Two Names, One Identity: Exploring the Identity Struggle of Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia

Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia navigate a complex terrain of cultural heritage and national belonging. Their names, often reflecting a blend of Indonesian and Chinese influences, stand as silent testaments to this identity struggle.

A Legacy of Assimilation

During the New Order regime, discriminatory policies forced many Chinese Indonesians to adopt Indonesian names, celebrate holidays according to the dominant culture, and even acquire citizenship documents specific to their community. This era left deep scars, severing some from their cultural roots.

Living with Two Names

Many Indonesian Chinese now possess both Indonesian and Chinese names, representing their dual identities. While some actively engage with their Chinese heritage, others, like Trisha Husada, grapple with a disconnect, lacking a Chinese name as a result of generational shifts.

Seeking Answers, Unearthing Roots

Trisha’s journey of self-discovery begins with her grandmother, “Omah Eng,” whose Indonesian name masks her true Chinese name, “Tan Giok Eng.” It’s a stark reminder of the assimilation policies and the disconnect some feel.

Lost Connections, Fading Traditions

Trisha’s mother, Helen, explains that the practicalities of life in Indonesia discouraged them from giving their children Chinese names. This reflects a wider trend where younger generations, lacking exposure to their heritage, struggle to connect with their Chinese roots.

Beyond Indonesia: A Global Phenomenon

Cultural observer Johanes Herlijanto sheds light on how name-changing policies weren’t unique to Indonesia. He highlights similar practices in Malaysia, Singapore, and the US, but notes that these countries often retain Chinese first names written in Mandarin.

Indonesia’s Journey: Shifting Names, Evolving Identity

In Indonesia, the trend leans towards non-Chinese first names, with Chinese names given later, often by relatives. This reflects a society still navigating its relationship with its diverse ethnicities and cultural influences.

Through Trisha’s personal exploration and Johanes’ insights, we gain a deeper understanding of the complexities faced by ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. Their names, reflecting both assimilation and cultural yearning, offer a glimpse into their ongoing search for a unified identity within a dynamic national landscape.

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