Archive for May 14th, 2008
By Gideon Rubin
Article Created: 05/11/2008 09:15:48 PM PDT
(Source: Inside Bay Area)
Lilly Lim expected at least a semblance of normalcy when she went to work at a suburban Jakarta shipping company on a spring day 10 years ago.
Lim, then a 28-year-old self-identified Chinese-Indonesian accountant, had her worries the day after six student demonstrators protesting government corruption were shot dead on a Jakarta college campus.
She now acknowledges that clinging to the hope that May 13 would be just another day went against everything a lifetime of discrimination in her personal life and more than 200 years of history had told her.
Her worst fears materialized quickly. The first sign was the odor and thick smoke from a torched gas station a few blocks away. Typically bustling streets were deserted at noon.
Riots would soon plunge an already unstable nation into disarray, with racially targeted attacks against Chinese Indonesians that by several accounts left more than 1,300 people dead.
“Nobody knew it would be so chaotic,” she said. “After that moment, everything changed.” Like many Chinese Indonesians, Lim left the country in the riot’s aftermath.
Now a Menlo Park resident, Lim was among 300 or so Chinese Indonesians who attended a Sunday gathering at St. Leander Church in San Leandro commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the May 1998 riots.
A coalition of Chinese-Indonesian human rights groups organized such events throughout North America this week. The San Leandro event was the only one in the Bay Area.
The groups blame the Indonesian leaders for fostering an environment that precipitated the riots and pervasive racial hostility against people of Chinese descent, who make up just 5 percent of the nation’s population but are disproportionately wealthy.
“The most important reason we’re having this is for people to remember what happened, because people are starting to forget,” said event organizer Beni Bevly, who heads the Overseas Think Tank for Indonesia.
“A lot of people know what’s going on Myanmar and a lot of people know what’s going on in China with Tibet, but do people know what’s going on in Indonesia? No, because this story has been suppressed by our (Indonesian) government.” Bevly said. “This problem has never been solved.”
The 1998 riots were just the most recent chapter in the densely populated nation’s bloody history that Bevly said includes government-led mass anti-communist killings in the 1960′s. He said targeted killings of Chinese Indonesians date back to the 18th century.
Lim said she’d been subjected to harassment and racial epithets her entire life. She was a newlywed and had just given birth to her baby daughter, Vira, when the unrest broke out. “It was so scary,” she said, her voice quivering as she pointed to Vira, who is now 11. “We just didn’t go out.” Lim said her husband, Vincent Lie, barely survived a close call with rioters who attacked his car on his way home from work.
She said the riots illustrate the devastating consequences of racial hatred.
“If the government is leading it, the people will follow,” she said. “People have to know, that’s what (racism) leads to.”
Gideon Rubin can be reached at 510-293-2469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.