President Barack Obama’s inauguration has a particular resonance in Indonesia and not only because he once resided here. For me, he is a champion. Not for the party that he represents, not for the election he won, not for the people of America, not for the nation he was born in, but for his ability to win against discrimination.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. who bravely fought the early antidiscrimination battles and the fruits of his struggle appear now with Barack Obama becoming the 44th President of the United States.

In Indonesia, and while I am Chinese Indonesian, my hero is the Muslim leader and former president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, known affectionately as Gus Dur. He more than anybody else has made the greatest effort in Indonesia to help Chinese Indonesians win their fight against discrimination.

He removed barriers to celebrating Chinese New Year, which reflected his respect for Chinese Indonesians. And again this year, Chinese Indonesians celebrated the new year freely.

As democracy progresses in Indonesia, it will only move another step forward if both the so-called “indigenous people” and “nonindigenous people” build the country hand in hand. Unfortunately, there are still mind-sets that marginalize both sides.

I recently met an Australian student at the Asean International Relations Student Conference. She said that one thing that helps Indonesia is tolerance, which is rooted in the ideological tradition of Pancasila. Tolerance is of course very important in maintaining respect for one another and in championing the slogan “unity in diversity.”

For Chinese Indonesians, there is no reason to retain any sense of exclusivity, as it only hinders any integration efforts

But this can only be achieved when we understand each other.

In Indonesia there are essentially two groups of individuals of Chinese descent. First, those who want to maintain exclusivity from the “indigenous people.” One trait of theirs is to remain reluctant to enter politics due to the bad memories they have of life under the leadership of former President Suharto. They are still skeptical that life in Indonesia will actually improve so they focus on their own interests.

The other group wants to assimilate with “indigenous people” and believe they too are indigenous to Indonesia. Most of them are educated and live in the country’s big cities. They are not reluctant to join politics and are willing to struggle together with others in Indonesia to make it a better place. They believe the marginalization of Chinese Indonesians comes from the “structural violence” that occurred under Suharto. Something that also shapes their outlook are memories of Chinese Indonesians who played an early role in the country’s political system, including Soe hok Gie, P.K. Ojong, Siauw Giok Tjhan, Tan Boen Aan, Tan Po Gwan,Teng Tjin Leng, Tjoa Sie Hwie, Tjoeng Lin Sen, Tjung Tin Jan and Yap Tjwan Bing.

Thanks to Gus Dur and also former President Megawati, many regulations have been implemented by the government that seek to neutralize past discrimination against Chinese Indonesians. For example, in 2003 Megawati made Imlek, or the Chinese New Year, an official national holiday. Under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, further regulations have been put forward, showing that Indonesia is becoming a more tolerant nation.

However, regrettably there are still “indigenous people” and Chinese Indonesians who remain closed-minded. These individuals are obstacles to strengthening the country’s democratic system.

For Chinese Indonesians, there is no reason to retain any sense of exclusivity, as it only hinders any integration efforts. They must realize discrimination here is waning.

For “indigenous people,” if they can establish genuine relationships with Chinese Indonesians it will make the nation stronger economically and altogether more vibrant. For both sides, tolerance is something that is urgently needed.

If the United States is continuing to win its war on discrimination, why can’t we? To do so depends on all of us, particularly the younger generation.

And now, when somebody asks me what ethnicity I am, I will proudly say “I am Indonesian, Chinese Indonesian.”

So, Happy New Year, or as we say in Chinese, Gong Xi Fa Cai!

The writer is p resident of the International Relations Students Association at Parahyangan Catholic University and a member of the school’s Diplomat’s Club.