I had my son when I was a graduate student in the United States. He spent the first two and a half years of his life in a small town in the state of Ohio where people know and help each other just like in a Hallmark movie. As things were not easy for me when I carried him, our lives were full of different people from different cultural, education, and religious backgrounds who took part in making things easier for us. That chapter of our lives showed me what happens when humanity is alive.
We returned to Indonesia after I was done with my study. It was hard to look for a job in the U.S. and I had not gone home for more than four years. I also believed that it would be better to raise my son in Indonesia where he could experience diversity.
Little did I know that life back home has changed.
I grew up in a conservative Catholic family. My parents are not very strict and devoted, but my grandparents from both sides were hardcore Catholics. I went to a Catholic kindergarten, elementary school, and university. Being a minority has its share of inconvenience. We used to live in a densely populated kampong, and I was often asked religion-related questions by our neighbors such as, “What is your religion?” or “You have three gods, don’t you?” As I was still very young though, I did not really understand the significance of their questions. But even then, it would not go beyond questions.
When my son and I came back to Indonesia, I felt the difference. It seems that religion feature even more importantly now, to the point that it is more important than humanity. Some people take this to another level, using religion to divide society and for political gains.
When the blasphemy case against former Jakarta Govenor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) became big, leading to his imprisonment, I started to question a lot. How am I going to raise my son? Is he going to be safe? What if he said something wrong that he did not mean it and people got mad?
One time I made a statement in a WhatsApp group that it must be nice to be a part of majority. Someone replied ominously, “Watch out your words.”
I have grown frustrated as I feel that the world is no longer a safe place for my son and a lot of other children. In a video of one of the protests against Ahok that I watched, kids were shouting while marching with grownups. I would have never thought that the Indonesia I had idealized had come to this.
But all is not bad. We are still surrounded by people from different backgrounds who value humanity. My son goes to a school that aims to prepare young generation of Indonesia to be nationalists and religious at the same time. He likes the school. The number of Christian students in the school is not high, but the kids seem to get along very well and the teachers encourage them to respect each other regardless of their backgrounds.
Nevertheless, I am still anxious. Two years ago he called every worshipping place a “church.” I was worried that he would offend people when he said cheerfully that we had just passed a “church,” when it was actually a small mosque.
He has since learned that people pray in different ways and go to different worshipping places. But come Christmas time, I grew anxious again. My son loves Christmas. He had spent some time of his life in a country where it is widely celebrated, so he gets very excited around Christmas time. As he was talking to everyone about Christmas, I hoped that no one would be upset.
I have become an annoying mom who would say “Shh!” every time my son makes a statement related to religion or asking someone questions on religion. But he does not take being hushed by his mother the way I did when I was his age. Instead, he continues to demand explanation. I do not want him to grow up hating or being suspicious toward those who are different from us, but at the same time, I don’t want him to get hurt.
Perhaps, what I need to do is let him experience different reactions when he makes a statement or question, so that he will eventually learn to navigate this increasingly divided society. Of course, I need to be ready when he needs someone to explain what happens and to comfort him if has a harsh experience as the result of his interaction with people. I also need to show him that despite all the hatred we witness and experience, there are still people who protect humanity and embrace diversity. I guess it is OK to burst his bubble of harmony.
Antonina Suryantari is an English language instructor who loves writing. Writing is her medium to reflect. It is also her expression of gratitude and one way to learn.