Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Sari Nienaber, May 23, 2022

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:04 - Interview Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Um, okay. Today is May 23rd, 2022. And, um, my name is Keiko Tanaka.

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Keiko Tanaka introduces herself and her interviewee Sari Nienaber.

00:00:40 - Biographical Information

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Partial Transcript: Okay. So, tell me a little bit about yourself, um, what you do and then how, uh, yeah, what you do and who you are?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber discusses her children, career, and the places she lived in the United States. She talks about her hometown of Yogyakarta in middle Java, Indonesia. She briefly mentions her parents’ occupations.

Keywords: Family

Subjects: Architects; Chicago (Ill.); Columbus (Ohio); Indonesia; Java; Lexington (Ky.); Madison (Wis.); United States; University of Wisconsin--Madison; Yogyakarta (Indonesia)

GPS: Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Map Coordinates: -7.8032504,110.3748449
00:04:07 - Journey to the United States / Graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me how you end up being in the United States.

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber talks about working at Bogor University before moving to the United States to get her master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She remembers how cold and snowy it was in Wisconsin, noting a record-breaking blizzard she experienced in her first winter there in 1987.

Keywords: Bogor University; Graduate school

Subjects: Blizzards; United States; University of Wisconsin-Madison; Weather; Winter

GPS: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Map Coordinates: 43.0765959,-89.4146762
00:06:23 - Continuing graduate school at Ohio State / Starting a family

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Partial Transcript: And then, so then you went back and then for six years later, what brought you out back to the--I think you first went to, uh, Columbus, right?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber describes her experience getting a PhD at Ohio State in Columbus, OH, after returning to Indonesia for six years. She says she met her husband at UW-Madison, however, and recalls the difficulties of being in a long-distance relationship. She mentions entering into her PhD program after having her first child, who, at the time, was just 18-months old.

Keywords: Doctorates; PhDs; Stipends

Subjects: Columbus (Ohio.); Ohio State University

GPS: The Ohio State University
Map Coordinates: 40.0066764,-83.032643
00:09:12 - Experience as an international student in Madison, WI and Columbus, OH

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Partial Transcript: So, what was it like? I mean, of course you already went to Wisconsin as an international student.

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber explains her standing as an international student in graduate school. She talks about her MUCIA advisor who helped her get settled. She says she felt confident in her English language skills at the time, which helped her navigate living in these new American cities. She describes helping other international students, particularly young men, who needed assistance with laundry and cooking once they left their families to move to the States.

Keywords: Immigration; International students; Self-sufficiency

Subjects: Columbus (Ohio.); English; Madison (Wis.); Ohio; United States; Visas; Wisconsin

00:13:51 - Moving to Chicago, Illinois

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Partial Transcript: So, you spent five years in Columbus and then you moved to Chicago.

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber recounts her move from Columbus, OH to Chicago, IL. She remembers being excited about living in a big city again. She also mentions that during this time, she gave birth to her son and continued working part-time.

Keywords: Borgor; Part-time work

Subjects: Chicago (Ill.); Children; Culture; Jakarta (Indonesia)

GPS: Chicago, Illinois
Map Coordinates: 41.8339042,-88.0121557
00:16:14 - Moving to Lexington, Kentucky / Working remotely

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Partial Transcript: So then, how did you move--end up coming to Lexington?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber’s husband’s job change prompted her family’s move to Lexington, KY. She says she was able to keep a position in the same company, working remotely. Nienaber briefly mentions how she will soon move to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Keywords: Remote work; Work from home

Subjects: Kalamazoo (Mich.); Lexington (Ky.); Skype (Electronic resource); Zoom (Electronic resource)

GPS: Lexington, Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 38.0285384,-84.751759
00:19:32 - Challenges of moving to Madison / Columbus / Chicago / Lexington

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Partial Transcript: So, what was it like now coming from Chicago, which is a major metropolitan in the United States and coming to Lexington, which is kind of more similar to Columbus and Madison, Wisconsin, its university town. What was the biggest challenges?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber compares the pros and cons of living in different cities in the U.S. She discusses cultural and community events, access to public parks, and the process of finding new friends.

Keywords: Access; Social life

Subjects: Chicago (Ill.); Columbus (Ohio.); Culture; Lexington (Ky.); Madison (Wis.); Transportation

00:22:38 - Community Involvement / Making Friends in Lexington

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Partial Transcript: So that's when I, you know, reach out to the Balinese Gamelan. I got involved in the salsa center.

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber lists the different ways she’s involved herself in social groups and the greater Lexington community. She joined a Balinese gamelan group and is still active. She also volunteers at local nonprofits and takes salsa lessons.

Keywords: Balinese; Community involvement; Gamelan; Non-profits; Volunteering

Subjects: Art, Balinese.; Gamelan; Lexington (Ky.); Salsa (Dance); Volunteers

00:24:08 - Connection to Indonesian community in Lexington / Madison / Columbus / Chicago

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about your involvement with all those different community organizations. Now, were you at all associated with Indonesian community in Lexington?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber says she isn't very connected with the Indonesian community in Lexington. She recalls having stronger ties, especially with Indonesian students at the time, when she lived in Madison and Columbus, and her husband was involved with the large Asian festival that happens annually in Columbus. She recalls feeling like a part of a larger Asian American and Indonesian community in Chicago, but those communities were largely divided along religious lines.

Keywords: Asian festivals; Consulates; Indonesian communities

Subjects: Chicago (Ill.); Columbus (Ohio.); Lexington (Ky.); Madison (Wis.); Religion; Southeast Asians

00:29:03 - Balinese dancing and playing the gamelan

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about your dance and your involvement with the gamelan. Was it something you did before you come to the United States?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber describes her experience with playing the gamelan and performing Balinese dance.

Keywords: Balinese dance; Ensembles

Subjects: Dance; Gamelan; Music; Performances

00:35:02 - Salsa Lessons

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. Oh, that's good. So, tell me then why you started now going into salsa. Because I mean, I understand you are a dancer, you love dancing, but salsa?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber mentions that, in addition to traditional Balinese dance, also performs salsa and swing dance. She recalls how she started swing dancing by chance one evening with her daughter, and that her husband also took salsa dancing lessons for a couple of years.

Subjects: Dance; Salsa (Dance); Swing (Dance)

00:37:56 - Experience during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Partial Transcript: Okay, okay, okay. So, tell me about that, um, about the COVID. Um, in what way COVID pandemic affected you most?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber recounts some of her experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says she was already used to working remotely, so that part of her life didn’t change much and she was more concerned about her children, especially her daughter, who was living in the Netherlands. She is grateful her daughter has since been able to return to the United States for a visit. Nienaber also describes how her salsa dance studio adapted to the COVID-19 context.

Keywords: COVID restrictions; Coronavirus; Covid; Dance studios; Pandemic; Physical distancing; Remote work; Work from home

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Dance schools; International travel; Netherlands; Quarantine; Social distancing (Public health); United States

00:43:41 - Toronto Spa Shootings / Anti-Asian hate

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Partial Transcript: Now I'm going to shift a little bit, but related to the COVID is--so, last year, um, the Toronto spa shootings.

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber reflects on the subject of the Toronto spa shootings that occurred during the height of the pandemic and specifically targeted people of Asian descent. She recalls being upset by the news, but personally did not feel endangered.

Keywords: Anti-Asian hate; Attacks; Racial violence; Toronto spa shootings

Subjects: Hate crimes; Identity; Indonesians; Race; Threats

00:47:06 - Identity with ethnic and racial ambiguities

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Partial Transcript: Now, how does your children see themselves? I mean, you know, they have an Indonesian mother and then German, right? Your husband is German descent. I mean, how do they consider their own ethnic identity?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber describes how her childrens' understandings of their identities have changed over time. She understands how, with an Indonesian mother and a German father, they may identify with one side or the other at different points in their lives. She also recognizes how she and her children may appear racially ambiguous. Nienaber mentions how some people have mistaken her for being Hispanic and speak Spanish to her.

Keywords: Family; Hispanic; Passing

Subjects: Ethnicity; Germans; Identity; Indonesians; Race; Racially mixed children; Skin tones

00:53:44 - Learning the Bahasa Language

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Partial Transcript: Now, they don't speak any, uh, Bahasa, right?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber briefly mentions that she has not taught her children Bahasa, the official language of Indonesia. She talks about how, although her daughter learned some Bahasa during a trip to Indonesia, it was difficult for her to retain the language once she left and didn’t use it to communicate.

Keywords: Bahasa; Bilingual; Official languages

Subjects: Indonesia; Indonesian language; Language policy

00:54:42 - Identity, citizenship and context

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Partial Transcript: How about--let's go back to now focus on you. I mean, how do you identify yourself?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber reflects on her own identity. She says that she is not a U.S. citizen and doesn’t feel entirely American, but also doesn't feel entirely Indonesian. Nienaber says that she lives in between these two worlds and navigates the cultural differences in her own way.

Keywords: Cultural differences; Cultural expectations; Gender roles; Immigration

Subjects: Americans; Citizenship; Culture; Identity; Indonesia; Indonesians; Travel; United States

01:01:26 - Taking Care of Parents

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Partial Transcript: And your parents are not--I mean, they're healthy? Doing fine?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber briefly discusses the challenges of taking care of aging parents.

Keywords: Caregiving; Coronavirus; Covid; Family; Multigenerational living

Subjects: Aging; COVID-19 (Disease); Parents; Siblings

01:03:22 - Religion / Practicing Islam

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Partial Transcript: Now, I didn't ask you about your religion. So, are you practicing Muslim at all?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber identifies as Muslim, but is not practicing and does not wear a hijab. She says she does fast during Ramadan, however. She talks about making the decision not to raise her children in the Islamic faith, allowing them the freedom to come into religion on their own terms.

Keywords: Hijabs; Non-practicing

Subjects: Faith; Fasting; Islam; Muslims; Ramadan; Religion

01:05:42 - Leaving Lexington / Making Friends in the Future

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Partial Transcript: So now you're leaving Kentucky for Kalamazoo. How do you feel?

Segment Synopsis: Nienaber expresses her trepidations and hopes about leaving Lexington to move to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Nienaber and Tanaka then discuss the idea of “home.”

Keywords: Community

Subjects: Communties; Friendship; Home; Kalamazoo (Mich.); Lexington (Ky.)

GPS: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Map Coordinates: 42.2742637,-85.6671889
01:10:13 - Conclusion / Details about the Oral History Project

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Partial Transcript: So, I finished everything I wanted to ask you. Are there anything you like to raise or you want to ask me questions?

Segment Synopsis: Tanaka concludes the interview by giving Nienaber more details about the oral history project.

Subjects: Oral histories