Escaping the Homeland: Contesting Indonesian Diasporic Narratives

Guest speaker, Livi Zheng with YIF conference organizers. From left to right: Indriyo Sukmono (Senior Lector, CSEAS), Brurce Mecca (MESc ’19), Prisna Putri (FLTA Indonesian), Agasha Ratam (YC ’21), Mesquita Prasetyo (SOM ’19), Gregory Jany (YC ’21), Livi Zheng (Producer/Director), Dinny Aletheiani (Lector, CSEAS), Nicolas Wicaksono (YC ’19), Taufan Hatibie (YC).
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

On April 21, the Yale Indonesia Forum (YIF) and Cornell Indonesia Association (CIA) co-hosted a one-day event to explore interdisciplinary research into the Indonesian diaspora, as well as other groups of Indonesians abroad. (See program)

Over 6 million Indonesians live outside the country, with millions more estimated to have become citizens of others. According to the World Bank, the Indonesian diaspora contributed over $8 billion in remittances in 2017, making Indonesia among the highest recipients of remittances in the world. While the diaspora’s economic potential is clear, much less research has addressed their relationship with Indonesia, their adopted countries, and the fault lines of Indonesianness. Attempts to include diasporas into existing developmental practices is problematic as it tends to assume that diasporas share common interests with the development industry and homogenizes Indonesians of diverse legal statuses and heritages into a monolithic diaspora group.

The 2018 YIF Spring Dialogue, followed by the 17th Northeastern Conference on Indonesia, brought together an exciting array of panelists and paper presenters to challenge the predominant and monolithic narrative of the Indonesian diaspora as a resource to be tapped into for state development. Indonesian identity, after all, is not permanent, and Indonesians abroad can maintain, adapt, or discard their identities entirely. Panelists included Livi Zheng, an Indonesian actress and director bridging Indonesian and American popular cultures; Rachel Silvey, Richard Charles Lee Director of the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto; and Abdul Kadir Jailani, consul general of the Indonesian consulate in New York. Jailani’s presentation on the politics behind Indonesia’s continued ban on dual citizenship was particularly thought provoking, eliciting prolonged discussion between audience members and panelists.

The event continued with paper presentations and a photojournalism display. Matt Cox, Art Gallery of New South Wales, presented important insights into little-studied Indonesian artists who were marginalized by the anti-colonialist zeal of mainstream Indonesian art of the 1930s, while Artanti Sari, Ohio State University/Universitas PGRI Palembang, presented her ethnographic research into Indonesian Muslim families in the U.S. socialize their children into this cultural heritage via internet technology. Last, award-winning photojournalist Ardiles Rante presented his latest project—close-up portraits of former and current Indonesians who have joined the Islamic State. Rante works closely with the Indonesian government on evacuating and re-integrating these Indonesians into the community.

Overall, the participants felt that the conference successfully sparked a conversation on under-studied aspects of the Indonesian diaspora and Indonesian abroad. “The Northeastern Conference this year…exposed the interaction [between the diaspora] with the concept of [Indonesian identity],” said Fatma, a master’s student from the University of Pennsylvania who attended the conference. “I left New Haven with an abundance of new perspectives and broader networking.”

YIF and CIA look forward to hosting additional events to expand the research on all issues pertaining to Indonesia.

The Northeastern Conference on Indonesia is an initiative of the Yale Indonesia Forum and the Cornell Indonesia Student Association.  The 17th Northeastern Conference in New Haven is organized by the Yale Indonesia Forum and funded by the Council on Southeast Asia Studies at the MacMillan Center at Yale University.


Written by Nicolas Wicaksono’19 and Gregory Jany’21.