Interview: Nada

Birthplace: Jakarta, Indonesia

Grew up in: Texas and Northern Virginia, U.S.A.

Currently living in: Northern Virginia, U.S.A.

Age: 25

Find her: Instagram 


Q: Tell me more about yourself.

I’m currently a master’s student getting my MPH (master of public health). I have a concentration in health policy. I like to hike. I go hiking once a month with my friends. I love ice cream a lot. I think ice cream is my favorite thing in the world. I also like watch docu-series on Netflix.

Q: Did you grow up with an Indonesian community in Texas and Virginia? Tell me what that experience was like.

In Texas, they were mostly students that my dad was friends with because my dad went to school in Texas. I was really young so I don’t really remember much about it. But when we moved to Virginia, it was almost like a culture shock because in Texas, there weren’t that many Indonesians, so every time we’d see one, we’d be like, “Oh my god, hey!” So when we moved here [in Northern Virginia], there were so many Indonesians that when we were like, “Oh my god, you’re Indonesian?” people would be like, “Yeah. Cool, whatever.”

It was definitely an adjustment to the number of Indonesians here, and I definitely grew up within an Indonesian Muslim community. My parents were very active, and when I was younger, primarily in middle school and early high school, I definitely — not rebelled against that, but I didn’t want to be attached to that whatsoever. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely appreciated it a lot more and it has really opened my eyes to different aspects of growing up in America.

Q: Tell me more about your rebellious phase.

I think anyone in middle school is always gonna drag their feet to anything their parents say, but I think even more so when you’re going against the grain but everyone’s doing something else. So seeing that my school friends weren’t doing this but my parents made me go to these things, I would always cover it up.

For example, I had to go to madrasa, like Sunday school, and people would be like, “Where do you go on the weekends?” And I’d say that I’m somewhere else, or I wouldn’t be honest or truthful about it because it’s not something I wanted people to know about me, that I have, I guess at the time, another identity. So I definitely covered up what I did every weekend and I never was open about being Indonesian and where I’m from, things like that. It wasn’t so much a rebellious phase but just me embarrassed almost by me being Muslim and being Indonesian and coming to terms with who I am.

Q: Did you grow up with other Indonesians your age? Were they at school with you, or did you find you had a “separate” Indonesian life?

I definitely had a separate school life and a separate Indonesian life. There wasn’t another Indonesian in my school that I can remember. Oh, there was one, but I wasn’t ever close with her.

Q: How did you recognize yourself as someone with Indonesian heritage? Did your parents have a hand in that or did you figure it out largely by yourself?

I think it’s definitely something I want to say that my parents instilled in me. I know when we went out grocery shopping or in public, my mom would try to reinforce differences between Americans and Indonesians, and it wasn’t really in a parent way, more like, “Oh, this person is doing this, but in Indonesia, we would do this.” So she would make comparisons and even speak Indonesian in public; it made me realize it’s OK to speak a different language that other people wouldn’t know about. And especially growing up in an Indonesian Muslim community where I was always surrounded by Indonesians every weekend, I think that definitely helped.

Q: Within your family, what’s the balance like of being Indonesian and Muslim? Do you think one is emphasized over the other, or does it seamlessly blend?

I think it’s definitely more Islam, because I think that for them, I think religion is the guiding point through a lot of our culture. A lot of Indonesian culture is rooted in Islam, or, I guess you can say a lot of Islam is rooted in Indonesian culture. So there wasn’t really ever a time where I felt like — I don’t really know how to say it. You know, like one was not greater than the other, although I do feel like Islam has more weight, but I feel like because those two are very intertwined with each other, that there wasn’t really…I don’t know. There wasn’t really a clash. Like, “In Indonesian culture, you’re supposed to do this, in Islam you’re supposed to do this” — I felt like my Indonesian culture and Islam were beautifully intertwined.

Q: Tell me about your journey with the hijab. When did you start wearing it and why?

I started wearing it my first year of high school. I started wearing it because I just…not like a “why not?” but my mom made it a point that there’s no difference wearing a hijab or not, you’re still capable of whatever you want to do. So that really made sense to me, that I felt empowered by wearing it, like I’m still able to do this, plus show my identity, plus so much more. It hit home for me that it doesn’t matter if I wear a hijab or not, I’m still capable of doing everything anyone is able to do. That’s why I ended up wearing it.

Q: What was it like when you first started wearing it?

There was one girl in my school who had worn the hijab before me, and thankfully, we’re all in the same friend group, so my close group of friends didn’t really change. They just asked, “Why now?” as opposed to earlier. Because they’re like, “Oh, she wore hers earlier, why did you choose to wear it now when she wore hers throughout middle school?” So that was the main reaction from my close group of friends, but everyone else outside of that, they were just like, “Oh, you look different now!” Thankfully, I also grew up in a really diverse area, so there wasn’t anything that felt like I was losing friends necessarily. I think people were just curious as to why I was wearing it now.

Q: Do you identify with the term Asian-American?

To be honest, not really. I feel like a lot of times, when people say Asian-American, they think of other Asian cultures and not necessarily Indonesian. Even though I am technically Asian-American, I don’t feel like I have any sort of connection to that term whatsoever. I definitely feel like whenever someone asks me, it’s more, “I’m Indonesian,” as opposed to, “I’m Asian-American,” or, “I’m Muslim,” as opposed to, “I’m Asian-American.” I don’t really feel like I have any sort of connection to that term.

Q: When it comes to being Muslim in America, a lot of the narrative seems to be dominated by Arab and South Asian folks. How do you, as an Indonesian Muslim person, feel about that?

That is one of my favorite things to talk about. I remember in college I was part of MSA, which is Muslim Students’ Association, and it was definitely very clique-y. There were definitely two sides to that: There were the Arabs and then there were the Desi people. And I didn’t relate to any of them, which is honestly the opposite of Islam. We’re all supposed to be brothers and sisters in the same religion, so I just felt like an outsider. It’s so different from what Islam teaches us. And I know a lot of other non-Arab and non-South Asian people feel similarly.

Q: What does Indonesian heritage mean to you?

Indonesian heritage to me is, I feel like my whole being. I can’t imagine myself being anything other than Indonesian. I feel like — I know they’re conflicting identities sometimes, like Indonesian and Indonesian Muslim, but I feel like they’re intertwined for me. But I feel like there’s a lot about Indonesian culture that I don’t know about that I would like to learn about as well.

Q: How do you like to stay connected to Indonesian culture?

Definitely through food; my mom is a really great cook, so I know a lot about Indonesian food. I think just being in touch with the Indonesian community here, also — we have a pretty robust community and seeing them every so often definitely puts me in that mindset. I don’t do as much reading as I would like. But I’ve definitely noticed your recommendations [Editor’s note: See Buah zine’s “List: Books by writers of Indonesian heritage“], so it’s something to keep in my mind once I have more free time.

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