The retail shop at the Cultural Center. Photo by Judi Currie.
From the beaches of Java and Bali to an 8th century Buddhist Temple, Indonesia—a country of more than 17,000 islands—has much to offer. But if a 23-hour flight feels too long, Little Indonesia is close by. Indonesian Community Connect (ICC) in Somersworth opened the world’s first Little Indonesia Cultural Center, working closely with the General Consulate of the Republic of Indonesia in New York and the Embassy of Indonesia in Washington D.C., as well as civic leaders on various
Somersworth was chosen because of its central location in Northern New England and because it is home to the second largest Indonesian community in the U.S., says Raude Raychel, founder and president of ICC.
The Little Indonesia Cultural Center is the first part of a multi-phase project that also calls for a welcome gate, a museum and a park. Raychel says the current retail shop showcases products, but the long-term goal is to create a shopping and dining district similar to a Chinatown or Little Italy.
The products in the shop highlight the crafts the different islands are known for such as decorative masks, batik clothing, wood-carved cats and dogs, and elaborate glass flowers.
The center also houses an Indonesian food pantry being run in conjunction with Gather, the Portsmouth-based nonprofit food pantry, to provide food common to the Indonesian diet.
There is office space available for businesses offering needed services, such as an immigration attorney. A shipping company operates at the center where families can direct-ship a large parcel to family in Indonesia.
The ICC also has been working with the NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs to expand import opportunities.
“Companies across the U.S. and in Indonesia have been reaching out to us. We’re now thinking of ourselves as the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce,” she says. “All of the different islands want to promote their culture. There are Indonesians who want to get their products to the U.S.; having the ICC as that contact can help bring them here.”
Local businesses can advertise in center mailings and take part in job fairs, says Raychel. She adds she has toured several manufacturers in the Tri-City region. “It’s really nice to be able to tell people who call us what a job might be like, being able to describe the environment. We’re also available to work directly with our sponsor companies and just signed an $18,000 agreement with Stonewall Kitchen, which has a facility in Dover and counts among its employees many members of the Indonesian community.”
The larger vision, says Raychel, is to strengthen partnerships between the U.S. and Indonesia for tourism and trade. “We have people all over the U.S. who have put Somersworth on their bucket list. They know about us from reading the papers back home where this is a pretty big story. It’s the first Little Indonesia in the world.”
For more information, visit indonesianconnect.org.