Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans

By Huping Ling | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Unity and Diversity among
Indonesian Migrants
to the United States

CLARK E. CUNNINGHAM

About 50,000 Indonesians live in all parts of the United States, and perhaps half as many more reside illegally.1 About half of the legal migrants live in California, and about three-quarters of the legal migrants in the state live in Southern California, which probably applies to illegals as well. Unlike people from lowland and highland Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos who came to the United States as refugees after the Vietnam War, Indonesians have come as voluntary migrants. However, the term “voluntary” must be qualified. In the late 1980s and especially the 1990s, Indonesians of Chinese descent and Indonesian peoples who are Christian have suffered from discrimination, sporadic violence, and threat of danger in the homeland that encouraged some people to migrate to Australia, Singapore, the United States, and Canada. They were not deemed refugees in the host countries, though in the United States a few have applied for political asylum, but with little success.

Unlike the refugees, smaller Asian migrant groups such as Indonesians, Thais, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, and Malaysians have not received U.S. governmental assistance, thus little attention in research and writing has been paid to them compared to the Vietnamese, Cambodians, or Hmong. I could locate only four published academic items about Indonesians. Three are in encyclopedias, the first a scant paragraph published in 1980 and two published in 1995 and 1997, one of them by me.2 Another brief survey by me is in press.3 A fourth report, which mentions Indonesians in Los Angeles, appears in a book that surveys the population diversity of Southern California, but a sequel to that book after the 2000 census does not consider Indonesians.4 Two recent theses concern Indonesians in Los Angeles and Chicago, respectively.5 A few newspaper articles have concerned the plight of some Muslim Indonesians following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.6

Until the economic turmoil of the late 1990s in Indonesia led to cutbacks in the national airline, Los Angeles was the only terminus for Garuda Indonesian Airways flights to and from Jakarta and the United States. The Garuda bird, vehicle of

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