Raude Raychel wants to share a little bit of Indonesia with the rest of the Seacoast. She’s the lead organizer for Fiesta, an annual Indonesian cultural celebration, taking place this year on Saturday, June 27 at the Rochester City Blessing Church (RCBC) in Rochester.
The Seacoast has been home to a growing Indonesian community for the last 20 years. It’s a community that’s not always visible, but Raychel says that one of the goals of this year’s event is to get more people from throughout the region involved in the party.
“We’re trying to make it bigger this year,” she says. This year’s event includes an array of Indonesian cuisine (the Indonesian community is “full of great cooks,” Raychel says), traditional dance performances, a kids’ fashion show, and a zumba dance competition.
The first Fiesta was held in 2010. There are 14 Indonesian churches in Dover, Rochester, Somersworth, and surrounding towns, according to Ronald Politton, the pastor at RCBC. Every summer, each church would hold its own social event, usually a food bazaar. Politton wanted to host something similar at RCBC, and members of the church suggested a bigger event — one that would bring together not just the region’s Indonesian community, but others as well.
“They said, ‘Let’s make it something different.’ And then ideas started popping up, and we had live music, we had Indonesian culture (exhibits),” a dance competition, and more, he says.
There is plenty of Indonesian culture in the Seacoast to celebrate — there are some 1,500 Indonesians living in the region, according to Politton.
Raychel moved to the Seacoast from Indonesia with her family in 1997. Her family was one of the first to move here; her father, a pastor, came to the Seacoast to start one of the area’s first Indonesian churches. When Indonesian immigrants first began arriving here almost two decades ago, they were fleeing religious persecution at home.
“The thing we love about New Hampshire is the job opportunities. We’re all workaholics. We work hard to help our families back home. — Raude Raychel
“There was a lot of persecution back then. A lot of Christians were forced to leave the country,” Raychel says. Indonesia is a minority-Christian country, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Christians often faced violence and discrimination from Muslim organizations there. Raychel remembers people frequently throwing rocks at her father’s church in Indonesia. “We were persecuted just because my dad was a pastor,” she says.
The religious and political situation in Indonesia is “much better” than it was 20 years ago, Politton says. Most Indonesians coming to the Seacoast now are doing so because they have family connections here or are looking for more economic opportunity.
A lot of Indonesians in the Seacoast work two or three jobs, she says. Raychel herself owns two women’s clothing boutiques, one in Dover and one in Somersworth.
“The thing we love about New Hampshire is the job opportunities. We’re all workaholics. We work hard to help our families back home,” Raychel says.
In addition to being a pastor at RCBC, Politton is an interpreter at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. He’s worked there part-time since 2007.
“There’s a need for it in the Indonesian community. It’s not easy if you get sick and you cannot speak the language, and it’s hard for the doctors to communicate, too,” he says.
That language barrier is one of the challenges facing the Indonesian community, Politton says. So is navigating the complex, years-long process of obtaining asylum status from federal immigration officials, something the language barrier can exacerbate.
“It takes quite a while. It can take maybe two or three years,” he says.
Though Indonesian people have been part of the Seacoast community for two decades, Raychel says that many of the community’s older members have wanted to stay out of the spotlight. Indonesians still face plenty of challenges here, including racism and discrimination, she says. But the community’s visibility increases each year. In 2014, the nonprofit Friends of Somersworth group hosted the city’s first Jakarta Fair, an Indonesian cultural celebration held in downtown Somersworth. And as people like her, who came here as children, get older, there’s a push to build more connections between the Indonesian and wider Seacoast communities.
“They want to stand out. Why build that wall just because we’re Indonesian? Let’s be proud,” she says.
Fiesta 2015 takes place Saturday, June 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Rochester City Blessing Church, 159 Rochester Hill Road, Rochester. Visit rochestercbc.org for information.