Indonesian Americans

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Author: Eveline Yang
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
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Indonesian Americans

Eveline Yang


Indonesian Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Indonesia, a Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 17,508 islands. The Republic of Indonesia consists of an array of island stepping-stones scattered in the sea between the Malay Peninsula and Australia, astride the equator, and spanning about an eighth of the world's circumference. By comparison, the continental United States stretches across about a sixth of the world's circumference. The islands and island groups are located at the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The western side of the archipelago includes the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and the Lesser Sundas, or, in Indonesian, Sumatera, Jawa, Bali, and Nusa Tenggara. The islands of Borneo, Celebes, and the Moluccas, or Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Malukus, comprise the eastern side. The total land area is 782,665 square miles, and the sea area covers 1,222,466 square miles; altogether, the nation is approximately the size of Mexico.

According to the U.S. Department of State in 2011, Indonesia had a population of approximately 246 million people who belong to more than 300 distinct ethnic groups. The vast majority of Indonesians, about 90 percent, are Muslim, making it the most populous Muslim country in the world, with more than 204 million adherents. Distinctly smaller percentages of Indonesians practice Buddhism, Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. In 2012 Indonesia had the sixteenth-largest economy in the world. Its rapid growth, fueled by a relatively young population and rapid urbanization of its cities, has Indonesia on pace to be the world's seventh-largest economy by 2030.

Indonesians first began to immigrate to the United States in sizable numbers during the 1950s. Many of these early immigrants—the majority of whom settled in California—were not indigenous Indonesians but were descendants of Dutch settlers. They came to the United States as refugees after Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands in 1945. Today the United States is a popular choice for young Indonesians looking to further their educational attainment. Beginning in 2008 President Barack Obama's administration has attempted to increase higher education exchanges between the United States and Indonesia.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) estimates for 2011, there were nearly 107,000 people of Indonesian descent living in the United States. States with a significant number of Indonesian Americans include California, Texas, Washington, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, and New York. Although Indonesian Americans have largely assimilated and have not established any notable ethnic enclaves in the United States, Indonesian-owned restaurants and coffee shops have become unofficial gathering places in many cities with large Indonesian communities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. The Indonesian Consulate General also organizes cultural events and festivals aimed at fostering a sense of community among Indonesian Americans and their neighbors.


Early History By the fifteenth century, when the Renaissance was just pulling Europe from the Middle Ages, the islands of Java and Sumatra already had a thousand-year heritage of advanced civilization, spanning two major empires. From the seventh to the fourteenth century, the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya flourished on Sumatra. At its peak the Srivijaya Empire reached as far as western Java and the Malay Peninsula and had established mercantile and diplomatic relationships with China and other nations. By the fourteenth century the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit had risen in eastern Java. Gadjah Mada, the chief minister who ruled the empire from 1331 to 1364, succeeded in gaining allegiance from most of what is now known as modern Indonesia as well as much of the Malay archipelago.

Islam arrived in Indonesia in the twelfth century and had almost wholly supplanted Hinduism as the dominant religion in Java and Sumatra by the end of the sixteenth century. The island of Bali, however, has retained its Hindu heritage to this day. In the eastern archipelago, both Christian and Islamic proselytizing took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; currently, there are large communities of both religions on these islands.

Because of Indonesia's long-standing prominence in the spice trade—particularly in the Moluccas, which came to be known as the “Spice Islands”—several Page 402  |  Top of ArticleEuropean empires gained interest in the region. The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese, who established a trading post on the island of Ambon in 1512. The Dutch followed with expeditions in 1596 and again in 1598, establishing the Vereenigde OostIndische Compagnie (United East India Company, commonly known as the Dutch East India Company) in 1602. In the early seventeenth century Indonesia's many kingdoms had become fragmented, and the Dutch gradually established themselves on almost all of the islands of present-day Indonesia, controlling the islands' social, political, and economic institutions. The eastern half of the island of Timor was likewise occupied by the Portuguese until 1975. During the 300-year Dutch rule, the region then known as Netherlands East Indies became one of the world's richest colonial territories.

Modern Era Much of Indonesia's history in the modern era revolves around Sukarno (born Kusnasosro; 1901–1970). The Indonesian independence movement began during the first decade of the twentieth century and continued throughout both World Wars. The Japanese occupied Indonesia for three years during World War II. Then, on August 17, 1945, after Japan had agreed to surrender to the Allied Powers, Sukarno and other nationalists declared national independence and established the Republic of Indonesia. Despite several attempts the Dutch failed to recapture the territory lost to Japan. The victory over the Dutch strengthened Indonesia's sense of national identity. In 1950 the country became a member of the United Nations.

During the following decade Sukarno revised the 1945 constitution and became “President for Life.” The Communist Party—known as the Partai Komunis Indonesia, or PKI, in Indonesia—began to grow during the early 1960s, with Sukarno's encouragement. In 1965 a group of Indonesian army officers, calling themselves the September 30th Movement, killed six generals and other officers whom they accused of plotting to overthrow President Sukarno. Suharto, a general in the Indonesian military, claimed control of the army and halted the coup, accusing the PKI of orchestrating the event. Suharto and the Indonesian army then embarked on an anticommunist purge, killing between 200,000 and 300,000 people throughout Indonesia. Sukarno's affiliation with the PKI severely hampered his reputation and ability to lead, and in 1967 the Indonesian parliament replaced him with General Suharto as president.

Under Suharto's rule, from 1966 through the mid-1990s, Indonesia experienced significant economic expansion. However, the 1997 Asian economic crisis exposed deep flaws in the Indonesian economy, which saw a rapid devaluation of its currency. The Suharto regime, including his family, was accused of corruption, and there were widespread student protests calling for an ousting of the president. When four student protesters were shot by the military, massive rioting ensued. The ethnic Chinese were particularly targeted by these riots. They had lived in Indonesia in large numbers for centuries but were often viewed as suspicious outsiders, tolerated only for their contribution to the national economy and their ability to attract foreign investment by Chinese conglomerates. As the Indonesian economy collapsed in early 1998, the relatively wealthy ethnic Chinese were scapegoated by indigenous Indonesians and faced widespread violence, looting, and sexual assault, leading to a mass exodus of Chinese Indonesians to neighboring countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia. The United States also became a destination for many of these refugees, with more than 7,300 Chinese Indonesians receiving refugee status in the decade after the 1998 riots.

Suharto, who was only the second president of Indonesia since its independence, resigned on May 21, 1998. In 1999 Muslim cleric Abdurrahman Wahid was named president of Indonesia by the People's Consultative Assembly. He was forced out of office in 2001 amid scandals and political unrest and was replaced by his vice president and Sukarno's daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri. In 2004 Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono became the first popularly elected president of Indonesia.

In recent years the country has been afflicted by religious tensions and terrorist attacks, such as the 2002 bombing in a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people and the 2009 bombings of the Jakarta Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels that killed seven. Because of this, most Indonesians who choose to leave their country for other countries are part of a religious or ethnic minority, such as Chinese Indonesians or Christian Indonesians. Noted for their diverse cultural and religious backgrounds and geographical origins, Indonesians who live in the United States tend to split their affection and loyalty between their newfound country and whatever part of their homeland they or their ancestors once inhabited.


Few Indonesians immigrated to the United States prior to the 1950s. In 1952 an advisor to the Indonesian Ministry of Religion named Hamka embarked on a four-month tour of the United States, visiting academic, political, and religious institutions throughout the country. He praised the educational climate he found there in two volumes titled Empat bulan di Amerika (Four Months in America, 1954). Subsequently, in the mid-1950s many Indonesian students came to the United States to study at American universities and colleges. In 1953 the International Cooperation Administration (ICA), now the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), started offering scholarships for medical faculty members of the University of Indonesia to study at the University of California, Berkeley. In

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1956 the ICA likewise provided scholarships for the teaching staff of the Bandung Institute of Technology to study at the University of Kentucky.

During the 1960s, when a number of political and ethnic skirmishes arose in Indonesia, several thousand Indonesians, the majority of whom were Chinese Indonesian, came to the United States. This immigration wave was short lived, however, due to the rapid reestablishment of peace in Indonesia and the limitations imposed by U.S. immigration quotas. The economic collapse of 1998 and the subsequent unrest sparked another wave of Indonesian immigration and asylum seeking, primarily by Chinese Indonesians and Christian Indonesians. These groups fled the country during or shortly after the 1998 riots and settled primarily in the Los Angeles area, as well as in east coast cities in New York and New Jersey. According to the 2011 ACS, 51 percent of Indonesian Americans have entered the country since 2000, and approximately 7,000 to 10,000 Indonesians immigrate to the United States each year.

The number of Indonesians residing in the United States is relatively low compared to overall Asian immigration figures. The 2011 ACS reports that, of the 17.6 million Americans who claim all or partial Asian ancestry, only 106,995 are of Indonesian descent, making them a mere.6 percent of the Asian American population. The majority of Indonesian Americans reside in large cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York, and Chicago. This is partly due to the improved employment opportunities of these areas and to the fact that these cities have established Asian American communities. Besides New York, Texas and California, states with large numbers of Indonesian Americans include Washington, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, and Oregon.


According to the 2011 ACS, 33.2 percent of Indonesian Americans speak only English in their homes, while 66.8 percent speak a language other than English. Further, 30.2 percent of Indonesian Americans indicate that they speak English “less than very well.” Although second- and third-generation Indonesian Americans tend to speak English as their primary language, a 2009 study by the Modern Language Association notes that there were 297 students enrolled in Indonesian language studies programs throughout the United States, up from 225 in 2002. The Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C., also offers free twenty-two-week language courses for those interested in learning or maintaining Indonesian language skills.

With more than 300 regional languages and dialects, there is considerable diversity in the languages used in Indonesia. Austronesian, which includes Malay, Polynesian, and Formosan, is the country's major language family. Bahasa Indonesia, a modified form of Malay, was named by Indonesian nationalists in 1928 as the official Page 404  |  Top of Articlelanguage. The majority of educated Indonesians in urban areas speak at least two languages. Spoken Indonesian varies depending on the rank or status of the speaking partner. Respected elders are usually addressed in a kinship term—bapak (father or elder) or ibu (mother). Indirect references are usually preferred in conversation.


According the 2000 Indonesian census, nearly 90 percent of Indonesians observe Islam, with significantly smaller populations observing Protestantism (6 percent), Catholicism (3 percent), Hinduism (2 percent), and Buddhism (1 percent). Many Chinese Indonesians follow Buddhist teachings, though there has recently been an increase in the number of Chinese Indonesians converting to Christianity. All five religions play significant roles in Indonesian communities in and outside the United States.

Indonesia is among the largest Islamic countries in the world, with more than 204 million adherents. Historically, Indonesians have practiced a less strict interpretation of Islam than the one followed in the Middle East, though there has been a turn toward conservatism in the twenty-first century. The constant interaction between Muslims and the Hindu-Buddhist population in Java, ever since the initial introduction of Islam by traders from India between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, has created over time a loosely organized belief system called Javanism, or agama Jawa. It was officially recognized as a religion in the 1945 constitution.

Hinduism is perceived to enforce a rigid caste structure, dividing people into classes: priests, ruler-warriors, and commoners-servants. However, the caste system has never been rigidly applied in Indonesia. The majority of the Hindus in the country are in Bali, and they express their beliefs through art and ritual instead of scripture and law. Ceremonies at puberty, marriage, and, most notably, death are closely associated with the Balinese version of Hinduism. Buddhism is thought to have been brought to Indonesia in the second or third century by travelers from India. In the wake of the failed coup in 1965, many Indonesians registered as Buddhists—some simply to avoid being suspected as communist sympathizers and others sincere enough to construct monasteries.

The most rapidly growing religions in Indonesia are Christian based: Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, particularly Pentecostalism, which was brought to Indonesia in the early twentieth century by Dutch evangelists. The number of Christians in Indonesia is very small compared with the number of Muslims, but Christianity has a long history in the country and its numbers have steadily increased since the late 1900s. It was introduced by Portuguese Jesuits and Dominicans in the sixteenth century. When the Dutch defeated Portugal in 1605, the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church expelled Catholic missionaries and became the dominant Christian influence on the islands for 300 years. Because Calvinism was a strict, austere, and intellectually uncompromising variety of Christianity that demanded a thorough understanding of scripture, Christianity gained few converts in Indonesia until the nineteenth century, when German Lutherans introduced evangelical freedom and Jesuits established successful missions, schools, and hospitals on some of the islands, including Timor and Flores.

Membership in Christian churches surged after the 1965 coup attempt, when all nonreligious persons were labeled atheists and were suspected to be

After orders for deportation were issued, a group of Indonesian immigrants, including five-year-old Christa Pangemanan and her mother Maryana Pangemanan, were given sanctuary by the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey in 2012. After orders for deportation were issued, a group of Indonesian immigrants, including five-year-old Christa Pangemanan and her mother Maryana Pangemanan, were given sanctuary by the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey in 2012. AP IMAGES / MEL EVANS

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communists. By the 1990s the majority of Christians in Indonesia were Protestants, with Pentecostalism being the most prominent sect. In 2001 the Gereja Pentekosta di Indonesia (Pentecostal Church of Indonesia) claimed two million members, and a number of Pentecostal “mega churches,” such as the 6,300-seat Katedral Mesias in Jakarta, have recently been constructed. Catholic congregations have grown less rapidly, due to the Church's heavy reliance on Europeans in positions of leadership. Nevertheless, the increase in Christianity since 1965 has led to significant tensions between the country's Muslim majority and its growing Christian population, which is predominantly made up of ethnic Chinese.

Many of the Chinese Indonesians who fled the country after the 1998 riots were also Christian. In 2006 a group of around seventy Chinese-Indonesian Christians who were living in the Northeastern United States on expired tourist visas were ordered to leave the country under threat of deportation. They took sanctuary in New Jersey's Highland Park Church, citing their fear of religious persecution in Indonesia. While some of the refugees eventually returned to Indonesia or sought refuge elsewhere, five continued to live in the church until they were granted a reprieve by the U.S. government in 2013.

Because of fear of persecution in Indonesia, a significant number of Indonesian Americans have become Protestant or Roman Catholic. Some Christian churches sponsor Indonesian families, which helps to facilitate their immigration to the United States. Despite the fact that Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesian Muslims constitute a small percentage of the Muslim American community. Indonesian Muslim Community Inc., founded in 1989, was instrumental in establishing Masjid Al-Hikmah in Astoria, New York. “The Wisdom Mosque” serves as a cultural and worship center for both Indonesian and non-Indonesian Muslims.


Assimilation for Indonesian American immigrants has been difficult, often causing them to become more attached to the traditions of their homeland. Particularly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Indonesian Americans have faced suspicion from other Americans, who often unfairly associate immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries with Muslim extremists. Furthermore, unlike other immigrant groups, there are no established Indonesian American ethnic enclaves. This may be attributed to the fact that Indonesia has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world; their diversity in social classes, language, religion, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and geographic location has lessened the possibility of forming a community of common traditions. However, there are numerous organizations, clubs, and religious groups in cities where a relatively large concentration of Indonesians exists,

Wayang golek puppets are central to the shadow theater that is traditionally associated with Indonesian culture. The show is often accompanied by an Indonesian gamelan orchestra. Wayang golek puppets are central to the shadow theater that is traditionally associated with Indonesian culture. The show is often accompanied by an Indonesian gamelan orchestra. AGMIT / ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

including the United States–Indonesia Society, the Indonesian American Association, and the Indonesian Community Heritage Foundation.

Traditions and Customs Indonesians' sense of art is closely related to their mystic sense of identity with nature and with God. Humanity, nature, and art constitute an unbroken continuity. Artistic expression in Indonesian art is particularly evident in the group's

Unlike other immigrant groups, there are no established Indonesian American ethnic enclaves. This may be attributed to the fact that Indonesia has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world; their diversity in social classes, language, religion, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and geographic location has lessened the possibility of forming a community of common traditions.

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A Balinese dancer in full costume. CORBIS / DAVID CUMMING; UBIQUITOUS. A Balinese dancer in full costume. CORBIS / DAVID CUMMING; UBIQUITOUS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

traditional dress, which includes the wearing of batik—hand-printed fabric designed using one of two techniques: The older method is called canting because a crucible of that name is used along with hot wax to make a design directly on the fabric. When cooled, the wax resists the dye into which the cloth is immersed so that all of the cloth except the area bearing the design accepts the dye. The wax is then removed, and the dyeing process is repeated. The second technique is regarded by some as inferior because the batik it produces is perceived to be machine-made. Actually, the design is made by a tjap, a printing stamp that is applied by hand to the cloth. The Yale University Art Gallery houses a collection of more than 600 pieces of Indonesian textiles that constitute one of the largest and most popular exhibits of Indonesian art in the United States.

Other distinctive arts of the Indonesian people are the dance dramas of Bali and the Mataram court tradition. Both are essentially religious in character, though some Balinese dance is frivolous, flirtatious, or playful. Puppet dramas, or wayang kulit, have been popular for many years. The most popular puppets are flat and made of leather, but wooden puppets are also used. The puppeteer sits behind a white screen and moves the puppets to act out stories. A palm-oil lamp throws the shadows of the puppets onto the screen. The plots usually involve a virtuous hero who triumphs over evil by means of supernatural powers and self-discipline. In 2012 the U.S. State Department invited the Papermoon Puppet Theater, a popular Indonesian wayang company, to tour the United States. They performed a work called Mwathirika, which tells the story of the 1965 coup and subsequent unrest, in theaters throughout the United States.

Many Indonesians practice Western arts, from oil painting to metal sculpture, the subjects of which are often inspired by Indonesian life and traditions. The literary arts are also popular. Early Indonesian literature consisted largely of local folk tales and traditional religious stories. The works of classical Indonesian authors, such as Prapanca, are still read today, though modern literature in the Indonesian language began in the 1890s. Indonesia's all-time best-selling author as of early 2013, Andrea Hirata, sold more than five million official copies of his debut novel, Laskar pelangi (2005; The Rainbow Troops, 2013), and an estimated fifteen million more pirated copies in Indonesia alone. Hirata attended Iowa University's International Writing Program in 2010.

Cuisine Rice is a central ingredient to the Indonesian diet. Indonesians boil or fry rice in several ways and serve it with a variety of other foods. Foods are usually cooked in coconut milk and oil and sometimes wrapped in banana or coconut leaves. Fish, chicken, and beef are prepared with spices and served with rice. Indonesians eat little pork, since most of them practice Islam, which forbids it. However, since many Indonesian immigrants are not Muslim, pork is sometimes eaten by the Indonesian American community. Tea and coffee are favorite beverages.

At ceremonial occasions, including modern weddings, funerals, or state functions, foods such as sate (small pieces of meat roasted on a skewer), krupuk (fried shrimp or fish-flavored chips made with rice flour), and highly spiced curries of chicken and goat are commonly served. These foods are often served buffet style and at room temperature. Food is eaten with fingertips or with a spoon and fork. Water is served after the meal. These dietary customs are usually observed by Indonesian Americans during holidays and special events in the United States. For everyday meals, some Indonesians adapt readily to American food, while others prefer Indonesian or Chinese cuisine.

A number of Indonesian restaurants in the United States cater to the Indonesian American community. New York City's Upi Jaya, for example, is a popular meeting place for residents of the Elmhurst neighborhood, which is home to a majority of the city's Indonesian immigrants. In 2012 Upi Jaya hosted Indonesian President Yudhoyono and a number of Indonesian delegates who were attending the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Traditional Dress Although Indonesian Americans have largely adapted to the typical American style of dress, both Indonesian American men and women sometimes wear sarongs, traditional Indonesian garments with batik designs. Men generally wear sarongs only in the home or during informal occasions. Women wear sarongs on formal occasions, along with the kebaya, a tight, low-cut, long-sleeved blouse, and often tie their hair into a bun or attach a hairpiece. Men may also don batik shirts that are worn outside their trousers and a black felt cap, called a peci, an item once associated with Muslims or Malays that has acquired a more secular, national meaning in the postindependence period.

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Dances and Songs The most popular forms of dance in Indonesia are the Balinese dance and the wayang wong, also known as the wayang orang, which is a human recreation of the popular wayang kulit shadow puppet performances. In wayang wong, male and female dancers imitate the movements of the wayang shadow puppets, often performing shortened versions of classic wayang plays.

There are a number of dance troupes in the United States that feature Indonesian dances, including Indonesian Dance of Illinois, Saung Budaya Indonesian Dance Group of New York, and Santi Budaya Performing Arts Group of Washington, D.C. Festivals such as the annual Los Angeles Indonesian Festival also feature Indonesian dance groups.

Holidays Because of their ethnic and religious diversity, Indonesian Americans observe a variety of major holidays. Muslim Indonesian Americans, for example, celebrate Eid al-Fitr, also known as Hari Raya or Lebaran (in Indonesian), which marks the end of Muslims' obligatory thirty-day fast during Ramadan. Many Indonesian Americans celebrate Eid al-Fitr with a traditional Muslim feast. The date of this holiday is determined by the lunar calendar, so it varies from year to year. Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter are celebrated by Christian Indonesian Americans. One holiday that virtually all Indonesian Americans celebrate is Indonesian Independence Day on August 17. On this day, Indonesians in the United States are invited to celebrate along with Indonesian officials in a flag-raising ceremony and reception held at the Indonesian consulates in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Houston and at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C.


Indonesians and Indonesian Americans are very family oriented, with most young Indonesians choosing to live with their parents or other family members until they are married. According to the 2011 ACS, nearly 55 percent of adult Indonesian Americans are married. Of those who were not married, almost 35 percent have never been married, while only 6 percent are divorced. The survey estimates that almost 70 percent of Indonesian Americans live in a family household, and 43 percent live in a family household with children under the age of eighteen. Indonesians typically respect the extended family, and it is not atypical to find more than two generations of Indonesian Americans living in the same household. The average family size is 3.49. The ACS reports that almost 38 percent of Indonesian grandparents are responsible for caring for their grandchildren.

Gender Roles In traditional Indonesian society, women still occupy a lower social status than men, though the degree of this difference can vary depending on the region. In general, women in Indonesian American households have adapted to more modern


views of gender roles. The 2011 ACS estimates that Indonesian American women participated in the labor force at a rate of 59.5 percent, which is slightly higher than the percentage of American women in general, who participated at a rate of 58.1 percent. Indonesian American women work in a variety of occupations, though only a small fraction are employed in what would typically be considered blue-collar jobs. According to the study, among Indonesian American women, more than 44 percent attained a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 47 percent of their male counterparts who attained bachelor's degrees.

Education In recent years Indonesians have immigrated to the United States to attend American colleges or graduate schools. After earning their degree, many choose to apply for permanent residency or for citizenship. In 2010 President Obama announced programs totaling 165 million dollars that would boost education exchanges and academic partnerships with Indonesia, and in 2011 representatives from both countries participated in a U.S.–Indonesia Higher Education Summit in Washington, D.C. According to 2011 ACS estimates, 41.5 percent of the Indonesian American population was enrolled in college or graduate school. Of Indonesian Americans

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Some Indonesians, particularly those from Java, use only one name; for instance, the former president Suharto used only his given name and had no surname. However, most Indonesian names have two parts, and some, such as Suharto's successor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have three or more names. Muslim Indonesians typically have two names, with the second one being the father's given name; an example is Megawati Sukarnoputri (literally, “Megawati, daughter of Sukarno”). The second name does not function like a surname or family name. Instead, the person is typically referred to by his or her first name—in this case, “Megawati” or “Mrs. Megawati.” When Indonesians with only one name travel or immigrate to the United States, it is common for their given name to be listed as their surname and “FNU” (first name unknown) to be listed as their first name on official documents. This convention has been a source of frustration among Indonesian Americans, as it often causes confusion and mistakes when dealing with government agencies.

twenty-five and older, nearly 46 percent currently hold bachelor's degrees or higher.

The attitudes of Indonesian graduate students at selected universities in the United States were reported in Rustam Amir Effendi's doctoral dissertation of 1983. Students attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota, Ohio University, the Ohio State University, and the University of Wisconsin were polled about their success with academic adjustment and their overall satisfaction with American education. The study disclosed that approximately 80 percent of Indonesian students were male and that 50 percent of them were between the ages of thirty-one and thirty-five. Slightly more than 50 percent of them had worked as professionals for several years after they acquired their undergraduate degrees in Indonesia and before they came to the United States. Most of them were university faculty or government officials. Most studied engineering and the social sciences.

The successful personal adjustments and academic achievements of Indonesian American students are decided by mainly two factors: language efficiency and the ability to adjust to American society. While some of them return to Indonesia, many choose to remain in the United States to continue their professional pursuits.

Courtship and Weddings The type of wedding ceremonies Indonesian Americans celebrate depend largely on the ethnicity, region of origin, and religion of the bride and groom. Some features common to most Indonesian American weddings are gamelan music, which consists primarily of percussion instruments, and traditional Indonesian dances and foods. Typically, Indonesian Christians will celebrate their nuptials in a Western church, and Indonesian Muslims will celebrate weddings in their local mosque.

Intermarriage is not uncommon between Indonesians and Americans from other ethnic groups, especially for the younger generation, though elder-generation Indonesians prefer that their offspring marry others of Indonesian heritage. According to the ACS, in 2011 more than 53 percent of adult Indonesians reside in a married-couple household.


According to the ACS estimates for 2011, 36 percent of employed Indonesian adults in the United States held jobs in management, business, science, and arts; almost 27 percent work in service occupations; nearly 22 percent work in sales and office positions; less than 4 percent work in natural resources, construction, and maintenance jobs; and nearly 12 percent are employed in production, transportation, and moving material occupations. Because so few Indonesian Americans were employed in the construction sector, which was deeply impacted by the financial crisis of 2008, Indonesians did not experience a disproportionate impact on their economic well-being. According to the survey, the median household income for Indonesian Americans in 2011 was $55,085, which was higher than the overall U.S. median household income of $51,413.

A large number of Indonesians make their living in the importing and exporting business. The United States is Indonesia's third-largest export market, receiving $16.5 billion worth of goods in 2010. In turn, Indonesia imported $6.9 billion worth of U.S. goods that year. Trade between the two countries has increased greatly over the past several years. Organizations working to facilitate commercial trade include the American-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Trade Council, the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, the Central Indonesian Trading Company, the Indonesian Investment Promotion Office, and the Indonesian Trade Promotion Center, all located in New York City. Recently, branches of these and other similar organization have been established in other cities, including Los Angeles and Houston.


Since the resignation of President Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has undergone rapid transformation and has emerged not only as an economic powerhouse but also as a strong democracy. In 2004, for the country's first direct presidential election, voter turnout was nearly 75 percent, with Indonesian Americans who retained their Indonesian citizenship participating via polling stations at their local consulate general. Accordingly, Page 409  |  Top of Articlethe United States has increasingly sought out Indonesia as an ally in the region. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former President George W. Bush visited Indonesia in 2007 and sought the country's help in the global War on Terrorism. Yet many Indonesians viewed the Bush administration's fight against terror as a thinly veiled attack on Islam itself.

The U.S. presidential election of 2008 held particular significance for Indonesian Americans. Then-candidate Obama had, between the ages of six and ten, lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, and had a half-sister of Indonesian descent. These facts spurred a unique interest in the candidate among Indonesians and Indonesian Americans. Upon Obama's election to the presidency in 2008, Indonesian President Yudhoyono congratulated him and noted that Indonesia had a “special affection” for the president-elect and that “he knows our people and culture.” President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited Indonesia in November 2010. When President Obama was reelected in 2012, President Yudhoyono again expressed congratulations, stating that he hoped for “continued strategic cooperation based on mutual respect and on an equal footing.” According to a 2008 Pew Research poll, 37 percent of Indonesians viewed the United States favorably. That number rose dramatically to 63 percent in 2009.


Activism Maya Soetoro-Ng (1970–) is a teacher and children's book author who is perhaps best known for being the maternal half-sister of President Obama. In 2008 she participated in the Democratic National Convention. She was born in Indonesia and, as of early 2013, was living in Hawaii.

Art Sunny Bak (1960–) is a world-renowned photographer who first started taking pictures in Manhattan. During the 1980s she photographed numerous entertainers, including Madonna, Philippe Saisse, and the band 10,000 Maniacs. Her images of the Beastie Boys were featured on their multiplatinum album Licensed to Ill (1986).

Journalism Atika Shubert is a CNN journalist who first joined the network in 2000. She initially worked out of the network's Jakarta bureau before becoming a Tokyo correspondent in 2004. Shubert was one of the first journalists to report firsthand on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami. Since 2008 she has been based in CNN's London bureau.

Literature Greg Van Eekhout is the author of young adult novels, including Norse Code (2009), Kid vs. Squid (2010), and The Boy at the End of the World (2011). He has also written several short stories. His parents are both Dutch-Indonesian.

Music Michelle Branch (1983–) was born in Arizona to an Irish father and a mother who is of Dutch-Indonesian descent. She began singing and playing guitar at a young age. Her first album, The Spirit Room (2001), was released when she was eighteen and went on to be certified double platinum. Since then she has continued to enjoyed artistic and commercial success as a singer and songwriter.

Noted guitarist Eddie Van Halen (1955–) was born in the Netherlands, though his mother was half Indonesian. He moved to the United States in 1962. Founder of the eponymous band Van Halen, he is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.

Sports Tony Gunawan (1975–) is a highly decorated badminton player, considered by many to be the best doubles player to play the game. He has won numerous titles, including an Olympic gold medal in 2000 when he competed for his native Indonesia. He moved to the United States in 2002, and in 2005 he won the United States' first world championship medal. In 2011 he became a U.S. citizen, and he competed for his adopted country at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Johnson “John” Juanda (1971–) is a professional poker player who held five World Series of Poker bracelets. In 2011 his total lifetime winnings at live poker were more than $11.7 million. He was born in Indonesia and moved to the United States to attend Oklahoma State University in 1990.

Stage and Screen Mark-Paul Gosselaar (1974–) is an American actor who has starred in the television programs Saved by the Bell, NYPD Blue, Raising the Bar, and Franklin & Bash. His mother is of Dutch-Indonesian extraction and was born in Bali, Indonesia.

Tania Gunadi (1983–), actress was born in Bodung, West Java, Indonesia, and immigrated to the United States when she was a teenager. She has appeared in the television programs Aaron Stone, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Boston Public. She has also acted in the films Pixel Perfect, Go Figure, Bob Funk, and Possessions.


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Indonesia Journal

Indonesia Journal is a semiannual journal dedicated to the study of Indonesian culture, history, economy, and society. It has been published since 1966 by Cornell University's Southeast Asia Program.

Joshua Barker, Contributing Editor
180 Uris Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853
Phone: (607) 255-8038
Fax: (607) 254-5000

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Indonesia Media

Indonesia Media bills itself as the world's largest international Indonesian media company. It produces a biweekly journal and website that covers culture, politics, and news.

505 East Arrow Highway
Suite C
Glendora, California 91740
Phone: (626) 335-9833
Fax: (626) 335-3892


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American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (AICC)

This unofficial and nonpolitical organization was incorporated in the United States in 1949, before Indonesia received full independence—a fact that signified the willingness of U.S. firms to trade directly with the emerging Republic of Indonesia. Since then its mission has been to foster and promote trade and investment between the United States and Indonesia. The AICC works closely with both Indonesians and Americans who are interested in doing export and import business from the United States or from Indonesia.

Allan Harari, Chairman
317 Madison Avenue
Suite 1619
New York, New York 10017
Phone: (212) 687-4505

Indonesian American Association (IAA)

The Indonesian American Association aims to strengthen the bonds of friendship among Indonesians living in the Washington, D.C., area. Its activities include organizing social, cultural, and sporting events.

Tony Sumartono, Chairman

Indonesian Community Heritage Foundation (ICHF)

A nonprofit organization founded by Indonesian immigrants in 1998 to establish a sense of community for displaced Indonesians and to educate other Americans about Indonesian culture.

Daniel Fu, President
4329 Nobleman Point
Duluth, Georgia 30097
Phone: (770) 447-6304

United States–Indonesia Society (USINDO)

USINDO was founded in 1994 by Indonesians and Americans who agreed on the need for an organization to focus on expanding mutual understanding between the two countries. They foster this by organizing a regular forum series, a speakers' bureau, and a summer language study and by sponsoring grants and fellowships.

David Merrill, President
1625 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 550
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 232-1400
Fax: (202) 232-7300


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Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC)

AAAC supports the exhibition of traditional and contemporary Asian American, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Indian, Korean, and Filipino arts, including dance, music, performance art, and poetry.

111 Norfolk Street
New York, New York 10002
Phone: (212) 233-2154
Fax: (360) 283-2154

Cornell Modern Indonesia Project

The Center for International Studies at Cornell University conducts research activities in the United States on Indonesia's social and political development. The research efforts have resulted in the publication of monographs, bibliographies, and biographies of Indonesian historical figures. The research scope also includes cultural, military, and foreign affairs of Indonesia.

Eric Tagliacozzo, Director
Southeast Asia Program
180 Uris Hall
Ithaca, New York 14853
Phone: (607) 255-2378
Fax: (607) 254-5000

Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project

This project seeks to identify and release classified government documents regarding U.S. policy toward East Timor from 1965 to 1999. It aims to assist East Timorese and Indonesian official and nongovernmental efforts to document and seek accountability for more than three decades of human rights abuses committed during the rule of Indonesian President Suharto.

Brad Simpson, Director
Phone: (609) 751-8206

UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies—Department of Indonesian Studies

Founded in 2008, this extension of the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies stages Indonesian cultural events, hosts scholars and presenters from Indonesia, and provides grants for students who want to study in Indonesia.

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Geoffrey Robinson, Faculty Chair
11274 Bunche Hall
Box 951487
Los Angeles, California 90095-1487
Phone: (310) 206-9163
Fax: (310) 206-3555

Yale University Art Gallery—Department of Indo-Pacific Art

This extensive collection of Southeast Asian art includes an array of Indonesian art and artifacts, some stemming from prehistoric times.

Ruth Barnes, Curator
1111 Chapel Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06510
Phone: (203) 432-0600


Aznam, Suhaini. “Passport Control: New Immigration Law Can Render Citizens Stateless,” Far Eastern Economic Review, March 26, 1992, 18–19.

Cunningham, Clark E. “Unity and Diversity among Indonesian Migrants to the United States.” In Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans, edited by Huping Ling, 90–108. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

Gardner, Paul F. Shared Hopes, Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian Relations. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997.

Frederick, William H., and Robert L. Worden, eds. Indonesia: A Country Study, fifth edition. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1992.

Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1995.

Steenbrink, Karel. “Indonesian Muslims and the North-American West.” In Fullness of Life for All: Challenges for Mission in Early 21st Century, edited by Inus Daneel, Charles van Engen, and Hendrik Vroom, 261–78. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300092