Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Babu juga Manusia, (Housemaids are humans, after all). This statement is often cited whenever a domestic helper intends to defend her position both as a housemaid and a writer. Mega Vristian, for instance, a housemaid working in Hong Kong for the past 15 years, makes her claim that housemaids are not to be underestimated only by their professions. Granted, housemaids are usually considered uneducated, but it does not mean that they are not potential. In an interview with The Jakarta Post, a leading English newspaper in Indonesia, Mega Vristian argues that housemaids should be seen as ordinary human beings who are dignified.  In defending Indonesian migrant literature as a newly existing genre, she speaks both for herself and her fellow migrant workers to be given more space to fulfill their potentials.
     The fact that activities in literature and arts that involve Indonesian migrant workers can be found mostly in Hong Kong and Taiwan is actually due to the relatively better working condition and regulations. As compared to their fellows who work in Malaysia, Singapore, or Middle Eastern countries, migrant workers in Hongkong usually have been previously trained Cantonese to ease the communication, are given a day-off in a week. Many workers admit that Hong Kong government is not discriminative to migrant workers. This is significant in providing an outlet for them not only to meet friends, but also to join courses or community activities. Victoria Park in Hong Kong is famous as a gathering place for migrant workers from various countries to meet each other and conduct various activities.
It is in this conducive atmosphere that Indonesian migrant literature flourishes in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Community activities that help migrant workers learn computer and internet eventually provide a media to share ideas, opinions, poems, and short stories. Some literary circles in Hong Kong worth mentioning are Forum Lingkar Pena and Cafe deCossta. These literary circles have produced writers such as Mega Vristian, Maria Bo Niok, Tarini Sorrita, Etik Juwita, Rini Widyawati, and many others. These names appear in the world of literature as a result of writing competitions and tutoring given by some acknowledged writers from Indonesia. Asma Nadia, an Indonesian productive female author, describes in the foreword of Hong Kong, Namaku Peri Cinta, how stunningly enthusiastic those domestic workers in learning to write creatively. Meeting them in a writing tutoring in Hong Kong, Nadia saw them no different from Indonesian college students who often attend her sessions in various seminars on creative writing.   
How do we position this genre of migrant literature written by migrant workers? For one thing, it is difficult to say whether migrant literature as a genre actually exists in the world of Indonesian literature. While Indonesian diasporic communities can be found in various countries around the globe, there seems to be no writings that can be categorized as such. Thus, the writings by migrant workers are usually considered the ones that fit the genre of migrant literature. When the works were introduced to Indonesian audience, the responses varied. Some warmly welcomed this new genre and considered it as a breakthrough, while others gave it their cold shoulders and assume that the quality of most writings by migrant workers was far from being literary. While the works by female migrant workers circulate around and are consumed mostly by their fellow workers, a wider recognition has been indicated by a number of literary events such as book reviews, university-based literary discussion forums, and literary conferences at a regional and national level, as well as an international festival as exemplified by the Ubud Writers Readers Fertival 2011, where two ex-migrant workers, Nessa Kartika and Jaladara, talked about their writings. 
Cultural texts produced by Indonesian domestic workers (IDWs) are rich in themes. I would like to provide an excerpt taken from Rini Widyawati’s novel, Catatan Harian Seorang Pramuwisma (The Diary of a Housemaid), as an example of a cultural product by an IDW. At the level of representation, the cultural text suggests the experience of Indonesian migrant workers, particularly regarding female subjectivity and negotiation of space.  Rini’s employer, a truck driver, never allows her to look idle, in spite of the fact that the apartment they live in is small. Rini can do all the house chores in just a few hours, leaving her a lot of time to write in her diary. Rini is smart enough to keep her diary in an unused pan, and she would sit on the kitchen floor, close to the front door, while staying aware of anybody’s footsteps.

Saya hafal betul suara dan irama langkah kaki majikan saya. Kalau saya mendengar    
langkah kaki itu, saya akan segera memasukkan buku harian ke dalam panci. 
Majikan saya tidak pernah membuka panci. Bisa saya bayangkan, kalau majikan 
saya tahu ada pulpen dan buku di dalam panci, mungkin akan memakannya 
mentah-mentah (p. 23).

“I know exactly the sound and rhythm of my boss’s footsteps. If  I hear that sound, I 
will quickly put my diary in the pan. My boss never opens it. I can imagine, if ever 
my boss finds out there is a pen and that book in the pan, he will eat them up.” 
(translation mine).

       The home of the narrator's employer may be considered private space to the owner, but it is public space to her. It is the place where she performs her job as a maid. However, within the home, different rooms function differently with regard to space. Kitchen is the narrator's stage at which she performs, but it may also be her territory. She owns it, so she can choose what role to play, so long as she follows her own scenario. As the above quotation suggests, the pen and the diary are symbols of literacy practice, which is not compatible with the pan, the symbol of the narrator’s main duty as a maid. A deliberate intent to put them together represents a brave attempt to cross the boundary of space. She knows the risk, but is sure enough it will not happen. Her employer will never cross the boundary of space.  Therefore, the narrator can playfully cross between her main role as a maid, when the audience (her employer) is present, or play her 'back stage' part, writing in her diary, at the absence of the audience. 


Unknown said...

I haven't had a chance to read any of Indonesian migrant literature. However, your elaboration about how some people consider that "the quality of most writings by migrant workers was far from being literary" does show me about how migrant literature is probably like. If allowed, I'd like to see migrant literature as modern poems that, structurally, disregarding the poetic writing principles (ignoring rhymes, indefinite lines, etc). But interestingly, somehow, the 'rebellion' makes modern poems becomes uniquely innocent but still deep in meaning, representing the core problem the poet feels. In case of migrant literature, the way how migrant workers write cannot be defined as 'rebellion' to literature principles since most of them are regarded as uneducated. However, their lack of literacy or their being far of literary shows how these migrant literature innocently, sincerely, and honestly represent the factual life experiences the migrant workers are through. Only 'armed' with limited capability and experience of writing, migrant workers pour their idea into papers.
In my opinion, in terms of positioning migrant literature, lots of definitions must be examined, Mam (or probably you have already had all the definitions and ideas in your mind). I mean, so far I found that Indonesia has two kinds of migrant workers, TKI (Indonesian male and female workers work overseas, with various occupations)and TKW (Indonesian female workers work overseas, often as domestic helper). I'm sure that all female writers you mentioned above are ex-TKW, therefore their writing topic is around "female subjectivity and negotiation of space." But what do you think about TKI? Do they also have significance in this, Mam?

Anyway, I think your writing is a good attempt to make Indonesian migrant literature noticed..woah, I think I'm still lack of social awareness if looking at this T___T

take care, Mam :D

Rie Rie said...

Ada banyak lagi organisasi BMI yang terlibat dalam perkembangan kepenulisan BMI. Sharing adalah kuncinya. Organisasi-organisasi selain FLP seperti: Teater Angin, Sekar Bumi.

Bahkan organisasi vokal BMI pun kerap mengadakan seminar kepenulisan seperti: ATKI, IMWU dan Kotkiho. Juga organisasi ke-Islam-an seperti Dompet Dhuafa, FKMPU, Mubarokah.

Tak jarang dari organisasi seni juga kemudian muncul penulis baru, karena dalam seni (biasanya) mereka dituntut untuk menampilkan drama. Dan dalam pembuatan drama itu tentu ada skenarionya, di sinilah tuntutan sekaligus tantangan awal bagi BMI di bidang seni untuk belajar menulis.