Salty air and a cool draft hit my mother’s face as she stepped foot onto American soil for the first time. After a long eighteen-hour flight, a sigh of relief escapes my mother’s mouth. Exhausted from her journey, she finally feels a cool temperature difference in cloudy San Francisco. Compared to Jakarta, Indonesia, there was a lot of overcast and dullness in the sky. A clear difference from the yellow, warm sun in Jakarta. She is used to wearing sleeveless blouses and long denim shorts. My mother is clutching her wool-knit sweater as she exits San Francisco International Airport. My mother arrived in San Francisco, California in 1989, which was two years earlier than when my father arrived. Initially, my parents came to America for the first time to visit as tourists. I remember my mother telling me she was so eager and excited to explore the land of new opportunities. She had heard many successful stories about her high school friends moving to America and making a name for themselves. Ibu (mother) was proud to break the generational cycle. She wanted to chase her dreams.
At the young age of twenty-four, my mother explored the city of San Francisco with her family friends, who are now known as my tantes (aunties). My mother ultimately left San Francisco and returned to Jakarta to reunite with my father. They both returned to America in 1991, where my dad got his first job as a cook in a fish market. My father’s first impression of America was noting how beautiful the country was. This is interesting because they arrived from one of the most scenic and tropical countries in the world. The beauty he was describing was the vibrant and diverse people that made Washington, D.C. a plethora melting pot. My father could not believe how many different kinds of people there were in D.C. He was used to seeing the same old, olive-tan-skinned Muslim people in his small town of Medan, Indonesia. When they arrived in D.C., my father was taken aback by the diversity in backgrounds of immigrants.
My father and my mother knew very little English. Their native tongue was Bahasa Indonesia, and although they taught English in Indonesian public schools, it was only offered to those who could afford the education. My Ibu learned English by watching television shows while she babysat children. That was one of her first jobs in America; being a nanny. As for my Ayah (father), he learned English at a slower rate by ear and conversing with other immigrant family friends. This was common for Indonesian immigrants because they were so focused on redeeming a job and starting their new lives in America. My parents did not attend college, and frankly, they barely finished high school in Indonesia. However, with a motivated mindset and a toolbox of skills, my parents made it. Ultimately, my Ayah secured a good-paying job as a mechanical technician for cars. This was the job that changed his life as they rewarded him with a green card to obtain U.S. citizenship. An exciting chapter of their lives began this day and the rest is history. They now reside in the historical capital of Annapolis, Maryland.
* The contributor of this story has asked that their name be withheld.