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My husband and I have been working from home since the pandemic hit. We turned our dining room into my office / dance studio so we now have meals in the living room. Equipped with TV trays and a plastic folding table, our five young adult children and the two of us sit almost on top of each other while enjoying our favorite dishes
It’s not the typical family dinner, but nothing about our family is typical.
The go-to meal in our house is homemade southern fried chicken served with Indomie mi goreng, Indonesian instant noodles. These are foods we grew up with; my husband uses his grandmother’s recipe to cook the chicken and I whip up the gorengen. It’s easy, fast and delicious. Healthy? Maybe not. But it’s our comfort food.
When you see us together, we look like a diversity campaign brochure. There is an African American man, an Asian woman and racially ambiguous young people. To further paint the picture, the right side of my head is shaved and the rest of my hair is purple. Then you will see my husband and two boys with their black curls, my daughter with her long, beautiful ebony hair and my stepsons, who have a lighter complexion, with their long dreads. Our mixed family is beautifully diverse with a fun dynamic.
As a traditional dance artist and part of South Philly’s Indonesian community, my goal has always been to promote our culture and provide safe spaces for expression. I have organized and advocated for the rights of immigrants and the campaign for safety and protection in the neighborhood. It is a natural thing for me to help my people – that is, until things get complicated.
Recently, I have been caught between the tensions of the black and Asian American societies. I have been frustrated, angry and upset. From the assassination of George Floyd to the mass shooting with a spa in Atlanta, from the assassination of Martin Luther King (yes, it’s still very outrageous to me) to the beating of the Filipino grandmother in New York, I’m at the intersection of it all. .
I feel both tired and full of conflict. Our heritage and race should be celebrated, but lately they seem to be separating us.
With comments about the recent SEPTA attack among teenage girls circulating endlessly on social media, it seems that anxiety and aversion to Philly’s black community is building up among Philly’s Asian American community. I do not know if it reflects the real situation, because sometimes it feels more like a competition between color communities to make others look bad.
I know I have to stand up for my people, but it can not be at the expense of black societies. How do I achieve balance in a society like this? Am I the only one who feels this way?
Driven by my frustration, I searched for black and Indonesian families in other cities and states and found quite a few. I started conversations and a Facebook group and found the support I needed. We are now in constant contact with each other. We share photos of our Blasian families and host virtual conversations.
It’s a start. I know there is more work to be done. The more of us out there talk about this, the more awareness there will be.
In theory, it should be pretty simple to go together and stand up against racism and white supremacy. In fact, it has become exhausting to try to inform my own immigrant community about how not to discriminate against other colored communities. Some get it and join me in educating others. Others joke me when I remind them that good and bad people come from all races and backgrounds.
The Asian American communities in southern Philadelphia have been the target of theft, bullying, robbery, violence and discrimination. We have endured through neighbors and landlords complaining that our food stinks and demanding that we not cook in our own homes. Robbery and assault have happened time and time again. Often, the people captured on home video surveillance cameras were black. I personally feel that the police did not do much to help. At a town hall where community leaders were the hosts, the district captain asked us to get a dog and said the department does not have the capacity to send more corpses to patrol the area.
Some relevant stories about Indonesians. During 300 years of colonialism, the Dutch taught us very carefully to value lighter skin as being more desirable, more beautiful, and more civilized. Racism against Indonesians from Papua, with their black skin and tightly curly hair, is still widespread throughout our country. These ideas remain when we immigrate to the United States, where we are as receptive as any other group to the anti-black images that permeate American society.
Many members of our community came here to escape oppression and violence. Especially Indonesian Christians left to escape persecution. But people also learned to lock their doors and keep quiet about banks from people who could be violent, whether it be militias in Indonesia or thieves or ICE agents in the United States
In 2020, in the midst of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement that followed the assassination of George Floyd, I reached out to other Indonesians with black families. I participated in protests with my daughter and initiated discussions in my community.
To show solidarity and stand up for my loved ones, I was attacked. I made a shirt that said “Indonesian for Black Lives” and I was told by a community leader that I should not use “Indonesia” or “Indonesian” on any posters or signs. Another peer who I thought was a friend told me that racism against blacks is not genuine.
For my own mental health, I decided to focus on community work. I helped build care packages for neighbors who lost jobs during the pandemic. I volunteered during the 2020 election to educate Asian American and Pacific island communities about the right to vote.
After a difficult year, I was hopeful for 2021. Then a mass shooting happened at a spa in Atlanta with most of the victims Asian women. Another guard and solidarity meeting is to attend. I was not shocked anymore. I was tired.
A few days after the shift, I was tagged by a community member on social media. Two Indonesian teenagers were assaulted while waiting to take SEPTA home, of what videos showed were black girls. News reporters kept asking: Did they say something hateful or racist? My answer: Does it matter? Of all the people on the platform with them, did anyone help? No. No one helped.
I understand the pain of my people and I also have empathy with black societies.
My kids may be black and Indonesian, but for many people on the street, they present themselves as black. We had to have a conversation with them about how they should act if they were stopped by the police, and tell them, “Do not act silly when you are out with white friends, because they get away with things while you could end up dying. ” Every time they’re out, I’m worried. I care about my Indonesian dance students. I worry about an elder in our community who is still working a factory job and coming home very early in the morning. Every time I get a WhatsApp message, I wonder if it’s another report of someone being assaulted in Philly, a video of yet another violent attack in another city, or just another question about where it next vaccine clinic will take place.
We need to get better – and I include myself in that assessment.
I want those who assaulted and robbed my community to see the consequences not because of their race, but because they have committed a crime. I want Asian business owners to treat black customers the same way they would treat white customers. I do not want my friends holding their wallets when they pass a black person in South Philly. I want black community leaders to meet Indonesian community leaders and start talking.
That’s the key. I want real action and change in the system, not another political photo shoot in the name of performative activism. We need to have this difficult conversation. Together.
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