BY Anade Situma
On Saturday, August 27, about 3,000 people attended the second annual Indonesian Street Festival to mark the nation’s 71st Independence Day. The festival, organized by the Indonesian consulate, aims to unite the 8,000 Indonesians who live in New York City by promoting the food and culture of the country’s 18,306 islands.
Taking place weeks before Indonesia’s Presidential delegation heads to New York for the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, the festival is one of many held by consulates all over the world. They are in part an effort to strengthen Indonesia’s political position in the wake of the The Hague’s July ruling in favor of the Philippines’ claim that it controls access to the West Philippine Sea. This body of water is a gateway to the Indonesian maritime jurisdiction which China has historically claimed.
China has tried to move its fishing industry elsewhere and has repeatedly crossed into Indonesia’s maritime jurisdiction, further south of the disputed waters. President Joko Widodo’s response can be found in his increasingly aggressive rhetoric and the emphasis the Indonesian government is placing on national pride.
“Indonesia continues to be actively involved in conflict resolution in the South China Sea through peaceful negotiations after the international court ruling in the Hague,” said President Widodo in his Independence Day address.
Yomi Eka Putra, vice consul for information and cultural affairs at the consulate general of Indonesia in New York, said that the festival connects the city’s Indonesian community to its origins, language and most importantly to the taste of home. The sky was filled with lanterns strung overhead, and smells of coconut oil and fried cassava with hints of fresh chili.
The theme for year’s festival was Bali and Beyond. The festival included 15 food stalls, 10 traditional dances, musical performances and multiple workshops, including Angklung lessons. The Angklung is a traditional Indonesian musical instrument made of bamboo tubes tied to a bamboo frame.
“We have a lot of Indonesians who really want to maintain their cultural roots and this festival can be a platform for them to perform and to promote their cultural background,” says Putra, who explains that the consulate is responsible for the well-being of 28,000 Indonesians in the 15 east coast states, and lists building national pride as one of the four main goals of the current Indonesian diplomatic mission to the US.
“The consulate feels like their home”, said Putra of New York’s Indonesian community, even though he is aware that some memebers fear involvement with the consulate due to their visa status. “They don’t want us to find out that they’re here illegally”, says Putra, even though the consulate can’t prosecute these citizens. He feels that the consulate has a responsibility to keep ex-pats out of trouble, whether that means connecting citizens with temporary homes, providing a warm meal or helping undocumented residents understand how to change their visa status.
Indonesia proclaimed independence from the Netherlands in 1945. This August, 71 years later, the nation marked the day by sinking 60 foreign ships that were seized for illegal fishing. This dramatic action was part of the Independence day festivities, along with a flag-raising using the original Indonesian flag, which had not been used since 1968. It was hand sewn in 1945 by then First Lady, Fatmawati Soekarno, and is a source of intense national pride, as even today Fatmawati is regarded as the Mother of Indonesia.
On 15 August, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement of good wishes for Indonesia’s Independence Day. “Deeply rooted in the democratic values and respect for civil society that our peoples share, the ties between our nations have ever been stronger,” said Kerry. America currently imports $19.6 billion worth of goods from Indonesia and exports total $7.1 billion. The top American exports to Indonesia are aircraft parts and products, closely followed by oilseeds and grains.
Keiko Nakayama, a student attending the festival, said “I’m from Indonesia, living here I’ve always missed food from back home. So it’s nice to see all the food from all different islands in Indonesia.” She described what she was about to spoon into her mouth. “It’s called Nasi Bali, it’s a cuisine from Bali, Indonesia, it has fritters, chicken, chili — and there was no line.”
Keiko was standing with a fellow ex-patriot. Sonia Rahardja who couldn’t help but jump in. “I’ve been here for four and a half years, the festival is great. When I first came here I thought there is not going to be this much people, so I’m pretty surprised”, said Sonia.