There is a clear distinction between the races in the American society. I just moved into Los Angeles, and finally gotten the hang of the whole idea about the classifications that we are given the instant we stepped into this country. My own race had been branded with many stereotypes that I find rather true. I am a Chinese Indonesian and I was brought up in Indonesia for a decade before moving to Singapore for my studies, and then to the United States. In the United States, people do not see me very much as an Indonesian. Partly, because I do not have dark skin and I am not a Muslim. People see me as a Chinese, from mainland, China. Evidently, I suffer from a mix of many cultures and traditions that is rather hard to keep up at times. However, I tried my best to stick to my roots and believe in what my original culture believes, thus answering “who am I”- I am a Chinese Indonesian.
There are various aspects to be considered a Chinese-Indonesian; we are a mixed fusion of the traditional Chinese and native Indonesian culture. The first question that may be asked, perhaps- Why am I a fusion? I have to handle two different cultures and traditions and at times I get confused of what to follow. In this case, I acculturate – that is to adapt to the norms of the dominant culture. However, I do not assimilate- that is to adapt to a new culture and reject my original heritage. It works with a balance. I still celebrate Chinese New Year, and stay strong on conservative practices that pertain to dating, etc. However, I took Bahasa Indonesia as my native language, and adopted the habit of using the hand to eat the traditional Indonesian food such as the “Padang”. In the traditional Chinese culture, they forbid the use of the hand to eat because it is rude and uncivilized.
After living in three different countries, I came to realize many differences between the societies in terms of dating. America is a very liberal country- the people believed in practices that I have not been exposed to. For instance, sex before marriage and living with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage are two very common things in the United States. Such practices are not even debatable in the Indonesian-Chinese community, it is never allowed. Why am I choosing to follow the tradition? I feel that such practices are unethical because it defeats the purpose of marriage. It is like contradicting the vows you made to your spouse. If sex before marriage was not supposed to be an issue, the marriage would be of no use. I do wish to stay grounded to my own culture and traditions because it is my way of respecting my elders. My mum always tells me that I can never be with someone of a different race, I must only date Asians. And while she allows me to date, I personally feel it an ethical obligation upon myself not to make love before I get married.
Coming to the United States was a very unique experience of my life. I had been brought up in a very conservative culture, wherein, people would not expect or allow me to show as much of skin as I would like to. Ethics of the people in China or Indonesia are to much an extent, created and/or guided by the religion. While people in both China and Indonesia belong to different religions, yet Islam is a religion of the majority of the Indonesians and also of a significant population of the Chinese people. Islam has very strict principles regarding every matter, be that childhood, adulthood, marriage, one’s rights and responsibilities towards children, parents, siblings, neighbors, and the society as a whole. Having lived in Indonesia for more than a decade, I cultivate a lot of Islamic ethics irrespective of my religious identity. For example, I do not feel comfortable wearing a mini skirt even if I am at a beach. I do not drink alcohol even if all my friends do. I do not eat pork for reasons other than religious. Once I resolved to do a bit of research about the potential harmful impacts of eating pork since pork was so forbidden as a meal in Indonesia. And in my research, I came to know that its negative impacts on health outweigh the positive ones. Since then, I cannot make myself comfortable while eating pork. Having lived in such a culture in my early childhood, which is supposedly an age in which whatever habits one cultivates, stay with one forever, coming to the United States was like coming to a new world. Although China and Indonesia are two countries with two completely different cultures, yet the magnitude of their difference is by no means comparable with the magnitude of difference of the culture of the United States with either of the two. No wonder, I experienced a culture shock in the United States.
The first thing that I noticed in the United States was multiculturalism to the highest extent. All of a sudden, I was caught in the middle of people from all sorts of cultures, having all kinds of ethnic and religious backgrounds. Obviously, I met many Asian-Americans as they form a significant population in America. In the start, wherever I saw somebody with the same Chinese-Indonesian look like mine, I would run into him/her and start conversing with him/her in Bahasa Indonesia, expecting him/her to be overwhelmed to meet “one of his/her own kind”, but to my surprise, many didn’t know Bahasa Indonesia. This would startle me a lot in the beginning, but as I studied the culture of the United States more, I came to know that many descendants of the original Chinese-Indonesians had completely broken ties with their indigenous culture. As I explored the matter, I realized that people did this in an attempt to merge into the American society. Today, as I have been living in the United States for a couple of years, I have found that though acculturation is often a useful strategy to deal with the culture shock, assimilation is never that important.
A vast majority of the Asian-Americans have moved to the United States for either studies or work or both. I am included in them as I came to the United States for higher studies. Among the numerous ways in which the Asian-Americans have influenced the American culture, a very integral and impactful element is food. Having introduced the Indonesian and the Chinese cuisines in the United States, Asian-Americans have brought a lot of variety to the American cuisine as the two have merged into it. Asian Americans have a strong familial system unlike many of the indigenous people of the United States. As I said before, I come from a culture where family values are respected a lot. Be it Indonesia or China, family is considered as the most fundamental and essential unit of the society and the society propagates through families. This can again be partly attributed to the influence of the Muslim population in both countries as well as the Muslim countries in the neighborhood of both the countries upon the non-Muslim population. Having come from such a culture, I cannot think about leaving my parents to live independently unless I have to for studies or work or some other justifiable reason. Many of my friends my age find this strange as they have left their parents to live with their boyfriends or girlfriends. According to them, my parents have restrained me. They think that my parents have put limits on my freedom but that is not the case. I choose to be with my parents rather than with anybody else because of my cultural values and beliefs.
Concluding, Asian-Americans make a significant proportion of the total population of the United States. I am an Asian American living in the United States who has not forgotten her original culture or self and has yet merged well with the American society. Having reflected upon my experience as a foreigner in the United States, I reach the conclusion that there is a lot of difference between the American culture and the culture of either of the two countries i.e. Indonesia and China that I come from. It took me several years to overcome the culture shock that I experienced in the United States, yet the journey has been exciting and full of adventures. I think that people that tend to assimilate not only break ties with their indigenous culture, they altogether lose their identity. One may learn the language and most importantly, the accent of the host country, but one can never change one’s genes. This being the law of nature, one should understand that changing one’s identity is not important enough to settle in a country like the United States that is already famous for its multiculturalism. I am proud of my cultural values, both that I brought with me to the United States, and others that I learnt here over the years.