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Jakarta – Marissa Nasution insists that being a Eurasian is not the main reason she has become a TV personality and actress.
“The most important thing is talent and personality,” said Marissa, who was born in Germany to a German father and an Indonesian mother.
Talent aside, people of mixed Indonesian-European parentage have for years been singled out for jobs in show business because of their perceived good looks. That has turned people like Marissa, Cinta Laura Kiehl, Julie Estelle Gasnier, Dewi Sandra Killick and Rianti Cartwright into household names.
“The idea that all Eurasian children will become celebrities is
currently very firmly entrenched in Indonesia,” said Rosalind Hewett, a scholar in Indonesian history at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.
“And it’s a common thing to suggest to mixed couples for their future children,” said Hewett, who herself is married to an Indonesian.
Cinta Laura, who is also of mixed German-Indonesian parentage, barely spoke Indonesian when she started in local show business nine years ago.
She still retains her thick foreign accent and penchant for
mixing English and Indonesian, which has made her an object of fascination and jokes among Indonesians.
“People often forget that I was not raised in Indonesia,” said Kiehl, 21, who was born to a German father and an Indonesian mother. “Trust me, my Indonesian has greatly improved since I first began my career at 12.”
European-Indonesians, especially those of Dutch heritage, have not always been this popular in Indonesia.
Between 1945-47, after Indonesia declared independence from the Netherlands, Eurasians were attacked and killed on the streets on suspicions of loyalty to the Dutch, who were returning to regain control of the country, Hewett said.
Historians estimate the death toll at about 3,500.
“In 1945, after the Japanese surrender, some Eurasians openly welcomed the return of colonial rule, because in many ways the system had favoured them and given them opportunities, and also because many were loyal to the Netherlands,” she said.
Cinta Laura’s career took off after she starred in a 2007 television soap opera called Cinderella: Is Love Only a Dream? Three years later, she recorded her first studio album, which sold 1 million copies.
“It was definitely very difficult to adjust initially,” she said. “I was raised very much the German way in which punctuality, efficiency and discipline are seen as necessary to be successful.
“The industry in Indonesia is still developing and a problem that still persists today is that both actors and crew members are often late for work,” she said.
Cinta Laura said many Indonesians are “obsessed with light skin, tall
stature,” and called the phenomenon “unfortunate.”
“It’s quite sad that many Indonesians don’t realize the rare beauty of their own,” she said.
“Though having more Western looks is an advantage, I think having a certain talent, skill and charisma is also very important.”
Cinta Laura graduated with honours from Columbia University last year in the United States, where she now lives to pursue a career in
Her famous, widely quoted remarks that highlight her trademark
language-mixing include: “Not all beautiful people bisa menjadi famous” (Not all beautiful people can be famous).
“I think it is safe to assume that by general consensus, Indonesians think Cinta Laura’s language sounds entertainingly annoying,” lawyer Tiza Mafira wrote in an opinion piece in the Jakarta Globe.
“At first it was funny, then weird, then sickening. But ultimately, like traffic, celebrity infotainment and completely incomprehensible K-Pop lyrics, we develop a certain fondness for it,” she wrote.
Veteran screenwriter Arswendo Atmowiloto said the preference for Western looks is not unique to Indonesia, and that Eurasians have regularly featured in local films since the 1950s.
“But it seems that now we’re taking it a bit too far,” he said.
“Obviously some of those actors can’t even act and they don’t speak like Indonesians,” he said.
Marissa said she picked as an MTV video jockey before trying her hand at acting because of her English proficiency.
Cinta Laura said she was not bothered by jokes about her accent and her habit of mixing between Indonesian and English.
“It’s actually boosted my popularity, so all I can say is thank you to the haters and lovers. You got me a lot of fees,” she said with a laugh.