Food & Love in Philly: thoughts from an Indonesian Immigrant Community (by Caroline Robling-Griest)

During weekly lectures with guest speakers, we learned a lot about how the Indonesian immigrant community supports each other. One of those ways is through food. Sharing meals brings people together and fosters a sense of culture through the traditional Indonesian meals. Throughout our time in Philly, I think we all began to notice how central food is to social gatherings. Whenever I walked into my host family’s house and there was a fresh meal on the stove, my host mom, Bu Wendy, would say “go eat, eat!” There was always an abundance of food in the house, and we were always well fed. Bu Wendy would also make meals for special occasions, such as birthdays and having guests over, and her friends would frequently drop off meals as well.

Bu Wendy’s best friend is Bu Lily. Bu Lily owns two eateries in Philly. On one
Sunday we went to a movie with our host mom and sister, and afterwards we went to Lily’s store. My host mom called her while we were walking over and Lily asked us what we wanted to eat. When we arrived, Lily brought out burgers, cheesesteaks, fries, and a giant plate of nachos. It was so much food we could barely eat it all. Throughout the meal, Lily would ask us if there was anything else we wanted or if we wanted any of the sodas and drinks in the many coolers throughout the store. Shortly before we left Philly we went back to the store to see her one more time. Again Lily brought out a feast for us, and sent us home with some extra cheesesteaks, and some pastries for the airport so that we wouldn’t get hungry while traveling. It was such a kind and generous thing for her to do.

Not only does sharing food connect people culturally and emotionally, but food is necessary for survival. We had a lot of discussions with our host mom about the poverty she witnessed in Indonesia, and how one of her closest friends in Indonesia was struggling to afford food. She said at the time “If I’m ever hungry or don’t have food I can call one of my friends and they will bring food right over.” The immigrants in Philly and all throughout the US work extremely hard to prevent poverty, since this would make their chances of gaining documents even more difficult. The community looks out for each other. The sharing of meals brings people together and helps to make sure that people have access to food. If people are short on food, their friends and neighbors will help them out without a second thought. Those who have access to work and resources share what they have with the community. Sharing traditional foods from one’s culture is the ultimate resistance to oppressive anti-immigrant forces. It keeps not only a culture and tradition alive, but allows us to live and thrive. I have learned that keeping traditions alive through food is a central part of the Indonesian immigrant community and symbolizes resisting hunger and oppression.