Interview: Saskia

Born & Raised: Southern California, U.S.A.

Currently living in: Montebello, California, U.S.A.

Age: 24

Find her: Instagram

(Photo courtesy of Saskia)

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Tell me more about yourself.

I’m a first-generation Indonesian-American. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019, and I currently work at TikTok as a social media strategist. I’m currently going through a stage in my life where I’m trying to figure out what I like, what I want to do and where I want to go. But I think work has been very much keeping me busy that I don’t have time to think about that stuff, but it’s always in the back of my mind. Right now, I’m just figuring out my passions and purpose in life while just enjoying the ride!

Q: Tell me more about growing up in the L.A. area. What was that experience like? Did you grow up in a community with other Indonesians?

My parents immigrated here the year I was born, in ‘97, and then moved to downtown L.A. for a bit, because there’s actually a large Indonesian population here. My dad had a good community of friends here and eventually some of them moved out to Montebello, which is 20 minutes from the heart of L.A. Growing up in L.A., especially East L.A., exposed me to so many different cultures that I was lucky enough to embrace.

Luckily, my childhood was surrounded with Indonesian family friends, most of whom had children my age. Growing up was always filled with big Indonesian parties filled with satay, es buah, mothers gossiping, dads chatting and kids running around. My favorite memory to this day is seeing so many shoes outside our front door during these parties.

Q: How did you start thinking of yourself as someone with Indonesian heritage?

I grew up speaking Bahasa Indonesia — so, my parents would talk to me in Indonesian and I would respond back in English. I was surrounded by so many Indonesians, which was really cool, but then, when I would go to school, I was the only Indonesian. When I got to high school, I met Rio, who was the one who introduced me to Buah zine, and there were maybe two other Indonesians there.

It took some time to feel proud of my cultural heritage and my community. I remember when I was younger, I did Balinese dancing when I was 9 up until I was in high school, and I had done that every weekend at the Indonesian consulate. My parents would always be like, “Perform at the talent show at school,” and I’m like, no, are you kidding me? With the costume and the makeup, everyone’s gonna make fun of me! Now I don’t dance anymore, but I would like to go back and do it again. It took me some time to love being Indonesian, or outwardly portraying it to my community and everyone around me who’s not Indonesian.

Q: What sort of conversations did you have about diaspora and Indonesian heritage with people in your generation?

I grew up with a lot of Indonesians here but a lot of them were born here. We all grew up together and so we’re, I guess you could say, Americanized. But it wasn’t until I went to college that I really realized how much my parents moving to America created cultural differences between native Indonesians and Indonesian-Americans. There is an Indonesian student organization, BISA, that I never felt like I fit in when I was with them because a lot of them were native Indonesians who had just gone there for college and most of their conversations were in Bahasa Indonesia. I remember them asking if I was born here [in America] and it felt that even though we were connected by our ethnicity, the cultural difference, even with peers my age, were prevalent. I think my brother could relate, but he’s more in tune with the culture religiously. My family is Muslim, and so I think he’s more attuned with that, whereas for me, culturally, it was the food, speaking the language, traveling there, the dancing.

Q: Did your family ever bring up being a part of a specific ethnic group, or was it just “generally Indonesian”?

My parents speak Sasak because they’re from Lombok. But yeah, they sometimes talk also about being Chinese-Indonesian because my dad is also half-Chinese. For the most part, it was discussing which native islands our family friends came from in Indonesia because, for some, it showed through their accents. But for the most part, we all identified broadly as Indonesian.

Q: What does your Indonesian heritage mean to you?

I think for me, a big thing about it is family. Whenever I think about my family, I want to cry and just want to go back to Indo and be close to my extended family since it’s just my parents, brother and I here. It’s very much still rooted in family, and it keeps me grounded.

I wouldn’t say my heritage is everything to me, but I think it’s formed a lot of my core identity and it’s something that I want to pass on to my children. I want them to have some sort of culture that’s beyond living in America. Just something beyond that ties them back to Indonesia and makes them feel proud of it, or at least understand the culture, whether it’s food or the dancing or language. It’s important for me to pass on, so that I don’t lose it in generations beyond. When I think of my heritage, there’s a lot of pride and connection given that my parents worked really hard to keep me connected to it — however Americanized I get.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to mention now?

Thank you for interviewing me. This whole interview just makes me think about my culture a bit more. I know it’s something that’s just daily life with my family, but I think it’s having me think deeper on the Indonesian diaspora, the history of the country, and learning how I can continue to embrace and share my culture. Or like just even exploring Balinese dancing again. So thank you.