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Little Indonesia in Hilltop City?

SOMERSWORTH — To celebrate and grow Somersworth’s largest subculture, city and Indonesian governmental officials are working together to establish a section of the Hilltop City as the first “Little Indonesia” in the United States.

Mahendra Siregar, Indonesia’s ambassador to the U.S., visited Somersworth Wednesday and Thursday in support of erecting a first-of-its-kind Indonesian welcome gate and establishing Little Indonesia in one of two proposed sections of downtown’s Main Street.

Speaking during a ceremony on the second night of his multifaceted visit, Siregar called the proposal an important and historic step while assuring Somersworth residents he and his government will do “whatever possible” to ensure it comes to fruition.

“It is something we will consider very seriously,” said Siregar, who traveled with other representatives of Indonesia’s Washington D.C-based embassy and New York-based consulate. “This is very positive, very encouraging and, I would say, visionary for the mayor to suggest such a possibility.”

The vision for Little Indonesia and Siregar’s visit come as part of a collaboration between Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard and Indonesian Community Connect, a local nonprofit group that celebrates and promotes Indonesian cultural heritage through various civic endeavors.

The fledgling idea is expected to involve funding from local and Indonesian governments. The plan is to either erect a welcome gate at the intersection of Main and Washington streets and establish the row of vacant storefronts across from Aclara as Little Indonesia, or to erect the gate at the entrance of Somersworth Plaza and to create the district around that area.

Hilliard said he prefers the former option, but he said both options would pave the way for new Indonesian-American-run businesses and revitalize a relatively quiet section of the city.

“This community was built on immigrant groups,” Hilliard said, adding that Somersworth would be the “perfect place” to establish the country’s first Little Indonesia.

An estimated 2,000 of the Hilltop City’s 11,000-odd residents are Indonesian immigrants or of Indonesian descent, giving the city one of the largest Indonesian populations north of Manhattan, according to Hilliard and ICC President Raude Raychel.

Hilliard said those 2,000 people, and what they’ve brought to Somersworth, play integral parts in the city’s commitment to being a welcoming, accepting and diverse place.

He and Siregar credit that commitment for Somersworth’s ever-increasing Indonesian community, which they said is drawing Indonesian-Americans from other parts of the U.S. and, in turn, fueling Somersworth’s renewal.

“That is quite telling,” said Siregar. “They want to stay. There must be something good that makes them stay.”

Siregar admitted he did have doubt about the idea before arriving in Somersworth, one of the smallest cities in one of the smallest states in the U.S.

But, Siregar said, that doubt was quickly erased after he toured different parts of the city and enjoyed a lengthy dinner meeting Wednesday with 50 Indonesian-Americans and Indonesian immigrants at Bali Sate House on High Street.

“The idea is unique, but to have a relatively sizable Indonesian community in a city that is relatively not too large of a population is in itself unique,” he said. “To have them mix and come here and live together here is something that is interesting.”

The ambassador’s trip was capped Thursday night with a City Hall proclamation and Indonesian flag raising ceremony, which roughly three dozen local residents, officials and business leaders attended.

It was unclear how long the proposal and its funding could take to be approved locally and by Indonesia’s government. As of Thursday, the plan called for the welcome gate to be funded by Indonesia, while the creation of Little Indonesia would involve Somersworth’s Economic Development Department and City Council.

Siregar said he will take what he’s learned back to his government, and leave the local portions of the project in the “good hands,” and “driven,” enthusiastic mind of Hilliard.

“I’m a little worried about that enthusiasm,” Siregar joked.

Raychel said she’s optimistic the proposal will have a wide-reaching cultural impact.

“Surely, we’d love to put our idea of Little Indonesia into reality,” Raychel said. She went on to add that events like the Somersworth Indonesian Fair and initiatives like a bilingual book project have already led to local children “walking with their heads held high, proud of their culture.”

Read the original article posted on May 16th, 2019 at Fosters.com