Recognizing my Cultural-Dualism

Refina Puspita (INA YES to USA YP 17–18)

I’m just going to hit right off the bat, if you have settled down in a place for more than 6 months you will get confused with reality.

I sat down for dinner the other night with my whole host family. It was our typical Sunday feast in which we ate some kind of peculiar Asian-Mexican-European fusion meal. My Hispanic host dad made a mini taco with all those Mexican jazz namely avocado, beans, rice, onion and salsa. I got the most honorable job, I cooked nasi goreng (it has become a staple food in the household, being in the same spot as enchiladas, yakisoba, and indomie). At the other end of the kitchen, my German-American host mom was busy with her strawberry salad with Greek feta cheese. It was literally a “melting-pot”. In the middle of our daily conversation, Dad talked about how hilariously funny David Letterman was and I responded with “John Oliver is the new David Letterman”. But then again, we also have Stephen Colbert. Oh, not to mention, the SNL hosts and Jimmy Kimmel. Ultimately, the conversation continued on to more serious topic such as the distinct feature of American-based Christian denomination, particularly the Latter Day Saint Church and the Jehovah’s Witness Church. We discussed about how the Mormon developed their sectarian view, eventually gained massive followers and established their head quarter in Salt Lake City, Utah. Early on in my exchange year, I got so overwrought on the Amish community principles. This traditionalist Anabaptist group lives a simple secluded life and does not adopt any conveniences of modern technology.

On January, my host family and I attended The Book of Mormon play in downtown Portland. The play was great, my entire host siblings exhilarated by the show (not so much with Mom and Dad. Mom could not hear the words clearly and Dad felt too many curse words and racial slur being uttered throughout the play). But, what struck me the most is, I can understand their jokes.

I can understand The Book of Mormon jokes. I watched various late night shows and the hosts’ witty commentaries feel relatable. I’m able to recite Hamilton songs line by line, elaborate the lyrics according to the historical references, and most likely will end my mini deliberation by saying “It’s such an irony, the man that defended the 2nd amendment got killed by a gunshot and Aaron Burr did not even get convicted for it”. I’m currently a junior-attorney-in-training for the city’s juvenile court.

Every Thursday evening, I will sit on either the jury seating or present a case in front of the judges’ panel at Douglas County Courthouse. At school, sometimes after the classes end, I will approach my Government teacher and we will have a discourse about the effectiveness of the federal governmental system in the United States or how polarized the country has become compared to the 1960s political environment when the notorious John. F Kennedy appointed Byron White, a Southern Democrat as a Supreme Court Justice judge and immediately got the approval of Republican-majority Senate. Ultimately we ended our discussion session with the judicial-review-leanings differences of the late Judges Scalia and the first Hispanic-American SCOTUS, Judges Sonia Sotomayor. In the AP US History class, my classmates and I had to compare the presidency of Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump, we nailed the assignment by presenting the best head-to-head evidence. Last November, my host mom and I got so excited by the result of the 2017 Alabama Senate special election because Doug Jones, a Democrat defeated the Republican sexual offenders, Roy Moore in a strong red Southern state. I have not even mentioned how fond I am of the Carols and the whole American Christmas/Thanksgiving spirit.

Costco, Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Walmart are a part of my daily life. Dairy Queen and Taco Bell had become my go-to restaurant, oftentimes Margarita (my host sister) and I complain about the $0.25 differences on the dollar menu price because, in the nearby town, it cost less. I have integrated myself into the American craze of yoga because Margarita and I are the regular attendees of YMCA’s yoga classes now. Twice a week to be precise. We will come home with Taylor Swift’s old country songs being played in her Prius car and Margarita will make a comment about the overused theme in country songs, which is a combination of 3 or more of these topics: truck, beer, dirt, blond-hair-blue-eyes girls, God, and momma. My host nieces and I watched the Super bowl and cheered for the Philadelphian Eagles, the next day the New England Patriots supporters of our school wore their Patriots sweater as a symbol of their “resistance”.

What I’m trying to say is — I have been transformed to be a typical middle-class slash small-town American girl. I become a member of the lacrosse team, a volunteer with the National Honor Society, involve in talks about prospective colleges across the nation with my friends, then complain about the fact that our school does not offer the “weighted GPA” and how unfair it is to the students that challenge themselves by enrolling in AP classes. Student loans, universal healthcare system, the need for stringent rules for gun possession, Puerto Rico’s possibility to be elevated from a US unincorporated are also part of the conversation. I got so invested on my SAT and AP exam practices, even set a CommonApp account. Every Friday night, my friends and I chant our school song for the basketball team.

I got confused. I was discombobulated. I have learned so much in the course of 6 months. I have pushed myself so far to immersed in this American community to the point of being an actual “American” girl. I lost touch on Indonesian news. This is not good. The old proverbs “kacang lupa kulitnya” makes more sense now.

Slowly I begin to pull my-self. I’m starting to reinvent my inner Indonesian girl by cooking mie goreng, reading the English-translated version of Laskar Pelangi, having a conversation with my teacher about the post-Suharto era of Indonesia, and sometimes — listen to Ada Apa Dengan Cinta soundtrack. I let both Refinas, the “hick American” girl and the progressive-Indonesian girl to coexist and help each other out. By embracing both Refinas’s views, I can reflect some issues with different perspectives from the different upbringing. And to me, that is how exchange year supposed to be like. The advantageous part of being an exchange student is not only the “traveling” part (although, yes I have gone to Seattle, Portland, the Oregon Coast, and northern part of California a few times. It was lovely), but also embracing your juxtaposed view of the world in order to become a more culture-conscious, full of toleration, and compassion world citizen.

I’m out, peeps.