The 8-year-old girl was asked again, “But you’re actually Chinese, aren’t you?”
And still she replied, “No. I am Indonesian.”
There used to be a time when I didn’t quite understand the concept of human races and ethnicities. If you came from Germany, then you’re German. If you came from India, then you’re Indian. If you came from China, then you’re Chinese. I am an Indonesian citizen, so yes, I am Indonesian. I have to thank my wise mother for saving me an explanation then. Years later only did I understand that my great grandparents migrated from China to make a living during the Dutch colonization era in Indonesia. Thus, I was of a Chinese descent.
I was lucky to have had the privilege, and am immensely grateful, to spend four of my first school years abroad in an international school. The first friends I had in my life were of different nationalities. Each of us blind to the dissimilarities, walking hand in hand to class and playing hide and seek together despite the diversity. Beautiful isn’t it?
But people grow and age, and so did I. And I returned home. The social environment became more homogenous and unlikeness, small as it can be, became more distinguishable. I became used to the question, “You are Chinese, right?”. It gradually became more challenging to see people without segregating them according to the perceptions I somehow got comfortable with as I matured within a society where ‘classifying’ people was indoctrinated. It is not easy, and will never be, to abolish these notions. However provoking this maybe, classification, amongst other many capabilities, is hardwired into human nature. And unfortunately, it does not exclude classifying humans. Cultural diversity is inevitable, but, it is not unacceptable. We know how to learn, and can therefore make an effort to dismiss preconceived ideas, approach diversity and practice acceptance. Maybe if every single person on earth could (and would) experience living in a highly diverse community at least once in their lives, differences might be perceived in a better way, and even better, appreciated instead. Yes, it is an imprudent and unrealistic thought. But I do not think it is foolish.
I will end my brief personal contemplation with a question: Why is it so easy to judge a person based on cultural and physical bias alone?
After all, that little girl once shared her lunch and desk in school with a child from a completely different continent. And for these two friends, nothing could have been happier than their shared laughter and secrets. There are moments when I miss the way she used to see and perceive people- how naïve she was. I miss her, sometimes.
This post was a response to The Daily Post’s one-word prompt: Childhood