Here is an old reader email query from 2015:
I started by asking, why are there so few Indonesians in the US? The email subject is just a juicy comparison. Indonesians are outnumbered in the U.S. by 14 other Asian-American sub-groups. Most estimates give an answer of about 100,000 total, this from a country of 250+ million.
History – Indonesia’s colonial experience is Dutch (although less than 500,000 live in the Netherlands). There do not seem to be many self-identifying South African Americans. The country has more recent independence/consolidation than some.
Religion – Islam reduces immigration demand and supply
Economics – Indonesians are very poor and/or less skilled for particular types of migrant labor. Perhaps why so many are in the Middle East (maybe 1.5 million in Saudi Arabia, although this seems more a recent phenomenon).
Internal markets – Indonesia is large and diverse. Opportunity and adventure are an island away, not a country.
Conflict – Sukharno/Suharto rule uniquely dampened emigration.
Reporting – The range of Indonesian ethnicities is not suitable to census counts. Ask Sir Jervoise Baines about this.
Some combination of the Philippines, Pakistan, India, and Myanmar nix all of the above. The more I think and ask others, the more my answer is “the sum of the valid remainder of all the other explanations.” It is not satisfying.
I am in Indonesia now and ask the question often. Most Indonesians don’t know that there are so few, relatively speaking. One told me about the roughly 500 Indonesians at her alma mater Ohio State University, home of the Center of SouthEast Asia Studies and Professor R. William Liddle (that is why she went there).
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