One of the most “shocking” aspects of Indonesian culture for Americans that I heard about early on was the pembantu (housemaid). I’ve always thought that although most Americans don’t actually have “servants” working for us in our homes we actually do have a lot of people who “work for us” in low-income jobs that are kind of like servants. I haven’t been able to really figure out what is the most socially conscious response.
I definitely feel strongly about a generous tip, expressions of gratitude toward cashiers and janitors and garbage collectors. On hot summer days, I attempt to offer cold drinks to the lawn care professionals in our condo association. In this way, we’ve been lulled into a sense that we’re all serving one another for pay.
When the couple who are in Jakarta told me about what a blessing their “helper” has become for them and that they were looking for a good situation for her after they leave, it felt very sweet. What kind of spooked me though, was that as an Asian-American, the couple commented that Indonesian pembantus might consider working for a Caucasian-American a sign of higher status, rather than for an Asian-American. They observed that Caucasians are considered to be kinder, more gullible and pay higher wages. I am thankful for their candidness.
At the same time, this caused me to wonder if I would feel experience more racism upon leaving the United States. In the last few days, I have been feeling a keener, more personal solidarity with protestors raising awareness around the recent incident involving Trayvon Martin (an African American teen killed by a white Hispanic? neighborhood watch volunteer in a confrontation that has been described as “an act of self-defense”).
For this reason, if I leave whatever “privileged” status I questionably hold as an American of color for more direct judgment related to the color of my skin, I will consider this an opportunity for humility and learning.
In fact, my dad wondered, given this new revelation about people with brown skin in Indonesia, I might consider moonlighting as a pembentu if I’m looking for spending money in Bali.
As I cleaned my place with vacuum, duster and Fantastic, I wondered how my cleaning abilities would stack up.
My English skills are quite good.