Everybody I meet has a story about where they were during the 1998 Indonesian riots. The Asian financial crisis had hit the country hard; jobs vanished, prices soared, and many people found themselves unable to afford food and basic goods. On May 13, riots erupted a day after police shot four student demonstrators in Jakarta, and much of the looting and violence that followed targeted the ethnic Chinese.
Siska Wijaya, now a high school English teacher in Jakarta, was 13 years old and at school when the riots started. She told me what it was like to live through the riots:
We came in at 7am, and at 8am the teachers said get ready to call your parents and go home. My school was just behind the big road where there were explosions. There were explosions everywhere. I heard a lot of screaming, and people were running everywhere. They closed the road, so we had to walk all the way down the street to where our parents were waiting in cars.
Our school was burned down. All of it. Every time I tell the story, my heart beats so fast.
The rioters were looking for Chinese people and throwing things–stones, bottles, whatever. My father tried to drive on the smaller roads, but even there it was scary. It was me and my brothers in the car. I put my head down; my parents didn’t let us see what was happening on the streets.
We had a store downstairs and lived in the house upstairs. All around my street, all the houses were burned down. I was so scared. people were being brutal; anything they could take with them, they took.
My parents had two stores and the other one was burned down. The rioters took all the things from the store and burned it down.
We stayed inside for two weeks. We couldn’t go outside, couldn’t do anything. I remember me and my brothers looking out from a big window in our house. The street was completely empty. On TV I heard about the rapes.
After the riots, my parents made passports for us just in case something like that happens again. That’s one reason why my father sent me to L.A.