When Luis Enoch of Somersworth came to New Hampshire in 1999, he was one of a handful of Indonesians. That’s not the case now, he laughs, where his hometown has around 2,000 people of Indonesian descent.
This weekend, the Little Indonesia Cultural Center opened its doors, marking Phase One of the project to bring the U.S's first Little Indonesia to Somersworth. Enoch was overjoyed to be a part of the celebration, which included a ribbon cutting, dancing, speakers, and food.
“This is good for us, for the Indonesian community here,” Enoch said. Little Indonesia, he explains, is “for our future.” He says it will be an icon for the local community, and a place where tourists can come to learn about Indonesian culture and support local businesses.
Indonesia has five major islands and over 17,000 total islands, creating a rich and varied culture.
Raude Raychel is the president of Indonesia Community Connect, the group behind Somersworth’s new Little Indonesia Cultural Center.
At Saturday’s ribbon cutting, she said the cultural center is a temporary “mini-version” of what the ICC has planned for the future. The “mini-version” already includes a gift shop, art space, and food pantry with staple ingredients of Indonesian cuisine.
Future plans for Little Indonesia include an urban park and a gate at the entrance to the Little Indonesia neighborhood.
Alfred Byun is one of the architects helping with the project. For him, designing the gate is especially exciting.
He says his architecture is not about dictating what will happen in a space, but rather to let the space grow and evolve over time.
Byun says people and community are at the heart of his work. “I think the past year shows us that no matter how beautiful or great a place is, if the people aren’t there, it’s not going to feel alive, it’s not going to be it,” he said,
That’s exactly why Armaya Doremi, who helped emcee the event, says Somersworth is a perfect place for Little Indonesia. Doremi lives in Boston, and thinks larger cities don’t have enough space to create a new project like Little Indonesia.
The ICC is working with both local officials and the Indonesian government on the project. Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard cut the ribbon for the cultural center and spoke at the event. U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, along with Congressman Chris Pappas, sent representatives to read letters of support.
Pappas’ representative, Ben Bernier, surprised Raychel by also reading from the congressional record, where Pappas had recognized Raychel as emblematic of what it means to be a U.S. citizen. Raychel became a citizen earlier this year.
Iwan Freddy Hari Susanto, Vice Ambassador with the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Washington, was another of the day's speakers.
He said Little Indonesia “is proof that there is always a part of Indonesia in the heart of the people of America.” Conversely, he said, there is a part of America in Indonesia too.