that I cannot possibly imagine asking Indonesians living there about it.
In some ways, looking from the outside is the best chance I’ve got.