Posted by: mel | July 15, 2009

In the Spotlight: Speaker of the (Mountain) House

Tracy Press | by Justin Lafferty / Our Town staff | 15 July 2009

Glenn Moore/Our Town

Glenn Moore/Our Town

The fire within Jennie Siat Bev was ignited as another fire was extinguished.

In 1998, Bev’s house was nearly set aflame during the Jakarta riots in Indonesia. Bev, a Chinese-Indonesian, lived with the discrimination of having a mixed ethnicity and being a minority. During the riots, Chinese-Indonesian businesses were ransacked and women were raped and murdered.

Luckily, a neighbor told the would-be arsonists that Bev’s house was near a mosque. Fearing the fire might spread to the mosque, they moved on.

Discrimination was so strong at that time, Bev said, that there was propaganda encouraging those of Chinese descent to marry pure Indonesians and assimilate.

“I lost my innocence at that time, as I was harassed politically and spiritually,” Bev wrote in her book, “From Golden Bridge to Golden Monument.” “I owe my current sense of self, sense of community, increased humanity and heightened compassion to that incident.”

Not long after that, Bev and her husband, Beni Bevly, moved to San Diego and then to Daly City.

Since the riots, Bev has spoken out for fairness both in Indonesia and in her new hometown of Mountain House, where she has lived since 2005. She’s written for the Jakarta Globe and other publications in Indonesia, China and America, usually about social injustice and multiculturalism. Bev also shares her thoughts on a blog — jenniesbev.typepad.com.

“The most vulnerable people (in Indonesia) are the Chinese, because they are very small in number,” Bev said. “They don’t have any political position in government, they don’t have anything. They just open mom-and-pop stores. And then (their enemies) choose the females, the weakest of the weak, to make a statement about their power.”

Bevly said discrimination against women like Bev typically happened “almost every day” in Indonesia. She had to find some way to become stronger.

“At college, the only (way) you can survive there is with your smartness and your character,” said Bevly, also a Chinese-Indonesian. “As a person, they’ll respect you, even though you are different. Basically, that made us stay together, that kind of activism.”

Bev has been reaching out to others her entire life. As a kid, she used to write to the pope and Princess Diana (receiving a letter from her secretary), and now, she pens letters to Rep. Jerry McNerney, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Obama on behalf of Mountain House, one of the most underwater communities in America.

In September, Bev will start a fellowship at the University of San Diego as a peace writer for the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. The fellowship brings together activists who will learn from each other, composing short books. 

Writing has been one of Bev’s lifelong loves (as well as dogs). It’s her way to connect with people locally and globally.

Although far removed from the riots of Indonesia, Bev said she is still in “activist mode.” Bev and Bevly formed the Mountain House Action Group, which works to help bring “underwater” homes closer to financial stability, among other things. The group has worked with the Mountain House Community Services District and McNerney, who will participate in a housing workshop next month.

“We should increase our awareness of different cultural identities, strive to use gender-conscious language and show empathy in everyday activities,” she wrote in her book. “One violation against humanity is a violation against all of us.”

• In the Spotlight is a weekly profile in Our Town. To nominate someone to be In the Spotlight or to comment on this week’s story, contact Our Town Editor Justin Lafferty at 830-4269 or jlafferty@tracypress.com.

Meet Jennie Bev

• Age: 40

• How long in Mountain House: 4 years

• Born: Jakarta, Indonesia

• Husband: Beni Bevly

• Education: Bachelor’s — University of Indonesia; master’s — California State University, Hayward; working toward doctorate — the online Northcentral University

• Work: Owner of StyleCareer.com, an online publishing company

• Favorite writers: Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Abdullahi An-Naim, Salman Rushdie and John Steinbeck

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