What is it about this place that is so important? Why is there a need to make an exhibition about this particular area?
Jalan Kemenangan (Victory Street – literal translation) is the name of a street in an area called Glodok. People often said that Glodok is the “Chinatown” of Jakarta. I visited this place many times before, without paying any attention to what was around me. Revisiting this area again many years later I began to think about how to trace the culture and story of my family. Fragments of bitter and sweet memories linger on its streets, corners, and alleys.
This is an area that once was my playground, where I played with friends and family, where I walked after school to buy an ice cream, drinks and snacks. Sometimes I accompanied the nanny to buy food supplies from the traditional market, and watched a group called “Acau” who sell traditional Chinese medicines (pills and ointment) by doing some street-circus entertainment to attract people to buy their product, was always the highlight of my afternoon.
The fact that I, unconsciously, spent my entire childhood in the heart of Chinatown doesn’t wash the unsure feeling away. The unsure feeling about the identity and culture I belong to.
If I never left this area, would I not question my culture and identity? What about the people who are still living in the area? Do they feel the same way as I do?
Families who live in the heart of Chinatown, are also fully aware that the practice of Chinese tradition is surely fading. Globalization and modernism certainly contribute to this process, but what about the Suharto regime? “Suharto banned and dissolved the three pillars of the Chinese culture overseas: ethnic Chinese organizations, Chinese medium schools, and Chinese language press. He also restricted the development of Chinese religions.”
The aggressive movement toward the “Indonesialization” of the Chinese leaves a great impact on the younger generation even after the new order regime. During that time, parents who wanted their kids to learn Chinese language could not find schools that teach it, cultural practices were secluded and forced to go underground.
An inventory made by the anti-discrimination organization Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa (SNB) published in Dua Tahun Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa Melawan Rasialisme (Jakarta: SNB, 2000, Appendix), shows that there were 62 laws and regulations from the late colonial period through to the Suharto regime (inventory is only until 1988), explicitly or implicitly discriminatory towards the ethnic Chinese. Of those 62 regulations, 42 had been enacted during the New Order Regime. There were 8 from the colonial period, 12 from the Soekarno regime and 3 from the MPRS. It is clear that under Suharto, state discrimination was the most blatant, most intrusive, invasive and intimidating to the ethnic Chinese.
Jalan Kemenangan went through a dark time when the anti-Chinese riots of May 1998 occurred. When angry mobs looted and burned the Glodok Plaza, the fire also spread and burned down some houses located behind the Plaza, in Kemenangan I . One of those houses was my grandparents’.
I had a hard time doing interviews with some of the people who reside in Jalan Kemenangan, it’s very distressing to reminisce about the tragedy. Some of them avoided me as I approached them with my camera perhaps thinking I was a TV reporter. “All photos, birth certificates, clothes, books were burned out, and it was painful.” Their houses burned down. Left with ruined and debris, the written and visual proof of their life existence gone, consumed by the fire.
But was that the important issue here?
The psychological pain is far more concerning than the loss of material possessions they experienced. Not to mention the racial discrimination, which even went as far as forcing the victims to change their names and therefore their cultural identity.
The original idea for this exhibition was to trace memories of the people who live in the heart of Chinatown in order to find out whether a small section of this area could give a bit of insight to our socio-political history, to answer, and to clarify the position of ethnic Chinese culture in Jakarta. Through doing this project I have found out that memories cannot construe history, as Richard White said in his book, Remembering Ahanagran “History is the enemy of memory. The two stalk each other across the fields of the past, claiming the same terrain. History forges weapons from what memory has forgotten or suppressed.”
To say it in a simple way,
History, as written on a piece of paper is a record, and a study of past events. Memories are a set of chains. Chains consisted feelings, thoughts, impressions of past events. This is where I decided to delve more into matter of memory and history. Which should one choose to investigate to answer their questions? History is much more relevant, yet memories have the power to connect with people.
What continues to astonish me is that despite the discrimination and aggression that the victims suffered, they would still prefer Indonesia under the Suharto regime as he created a “better” economic situation.
Why would the victims prefer to welcome and embrace the hands that erased their real identity? Why should one be concerned about highlighting the loss of the victims’ identities when all they want is to move on and stack more bricks to new life? Under what circumstances would someone is willing to sacrifice their identity?
Jalan Kemenangan will not engage any answers to your or my questions. The answers will remain indistinct. Its aim was not to console, but to provoke… not to remain pristine but to invite its own violation and desanctification, not to accept graciously the burden of memory but to throw it back at the town’s feet. This project is part of an ongoing journey that unexpectedly continues to generate more questions rather than answers.
February 2013, Yogyakarta