Life

Indonesians in San Francisco
Bay Area fulfill their
dreams

(JP/Moch N. Kurniawan)
(JP/Moch N. Kurniawan)

Nday, as he is known to his friends, is a successful Indonesian who has gone global.

Since graduating with a degree in architecture from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in 1993, Nday has worked in Singapore, Hong Kong and San Francisco, where he is now based.

"Going global was my dream for a long time. I knew it was ambitious, so I prepared myself from when I was an undergraduate student at ITB, " he told The Jakarta Post at his San Francisco apartment, where the Golden Gate Bridge could be seen in the distance.

In San Francisco, Nday supervises Stanford and Oxford University alumni. He, his wife Nang, and their two daughters, now enjoy a good standard of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 7.1 million people from different ethnic and racial groups from around the world dwell.

For Nday, good living means a decent job, quality education for his children, less pollution and a more tolerant society.

Three other Indonesian nationals living in the Bay Area -- Evan, Mahar and Sivi -- agreed with Nday.

Mahar, a bank employee in San Francisco, listed a good salary, tolerant society and reduced pollution as his reasons for working in the Bay Area.

"I have been in New York, but it's just too expensive and not friendly. San Francisco is smaller and better," Mahar said.

Meanwhile, Evan, a 1970 ITB graduate-turned-U.S. civil servant, said a good pension scheme also made life in the Bay Area attractive.

"Here you can earn more than in Indonesia, and when you retire, you can still live well from your social security program and pension fund," Evan said.

The 55-year-old moved permanently to the U.S. in 1998 and become a U.S. resident after winning a green card lottery in 1989.

Based on data from the Indonesian Consulate-General in San Francisco, some 10,300 Indonesians currently live in the northern part of the U.S. west coast, including 6,900 in the Bay Area covering San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Freemon, San Jose, SunnyVale, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Vallejo, Fairfiled and Napa.

Almost half of the 6,900 Indonesians in the Bay Area are registered as workers, while the rest are students.

Many went to the Bay Area after receiving information from family, ethnic, religious, student and professional networks.

Among such networks are the Indonesia-America Friendship Association, Bolaang Mongondow, Sangir Talaud, Minahasa community, the Indonesian-Chinese American Network, the San Francisco and Bay Area Islamic prayer forum, and the Indonesian Professional Association.

Many work in the information technology sector of Silicon Valley, followed by those in the food sector. Another field that has attracted Indonesian workers is accounting.

Stiff competition comes from Filipinos and Mexicans possessing similar work qualifications.

Indonesians living in the Bay Area must deal with high living costs. Monthly spending for one person, including accommodation and food, is around US$900 at the least. However, the U.S. minimum cost of living is set at $1,600 a month per person.

Some Indonesians resolve this problem by renting a room with a local family, like 24-year-old Sivi, or stay with their relatives, like Evan, before moving to an apartment after their financial condition improve.

"For a person who has just started working, like me, the living cost is expensive ... but a few years later it works out fine," said Sivi, a U.S. university graduate.

Daily communication in English and the American mind-set are also barriers for Indonesians in the beginning, but most seem to adapt easily.

"American people respect achievement and performance, regardless of your gender, which may not fully apply in Indonesia," Nday said.

"As far as we have monitored, Indonesians here live OK," said Andi Rahadian, the Indonesian consul for information, social and cultural affairs in San Francisco.

Andi said he did not encourage Indonesians to work in the Bay Area without the appropriate visa, as doing so could lead to deportation.

However, those working legally in the U.S., like Nday, Evan, Mahar, Sivi, Andi said, need not worry about their status and could concentrate on working and helping their families and relatives back home.

"I can finance my brother's study in Indonesia and possibly help him find a job here," Mahar said.

"I feel it is natural to help our families back home by sending money or supporting our siblings' education," Sivi said.

Meanwhile, Nday hoped his firm would someday start a big project in Indonesia, where he could work with Indonesian architects and transfer his knowledge to them.

As Indonesians enjoy their lives in the Bay Area, many say it might be hard for them to return to Indonesia.

"I have yet to think about returning to Indonesia for work," Nday said.

Others, like Mahar and Sivi, said they required improved conditions in Indonesia to give them enough reason to want to return home.

"If Indonesia provides more economic and political stability and better salaries, and lowers the crime rate, I might go home," Sivi said.

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