December 11, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Indonesian women are speaking up to break down taboos about mixed marriages with foreigners

Baca dalam bahasa Indonesia

Muntini Cooper thought inviting families and neighbours to her wedding in the small village of Trenggalek in East Java, Indonesia, would save her from assumptions about her marriage’s authenticity. She was wrong. 

“I thought it would have clearly proven that we were legitimately married, but it wasn’t enough,” she told ABC.

In 2003, after separating from her Indonesian ex-partner, Ms Cooper met a Caucasian Australian man, Gary Cooper, who was working for an Indonesian mining company.

A Caucasian man standing next to an Indonesian woman. Both wearing traditional Javanese attire.
Gary Cooper and Muntini got married in the small regency of Trenggalek in East Java.(Supplied)

The two fell in love and decided to get married a year later.

They lived in Trenggalek for about eight years before moving to Balikpapan city in East Kalimantan.

While living in a small village, Ms Cooper often faced questions about where she “found” a “bule” – the Indonesian word for foreigner.

“They thought I was working as a migrant worker overseas,” she said.

“When a [Indonesian] woman gets married to a foreigner, they are assumed to be ‘naughty’ or only taking advantage of it.”

Ms Cooper said when they were building a house together, people would talk about the possibility of her husband leaving before the house was finished.

Five years after their marriage, the couple was blessed with twins.

They had white skin, pink cheeks and a bit of blonde hair when they were babies, she said. 

A group of people standing next to each other in a wedding.
Muntini Cooper celebrated her wedding in her hometown to avoid stigma, but it wasn’t enough.(Supplied)

It was a happy time only to be ruined by hurtful questions from random strangers.

“Wherever I went, people always asked if I was their babysitter,” she said.

“Or they would say ‘your husband must be a foreigner, right? That’s why you have pretty babies.'”

At one point, Ms Cooper decided to shut herself away.

She stopped meeting people outside or leaving the house to avoid the stigma.

“I thought this was the only way,” she said.

Breaking the stigmas

Ms Cooper’s experience is not unique to Indonesians marrying into another culture.

Yani Lauwoie, a communication consultant in Australia, was asked whether she was a “bule hunter” when she got married to her Australian husband, Shannon Smith.

At the time, she only replied with a joke.

But as questions about her marriage continued, she soon started feeling like she was dependent on her husband despite seeing herself as an independent woman.

“Indonesian women who marry Caucasian men, in particular, often get stereotypes which place us as the inferiors,” Ms Lauwoie said.

“It’s as if the relationship that we have is based on motives other than love, like financial motives, to have a better life or to fully depend our lives on the man.”

A Caucasian man and Indonesian woman holding with their child doing a selfie.
Yani Lauwoie (right) with her Australian husband Shannon Smith and their child Noah.(Supplied)

Tired of facing these stigmas, she decided to discuss the issue publicly on a podcast called Mixed Couples.

It’s hosted alongside two other Indonesian women Mira Rochyadi and Sylvia Mira, who have encountered similar experiences. 

Through the series, they try to break these misconceptions and educate listeners by inviting people in interracial relationships from around the world to answer taboo questions surrounding the topic in Bahasa Indonesia.

Ms Lauwoie said the podcast, which has been airing for almost a year, still has “a very small” number of listeners, but has attracted the attention of people from more than 10 countries.

Screenshot of a Zoom call between three Indonesian women.
Yani Lauowie and her friends, who live in three different countries, created a podcast to talk about sensitive issues around mixed marriages.(Supplied)

“We have got some listeners who are not from our circle reaching out on social media and by email … they helped us with ideas and some even offered to become a speaker,” she said.

“That’s made us think that our content [and issues being talked about] are relatable for them.”

Stigma towards interracial couples is a long-standing problem in Indonesia.

It triggered the creation of a society dedicated to people with a mixed marriage background called PerCa Indonesia, which stands for mixed marriage in Bahasa Indonesia.

For 14 years, the organisation has been advocating rights, hosting seminars on visas and citizenships, and providing consultation for its members.

A group of people wearing red celebrating Indonesia's Indepnence Day.
PerCa has been advocating for the legal rights of its members for 14 years.(Facebook: Masyarakat PerCa Ind)

The organisation started as a group of 46 and now has more than 2,000 members, with most foreigners coming from Australia, England and the United States.

“There were some stigmas about marrying foreigners to climb up the social ladder,” Melva Nababan Sullivan, one of the founders and active advocates of PerCa, said. 

“But now many things have changed and people are more welcoming towards mixed marriages as it’s considered part of the Indonesian community.”

Views rooted in colonialism

The stigma around mixed marriage is highly influenced by the values that existed during colonialism, Yulida Pangastuti, a lecturer of childhood, gender and sexuality at Gadjah Mada University, told the ABC.

Woman smiling to camera.
Yulida Pangastuti says the stigma against mixed marriages in Indonesia has its roots in colonialism.(Supplied)

“According to various works of literature, the native women are often seen through the hyper sensuality lens, [they] use their sexuality to seduce European men and become mistresses and sex workers for the sake of economic purpose,” she said.

“Meanwhile, foreign men, especially white-skinned, are seen as a symbol of power that provides political and economic advantages.”

Ms Pangastuti said initiatives like the podcast are a great way to highlight issues surrounding mixed marriages.

“Much information was discussed in a manner that makes them easy to understand by listeners, including the advocacy on rights of double citizenship for the mixed marriage family,” she said.