• Jessican Dharmawan (left) and Jason Muljadi (right)

  • "Exploring Indonesian American Voices" Summer Speaker Series 2020

New series explores Indonesian American voices and stories

New series explores Indonesian American voices and stories

Wanting to build community and navigate personal histories, students at UCLA formed the Association of Indonesian Americans to carve out their own space.

By Kitty Hu (UCLA, 2020)

The Genesis of AIA

Jason Muljadi, a fourth-year neuroscience student, was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was two. "I grew up with American culture and traditions, but I also connected with my Chinese Indonesian side," he says. Along with several others, Muljadi founded the Association of Indonesian Americans (AIA) at UCLA, an organization for Indonesian Americans, people of Indonesian descent and those who are interested in various aspects of the Indonesian American community. He currently serves as AIA president.

Jessica Dharmawan, a third-year psychobiology student and AIA internal vice president, echoes Muljadi’s sentiments and says that she didn’t encounter many Indonesians growing up. "It wasn’t until college that I met other Indonesian Americans," she shares, "It’s different to be able to have this conversation about our history."

Formed in early 2020, AIA primarily focuses on five tenets of engagement: political advocacy, social interaction, cultural awareness, education and outreach. Many of the original members of AIA comes from Dr. Juliana Wijaya’s Indonesian language classes. In the classroom, they often had conversations about identity and belonging. AIA hopes to bring these issues to the larger UCLA campus for Indonesian Americans. Ultimately, AIA hopes to provide a safe space for students to reflect on their memories growing up and celebrate their identities through events and discussions specific to Indonesian American experiences.

Connecting Outside of the Organization

A few weeks ago, Muljadi and Dylan Djoenadi, a second-year economics student and AIA publicity director, released the organization’s first podcast episode, "What does it mean to be Indonesian American" In the one-hour conversation, they discuss Indonesian immigration to the United States and share their personal stories.

Djoenadi’s mother shared the episode on Whatsapp to their church community and it eventually reached people in Indonesia. "We got quite a positive reception," Djoenadi smiles. "Some of the older Indonesians here saw that we are trying to question where we come from. They admire that." He hopes to engage younger Indonesian Americans as well, especially since he feels that the Indonesian American experience needs more representation within the Southeast Asian community at UCLA.

Even though AIA is relatively new, they are already part of the Asian Pacific Coalition (APC) and are collaborating with other campus organizations. Muljadi and Dharmawan presented about their work to APC and found many groups, such as the Vietnamese Student Union and Nikkei Student Union, interested in hosting future events together. "Coming in solidarity and representing our own ethnic groups as well as lifting each other up through collaboration with different student organizations has been really great," says Dharmawan.

A Summer of Art and Activism

Throughout July, AIA is hosting a summer speaker series on "Exploring Indonesian American Stories" through conversations with artists and activists. The first event, "Evolving Voices," featured mother-daughter duo, Emiko Susilo and Ayu Larassanti, who spoke about the role of their Indonesian American identities in art and popular media.

"Especially in times like these where young people, like us, want to get involved in activism and educate ourselves about issues affecting our communities, it is invaluable to have these conversations with Indonesian American figures who act as role models for us," expresses Dharmawan. "They not only have the experience, but the expertise and advice for us to become more active and engaged in causes that affect the Indonesian American community as a whole."

As AIA grows, Muljadi hopes that it serves as a learning space for students to express themselves and advocate for more representation inside and outside of UCLA and academia. "What came out of our conversations and questions started this whole group," he says. "That’s part of the Indonesian American experience that we’re all trying to figure out."