Interview with Maria McDonald, Part 1

I decided a little while ago to start featuring reader and writer interviews on here, to highlight people’s stories in another way! Our first reader/writer is Maria McDonald, who has her own blog over here.

Why am I featuring Maria? She has an interesting story (as I believe that everyone does) and she’s willing to share openly, honestly, and candidly!

The first part of this interview will be published now, and the second part will be published later in the week. Please free to leave questions and comments on either post!

Let’s get started. Maria was born in Jakarta, Indonesia in May 1980 of Chinese heritage. Fifteen years later, amongst political turbulence in Indonesia, Maria’s parents decided to move the family to Australia. The political unrest was fueled by differences in agreement between native Indonesians and Chinese Indonesians. She started writing at a young age during primary school, and then started writing a novel in 2006 based on a recurring dream she had. Now she has 5 unpublished novels. Why unpublished? What are they about? Let’s find out.

First, some basics:

A Story Every Day: What type of writing do you do?
Maria McDonald: At the very core of all my writing is a love story and the main characters’ relationships with other
people. I also write about subjects that are close and dear to my heart, like social justice (or
injustice).
ASED: What is your favorite piece of work (by someone else)?
MMD: I’m obsessed with ‘Outlander’ series by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve followed the series for years, and am
eagerly awaiting ‘Written In My Heart’s Own Blood’ to come out. It is the one series I keep coming
back to, both for a great piece of writing, keep-you-at-the-edge-of-your-seat storylines, and for
inspiration.
ASED: Who is your favorite author & why?
MMD: This is a toughie because there are quite a few. I guess, in addition to Diana Gabaldon, Jodi Picoult
will be right up there – she has such a unique way of writing. Who doesn’t get hooked with
phrases such as ‘her cackles stream out like ribbons’?

ASED: You said you kept a journal since primary schools. Many children’s journals recount surface
thoughts and events of the day, as you’d expect from a young mind. What did yours look like?
MMD: Like what you’ve just described, though I did have a philosophical mind from such a young age,
so whilst I did write about events of the day, I also delved deeper. For example, when I attended
a wedding with my parents, in addition to detailing about the happy event, the bride’s dress,
and the food, I would also write about my then perception of love, of my hopes and dreams of
finding the right man, and what he might look like/ what kind of personalities he might have and
rationalise why those traits were important to me.

ASED: Do you still have them? Do you ever look back at them, and are they fodder for any of your
recent/current writing?
MMD: I guess if I look really hard, I’d find some of them – I did go through a few. I haven’t looked back on
it for years, because some of the entries were too painful – they opened up old wounds. But yes,
some of the events I’ve written in my private journal had become the basis of my writing.

ASED:  What do you remember of the political unrest as you grew up? Can you give us background
and any specific events you remember?
MMD: Background – ok I will try not to make this as a long-winded history lesson. The Chinese came to
Indonesian soil as wealthy merchants. For as long as I could remember, the case had been that
the Chinese had control over the country’s economy whilst the native Indonesian controlled the
overall government. It was fair to say that most Chinese Indonesians were Catholic and wealthy
– they live in brick houses and even mansion-like houses. Most native Indonesians, most of them
Muslim, live below poverty line – the term cardboard houses wasn’t an exaggeration to describe
the conditions in which some of these people live in.
Most Chinese Indonesians would go to a Catholic school, and most native Indonesians would go to
state school. It’s also fair to say that if you, as a Chinese Indonesian, went to certain state schools
with questionable reputation, you might not come out of there in one piece.
What I remember – quite a lot, actually. From a very early age, I noticed quite a bit of animosity
towards me as a Chinese Indonesian from the natives. I couldn’t escape the discrimination –
walking down the street, I would get kids younger than I was to mid-fifty otopet/tricycle driver
shouting out “you bloody Chinese!” and even “go back to your own country!”
As a minority, you learnt to keep your mouth shut – it was, in most cases, the most effective
survival method. I remember going to the cinema and this girl cut in the line front of us. My eldest
sister, as you would, tapped this girl on the shoulder and said “we were here first.” What should
have become an argument over right and wrong quickly turned to an argument about races,
about how we as Chinese Indonesian had ‘trampled’ all over the native Indonesians’ rights for
long enough we should give her this one privilege of cutting the line.
I remember every year, on 30 September, a movie about ‘The Thirtieth September Movement’
would always be televised; it depicted a re-enactment of a self-proclaimed organisation
of Indonesian National Armed Forces members who, in the early hours of 1 October 1965,
assassinated six Indonesian Army generals in an abortive coup d’état, trying to overthrow
the Sukarno reign. An Indonesian Communist Party was blamed for this attack, and because
Communism originated from China, the ‘hatred’ towards Chinese Indonesian by native
Indonesians grew/intensified.
Every year, during September-October, this tension erupted; most native Indonesian high school
students would target the Catholic schools (where most Chinese Indonesians went to school),
with after-school biff-ups being the most common.
When I was in Year 7, my Dad purposely finished work early and picked me up from school. He
had brought spare clothes with him and told me to change out of my school uniform. Both my
parents also didn’t send me to school the next day. It wasn’t until the night I was kept at home
that I found out that my parents had received word through the grapevine that there would be a
major attack on all Catholic schools native Indonesians could target. There were reports that they
had thrown rocks at both the school building and any passers-by, hoping that some of these were
Chinese. This particular year, a group of native Indonesians actually stabbed a Catholic student
with a knife in the back, a student of a neighbouring schools a few of my friends actually went to.
He died three days later.
In May 1998, a riot erupted in several capital cities in Indonesia, where the long-oppressed
native Indonesians ransacked most of the upper-class, Chinese-built and lived in apartments and
mansion-like houses. They killed the Chinese men and mass-raped the women, in the hope that
some would get impregnated with the native Indonesian blood in their wombs, therefore giving
the next generation of native Indonesians more of a chance to get their hands on the Chinese
wealth. I was very fortunate that in 1998, I was already living in Australia, away from this horror.
But all the same, I heard the many horror stories that came out from this incident from friends
who were still living there. I’ve been told that some of the Chinese Indonesians who used to live in
Glodok, Indonesian’s Chinatown, fled from their homes to neighbouring countries and too fearful
to return even though the current government has made significant reconciliation gestures. I’ve
been back to my hometown three times and witnessed this; what I remembered of Glodok – a
bustling place with an equally glittering nightlife, was a ghost town refusing to be revived to its old
glory.

ASED: Has that background influenced your writing?
MMD: Of course. As I mentioned previously, social justice is a subject close and dear to my heart, having
been ‘denied’ it, for lack of a better term. What has driven me throughout the years of living in
Indonesia was to be seen as equals and to see other people as equals as well. It’s a long-term
struggle, because you’re proving not only to yourself, but also to others, that you are prepared
to look past the colour of your skin and the origin and get to know the personality underneath. A
lot of people didn’t, and perhaps still don’t think that this is the right approach. In doing so, I’ve
somehow created more angst and unease to my family and friends.
‘Peeling Layers’ and its subsequent 3 sequels detail a girl who is a product of mixed marriage –
her Father is Caucasian and her Father is Asian. She is bullied in high school, she struggles with
her self-identity, she wishes at one stage or another that her Father has married a woman of ‘his
kind’. She refuses to become intimate with a pure-bred Caucasian son-of-billionaire, despite him
being her best friend throughout high school, because she doesn’t want to pull him down from
the high pedestal his wealthy status has put him in and be discriminated along with her.

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2 thoughts on “Interview with Maria McDonald, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Interview with Maria McDonald, Part 2 « A Story Every Day

  2. Pingback: Reader Interviews at ‘A Story Every Day’ Blog « Maria S McDonald

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