This week in TWISEA we feature an article written by our MA student Kasey Rackowitz about her Indonesian language debate at the Embassy of Indonesia in D.C.
“Now when you see your island’s hand sign, shake your angklung as much as you can.” Playful karaoke music started playing from the speakers. The woman in the front began with her hands in fists, one in front of her face and the other down by her waist.
The members of the audience, whose angklung were labelled with the same hand sign, shook their bamboo instruments on the cue. As the woman motioned through the different island signs, her hands moving up and down, the single note klungs blending together to make a mellow Indonesian song. When she put her hands down and the music stopped, everyone giggled over the small handheld instruments and their ability to perform a song with no previous experience.
On April 7, I flew to Washington D.C. for the Consortium for the Teaching of Indonesian (COTI) and the Indonesian Embassy (KBRI)’s West-East Debate in Bahasa Indonesia. I spent the entirety of my flight practicing my one-page speech on the given topic: “Indonesia: a maritime nation, not an agricultural nation.” I was honestly nervous because I did not know what to expect. I did not know how many students I would be competing against and at what level their Indonesian would be. I also had never visited an embassy before. When I arrived to the main event, I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the embassy workers, the Indonesian teachers and the other competitors. I felt that I was in a home full of aunties and uncles rather than a government institution.
The debate itself was serious, but still light-hearted as the participants joked with the audience in Indonesian. Everyone gave their all in the competition, but the atmosphere was far from hostile.
What was even more important, however, was the panel held the following day. The first panel was made up of Indonesian language students, myself included. The second panel was made up of Indonesian language teachers. The topic that received the most questions was Indonesian American youth’s lack of interest in studying Indonesian. When Indonesian Americans reach the age of 12-13, many of them begin to lose interest in their heritage.
Although this topic is complicated and requires long-term focus and collaboration between students, parents and education institutions, it is promising that discussions are happening and COTI and KBRI are being active in hosting these discussions. Some ideas included providing study abroad opportunities to Indonesia for Indonesian Americans, creating school curriculums that better fit a classroom with diverse students who are made up of intersecting identities and spreading the message that a person can be Indonesian and American at the same time.