This article was published Sunday, May 17, 1998 in the Pioneer Press.
Local Indonesians lament situation in homeland
Students, immigrants worry about families suffering looting, harassment
JAMES ROMENESKO STAFF WRITER
Alexander Sugianto, an Indonesian ethnic Chinese student at the
University of Minnesota, has several papers due by Memorial Day, but he
hasn't opened a book in days.
He sits by a telephone to wait for news from his parents, who are hiding
out in their Jakarta home after being attacked by an anti-Chinese mob last
``I'm very concerned for their safety,'' Sugianto, 24, said Saturday. ``I
don't know if they will be alive after I put down the phone because
anything can happen.''
He is one of about 250 Indonesians living in the Twin Cities area, many of
them members of the Indonesian American Society of Minnesota -- a group
that has come together in recent days to compare what they're hearing of
the looting and rioting in their hometowns.
Sugianto said he feels helpless in Minnesota as his parents struggle with
a lost business and try to defend themselves against mobs that are
attacking the Indonesian Chinese. The ethnic Chinese make up less than 5
percent of the Indonesian population but own three-quarters of the
country's wealth, and they have been the targets of looting and arsons in
Javanese are the dominant Indonesian ethnic group, followed by Sudanese,
Madurse and Malays. The archipelago nation is the world's fourth largest
-- behind China, India and the United States -- with a population of 209
The Chinese are scapegoats for the country's economic problems, Sugianto
``My parents' home is both a house and a motorbike shop,'' he said.
``Motorbike parts were stolen and the mob tried to burn two cars in the
shop, but one man who is not Chinese told the mob if they burned the cars,
the fire would spread and also burn non-Chinese houses. So they took the
cars out and burned them outside.''
His parents, who live above the shop, were not hurt. Without a car now,
they have decided to stay in their home and hide from the anti-Chinese
``My parents thought that since the place already had been ransacked, they
wouldn't come back because there's nothing left to rob,'' Sugianto said.
`They thought that would be the safest place for them, but there is no
safe place in Jakarta as long as you're Chinese.''
Adi Mulawarman, a 24-year-old graduate student from the University of
Minnesota, said his parents' electrical appliance shop in Jakarta was
looted last week.
``They lost everything,'' said Mulawarman, who came to the United States
in 1992 to attend the university. ``They had been there 28 years. They got
a warning to close the shop at four in the afternoon. At five, people
Now they stay at home, fearful of being attacked.
``They just wait,'' he said of his parents. ``They can't go to the airport
because they've blocked the highways.''
Mulawarman said he's angry that his family can't get protection.
``The military just stands there when they see all these Chinese shops
being looted. And the Republic of China? They don't care. My whole life
I've hated both the Indonesian government and the Republic of China. It
seems like nobody wants us any more.''
Usman Suriono, a 29-year-old graduate student at the University of
Minnesota, said he has stayed close to his computer since the rioting
broke out. He gets about 300 e-mails daily from family and friends -- he
has more than 100 relatives in Indonesia -- trying to get news from the
He said he is not surprised that many once law-abiding residents have
joined students in the looting and rioting.
``The situation is so bad,'' said Suriono, who left Indonesia eight years
ago. ``They are running out of food, and things are getting worse, so they
think: `Why not just do it?' They have nothing to lose anyway.''
Rinto Dasuki, 35, president of the Indonesian American Society of
Minnesota, said the Chinese have been disliked by the Indonesian natives
and turned into scapegoats.
``This is not an economic problem; this is racial discrimination,'' he
said. ``I am the fifth generation (in Indonesia). We have been there
hundreds of years probably. But they still are making a difference between
me and what they call indigenous people. I am an Indonesian citizen, and I
cannot participate in politics. I couldn't run for mayor, I cannot enter
the military. And on your driver's license, they have a special mark that
says that you are Chinese. So it's gross evidence of real
Dasuki said he monitors the situation in his homeland through Internet
mailing lists, which have given him some of the most accurate information
on the political strife.
``People in Jakarta find out what's happening and type it for the
reports,'' he said. ``It's not just one or two persons doing this, but
many. And that's very crucial because I heard all news now has to be
channeled through the government and is being censored.''
He said the online predictions are that the largest disturbances will
``People are trying to organize all the campuses in Indonesia,'' he said.
``They are going to demonstrate on May 20 -- that's the day they're going
to do it. The situation is going to get worse.''