HomeIndonesian AmericanCelebrating Indonesian Independence Day in the U.S. (Merdeka)

Celebrating Indonesian Independence Day in the U.S. (Merdeka)

By Sophia Whittemore
AsAmNews Staff Writer

On August 17, 1945, Indonesia declared its independence from the brutal 300 years of colonization by the Netherlands.

And now, it’s time to celebrate.

I attended a local Indonesian Merdeka celebration  (we usually go once a year if traffic/weather permits). And the atmosphere is beautiful, as always. My mother and I dressed up in polite batik (woven pattern cloth) dresses and some family heirloom jewelry (necklaces, bangles, and earrings), and set off for the celebration.

On the top of the flagpole at the Indonesian community house, the Indonesian flag waves proudly. Everyone greets each other by murmuring “selamat merdeka” (happy Independence) to each other with a smile. The smile is a must in the culture, alongside never using your left hand in a greeting.

Past the polite introductions to everyone (referring to everyone using familial terms of grandma/mother/father/brother/sister depending on your age), we finally get to the food.

It’s beautiful. There’s a tower of nasi kuning, or rice flavored with coconut milk and turmeric, and a platter filled with krupuk (fried shrimp-flavored chips) and fresh fruit for dessert. (Usually we’d serve Indonesian native fruit, rambutan, but since the import costs are exorbitant and shipping is sketchy, we cannot.) There’s dollops of cendol, or syrupy-ice-coconut-punch and bakwan, corn fritters.

The nasi kuning runs out quickly, but that’s not a reason to despair. Because of the close-knit ties of family and sharing, a friend of ours shares his last plate of food with us and we thank him with a smile, referring to him as the grandfather figure.

The party is just a slice of Indonesia in the U.S. for those who miss it. People travel for two to three hours just to go, bringing everyone along in the mini van and crossing multiple state lines. Alongside the comfortable mealtime chatter, there’s whispers of visas and uncertainty. But then more cendol is brought out, and the cloud is lifted.

Two hours later, and we compliment an “auntie” (in title) on her beautiful hijab, finally making our way out the door after snapping five more photos. My mom has a grin that stretches from ear-to-ear as we drive down the long road home.

Selamat Merdeka.


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