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Obama victory inspires RI youth
November 7th, 2008

A’an Suryana, Jakarta

“Hip, hip horray, Obama,” Arum Pusparini, an employee at a private company in Jakarta, writes.

“Congratulations Obama,” shouts Ganjar Pranowo, a legislator with The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

“Congratulations, Mas (brother) Obama. When are you going to buy us a meal (to celebrate the victory), Mas?” Miranti Cempakawangi, an alumni of the University of Indonesia who also works for a private company, writes affectionately.

The lines they wrote Wednesday (Jakarta time) on facebook.com, shortly after Barack Hussein Obama was confirmed winner of the dramatic U.S. election, really represented the jubilant sentiment felt by many young Indonesians.

The sentiment is easy to understand, considering that Obama has historical roots in the country. Obama lived here in Menteng, Jakarta, with his American mother Ann Dunham and Indonesian father Lolo Soetoro between 1967 and 1971. Thus, like many other Jakartans at that time, Obama and his family shared the burden of living in an economically struggling Indonesian urban area.

Jakarta in that period, like other cities in Indonesia, had been left bankrupt by the Sukarno regime, which was too preoccupied with political adventuring and neglected the nation’s economy. Under command of Gen. Soeharto, the country slowly consolidated its economy following the political upheaval that bankrupted the country’s economy and even took the lives of top brass Army generals and hundreds of thousands of communist party members.

Obama himself, like other kids of his age, went to both Indonesian public and private schools, in which he was exposed to Indonesian culture, making him the first American president able to understand Indonesian, albeit only a little.

The exposure to other cultures and education has contributed to what Obama is today. He has turned out to be quite different from other fellow Republicans. He is accommodating and eager to listen to other views. He is not the guy that likes to impose his view on others. He is confident, but not arrogant.

He understands the bigger picture of Asian culture, particularly Indonesia, and that can help him boost ties between the U.S. and Indonesia.

With these qualities and historical roots, no wonder many young people here have since Wednesday begun pinning high hopes on Obama to help improve Indonesia.

This hope explains why the excitement has been ubiquitous among youths around the capital ever since Obama was elected U.S. president.

Aside from the subconscious hope that draws fervent excitement, Obama himself has already established himself as a role model for young Indonesians. His rise to the top resembles a rags-to-riches story reminiscent of Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations”, which still resonates after more than a hundred years.

It is hard to imagine that a young black boy who had few contacts could go on to claim the most powerful and coveted post a human can occupy today.

The challenges seemed undefeatable. The African American race is still the most problematic and disadvantaged in the United States. Discrimination against blacks endures to this day, although formally the state ended the segregation policy in the 1960s thanks largely to efforts by Martin Luther King.

Against the backdrop of an era of racial discrimination, it seemed impossible for a black man to become president of the United States.

Despite his race, which has been a liability and an asset, Obama also faced other more technical challenges during his campaign period, in part because he was relatively new to U.S. politics.

However, Obama proved that he could overcome any challenges and finally broke the myth that only persons of white skin and well-connected families could become president.

With his achievement, he has helped rejuvenate belief that America is still the land of opportunity and meritocracy.

And this defining moment in American history has not only inspired Americans, but Indonesians too. “If a Menteng kid like Obama can make it, everybody here should have the same opportunity to rise to the top,” said a researcher who works for a private firm in Palmerah, Central Jakarta.

Indonesia is still a young nation and we are still in the process of establishing a civil society that upholds meritocracy.

In our journey to get there, Obama’s ascendancy to power inspires the belief in every young person in the country that someday, no matter their disadvantages, in spite of money, race, religion or family background, their hopes can become reality.

The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post

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