“It is not going to be working. We have different ethnicity.”
It is not taboo anymore in Indonesia that races can be a really big problem in marriage. Particularly to those dominating ethnic groups. I come from a Chinese family. My extended family of course expects me to be with a Chinese guy but fortunately my parents do not (phew!). So when I was dating a Batak (an ethnic group from Sumatra), my mom was okay as she is a very liberal mother. What I never expected was that not every parent could be like my mother.
I was 19, just entering my college life that time. He was 6 years older than me. As I had never dated a Batak, I was not aware that cultural rituals played significant parts of their ethnicity. I mean I am Chinese but my main family rarely practices cultural rituals except for celebrating Chinese New Year. On the other side, his family seems to be more conventional. And I think he is, too, somehow.
The first time I realized his culture was intense was when we often fought over one problem. There was a female friend of him who has the same clan but not blood related. At all. I was so jealous of her as she had have feelings for him, she even confessed her feeling to him before he met me. But because they shared the same clan, they could not be together at some points. Afterwards, they became really close friends, a lot closer than a friend should be. The girl intimately hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, or even asked for a piggyback. Like peas in a pod, they always went anywhere together. When we were officially dating, I told him that I was uncomfortable seeing her doing such things. Surprisingly, he defended her by saying she was a family and nothing was wrong with that. So yeah, he is someone who puts family first. Even the one who actually is not in his family tree.
It slowly became toxic because we argued on the same topic all over again. We wondered if we could go anywhere since I finally got a hint about his strict culture. One time, I met his parents and his extended family for celebrating his graduation. It was awkward as hell when his uncle asked me which clan I was from. I stammered, asking for some help to answer this question. And when I told him I am not a Batak, he did not say “Oh, it’s okay. You are still acceptable”, as my head tricked me. He walked away and did not ask any more questions. Super uncomfortable.
From there, I began to admit to myself that our relationship would break sooner or later. Long before we broke up, I already imagined a scene we ended up our relationship. It would be about him choosing me or his family. That’s it. And of course I could not let him choose me. I could not picture myself to be a person who lived in an awe of how he would regret to decide to be with me and against his family. It would make me become such a terrible person. But then, love is blind, isn't it? So, I wanted to know the limit of me allowing everything to happen, telling the universe to show me signs.
Well, I guess I had to be careful of what I wished for. A year and half we were an item then it was cracked by what I already predicted: different ethnic groups. One day, his father passed away. He was a total wreck. It needed a while for him to recover from his loss. The circumstance led me to be close to his sister in law who is a mix of Batak and Sundanese. I loved her actually, she was really smart and someone who could be admired that much until out of the blue she chatted me.
Her: I want to tell you something but please keep this between us, okay?
Me: Sure, what is it?
Her: I know you are a good person and nothing is wrong with you but I overheard something about how my mother in law thinks of you. She is a bit afraid of how far you both can work out. She concerns on the difference between you two. As you already know, Batak has a lot of cultural rituals and holds onto the traditions. You see that it could be a problem if you are not from a Batak family.
Me: Oh really? So what are you suggesting?
Her: Well, I just want you to be ready in case you are pretty serious with him to further your relationship level. Our family may ask you to convert your ethnicity by all means is to “buy” a Batak clan and proceed the cultural rituals to be in our ethnicity group. It will only happen when you decide to get married actually. But I want you to be aware of this matter.
I froze reading what’s typed on my phone’s screen. It finally came to me. The sign from universe. The wonderment was no more. Not so long after the “warning”, I talked to him and unveiled everything his sister in law texted me. It was hard but deep down I knew it was going to happen so I was actually ready for that. And that was our epilog.
I don’t know how you perceive my story but for me it does not make sense when someone asks you to convert your belief just to be with him or her. Let’s see this way. If you are a Muslim than you convert to a Christian, you will be considered as a Christian. But when you are a Chinese, you will forever be Chinese. It is in your vein. Converting to other ethnicity does not change your look or your blood.
My decision of breaking him up did not only tuck over the unreasonable bit of his family expecting me to convert but more over the racism. Come on, in this modern world being exclusive and superior will only cause you more problems. It is a bonus if you tie the knot with someone who comes from the same background. It does not mean to be the priority of your search for 'The One" since it does not guarantee your happiness. What matters most to live in this silly Earth is to be happy, isn’t it?
Illustration by @sabinaka