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Learning about how Americans raise their children

Immigrant Stories
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Walter Gallacher photoShinta Damanyanti, left, Ketut Siladarmawan and their daughter Putu Sekar Maharini Wikan
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Intro: Ketut Siladarmawan and Shinta Damanyanti are from the country of Indonesia, which is an archipelago in Southeast Asia made up of ore than 17,000 islands. Two of the major islands are Bali and Java. Ketut is from Bali and Shinta (sinta) is from Java.

Ketut: I came to the United States for on-the-job training at a steel fabrication company in Basalt. I came to learn more and gain work experience. I also wanted to bring my family so that we can learn more about American culture. We wanted to learn more about how Americans raise their children.

I have come to the United States three different times. The first time was in August of 2001. I came for on-the-job training. One month later there was 9/11. I was impressed with how the American people came together to help one another and to fight the bad people.



When I came back in 2003 it was much harder to get a visa. But it got better, and in 2006 we came as a family.

Shinta: And I came to be with my husband, Ketut.



Gallacher: Ketut, what was it like growing up in Bali.

Ketut: I was born in 1972 in a quiet little town in the north of Bali. The north is not as busy and crowed as in the south, so it was a great place to grow up. The schools were good, and there were a lot of kids to play with.

I was the youngest of 12 kids. I have seven sisters and four brothers.

Gallacher: Did you get special treatment being the youngest?

Ketut: Something like that. I think that is true everywhere that the last one born has everyone helping him. I’m sure I got much more attention than my older sisters and brothers.

My parents were both teachers but my mom had to quit and raise us kids. My dad spent his career as a teacher. We got a big house from the government. Not all of us lived there because by the time I was born some of the older kids had grown up and moved on.

Gallacher: Did any of your brothers and sisters come to America?

Ketut: My older brother came for training back in 1981 and came back with lots of pictures and magazines and told me stories about America that inspired me. The technology was so much more advanced than in my country.

Gallacher: Sinta, what was life like for you growing up in Java?

Shinta: I am the oldest of five children. I grew up in the city in a crowded neighborhood. The houses were very close together and there were kids everywhere. It was a happy life.

My mom stayed home with us kids, and my dad had a small shop with a few employees where they made mechanical things. For example, he made machines that would separate the rice from the chaff. Whatever people needed he could make it.

He worked very hard but people could afford to pay very little so we were poor. But my father had a big dream for all of us to go to school and make our lives better.

Gallacher: What did you know about the United States when you were little?

Shinta: I only saw pictures in magazines and books. I heard people talking about the United States as the freedom land, a place where you can reach your dream.

I thought it sounded interesting but not interesting enough to come, until I got the call from Ketut saying he wanted us to be with him. I am a person who likes her comfort zone. I am not very adventurous, but I knew that it meant a lot to my husband to have us come. I knew I needed to help him realize his dream.

But I worried about bringing my daughter to a new country and raising her in a different culture. I didn’t think I could do it. But Ketut encouraged me, somehow he knew that I could. The first three months were very hard. I didn’t understand anything when people would talk to me. They seemed to be talking very fast.

Ketut encouraged me to learn English but the one who really motivated me was my daughter, Sekar. I realized that if I didn’t learn fast, one day she would be my teacher, and I didn’t want that to happen. Right now we are learning together, and she has already taught me a lot.

Gallacher: You must see your daughter changing and becoming more American. Do you ever worry about her losing her culture?

Ketut : No this is a great time in her life to be learning about America. She is learning how to express her opinion and stand up for what she believes. Those are very important things for her to learn that are a little bit different from our culture.

When she goes back to Indonesia she will quickly learn about Indonesian culture because we have families there. The family is the center of Indonesian culture. You can’t make your own decision without considering your family.

Gallacher: When you both were growing up in Indonesia there was political unrest. How did that affect you?

Ketut: Sinta and I grew up with a very repressive leader, *General Suharto. He was in power from 1966 until 1998, when he stepped down. Our life was very different from what was going on in America at the time. We had to be very careful of speaking and offering our opinion in public, especially if you were opposed to the government.

It is better now. Since 1998 the press has more freedom to criticize the government.

Gallacher: How did the two of you meet?

Shinta: We were both studying to be civil engineers at the university. I wanted to be an engineer because it’s fun and it is something that women don’t usually do and that made me proud of myself and I wanted to make my parents proud.

Gallacher: Did your father inspire you to go into engineering?

Shinta: Yes, in some ways he did. He never went to school, but he has a very mechanical mind.

Ketut: Her father is very smart. In his town people call him “MacGyver,” because he can fix or build almost anything-cars, houses, any kind of machine.

Gallacher: So people know about MacGyver in Indonesia? What other parts of American culture can you see there?

Ketut: I was always impressed with the music. Good music came from America. I grew up listening to Bon Jovi, and my older brother liked the Beatles.

Shinta: And my dad loved the ’60s oldies. He didn’t know English at all but he could sing songs like “Moon River.”

Ketut: The media had a big influence on Indonesia. Hollywood movies really influenced the way movies are made in our country.

Gallacher: What is your dream as a family? What do you hope to do?

Ketut: We hope to learn a lot here and one day go back to our country and make change. The people are very poor there, and we hope to bring ideas back that can help our country create more jobs.

Shinta: I want to go back and share with people what I have learned about helping little children learn and develop. Education in Indonesia for little children is lacking especially when it comes to creativity. Here in America kids learn by doing and playing and exploring. We don’t have programs like Montessori. I want to write a book or start a school.

In my opinion, the future of our country is in the young child.

Gallacher: You have a young child of your own. What is her name?

Shinta: Her name is Sekar, which means flower. I love flowers. Her full name is Putu Sekar Maharini Wikan. Putu means first Balinese child. Sekar means flower. Maharani is princess and Wikan means wise.

*Sukarno moved Indonesia from democracy towards authoritarianism, and maintained his power base by balancing the opposing forces of the military and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). In 1965 and attempted coup was countered by the army. A violent anti-communist purge ensued, during which the PKI was blamed for the coup and effectively destroyed. Around 500,000 people were killed.

The head of the military, General Suharto, out-maneuvered the politically weakened Sukarno, and was formally appointed president in March 1968. His New Order administration was supported by the U.S. government, and encouraged foreign direct investment in Indonesia, which was a major factor in the subsequent three decades of substantial economic growth. However, the authoritarian “New Order” was widely accused of corruption and suppression of political opposition.

Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the late 1990s Asian financial crisis. This increased popular discontent with the New Order and led to popular protest across the country. Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998.


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