This story was originally published in print on Nov. 1, 2018.
It was 2 a.m. when Grace Kadiman and her roomate Abigail Limuria lay in bed, rejecting sleep and scrolling through social media searching for prominent accomplishments of women. As they searched, they found strong, brilliant and determined women, but few of them looked like they did––few of them were Indonesian.
This lack of representation stuck with them, so the next morning they ate breakfast at IHOP and developed new ideas to feature and empower women in the media. They eventually chose to write a book. That is how the “Lalita” project began.
Kadiman, now a senior journalism major, and Limuria, now a recent graduate, are currently gathering 50 biographies from Indonesian women across America and Indonesia to develop a representative and empowering book. Their interviewees include women currently working in the realms of science, journalism and modeling.
MEANING BEHIND THE NAME
Lalita means beautiful and charming in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language Indonesia adopted before developing its own language. They chose this name in hopes of redefining what it means to have these characteristics as an Indonesian woman.
Kadiman and Limuria have sought and interviewed over 37 Indonesian women so far. Each biography will be accompanied with a different illustrator’s artwork, with the book having 50 illustrators in total each portraying each woman’s story.
Their interviewees’ enthusiastic responses have at times surprised the authors. Kadiman was elated to have scored an interview with an Indonesian model through direct message on Instagram since she thought it would be difficult to contact female Indonesian voices.
“They’re all so willing to share their stories and I think it’s also because they know what it’s like to grow up in Indonesia as a girl, and they want to change that, and want to share their stories to do that,” Kadiman said.
The authors are promoting the book through the “Lalita” project Instagram, which currently has over 800 followers and over 100 posts primarily written in Indonesian.
In an email, Limuria said Indonesia is often portrayed in negative light which affects Indonesian woman and how they regard their own culture.
“The word ‘Indonesia’ connotes loser, corruptions, traffic jam, pollution, racism, religious oppressions, third world country and uneducated people,” Limuria said in the email. “I know a lot of Indonesians that [have] rejected their own heritage and culture and prefer to be more ‘white-washed’ because deep down we are ashamed of being an underdog.”
Indonesian girls have felt like the black sheeps in their families due to their gender, having been raised differently compared to their brothers.
“My dad’s a businessman, so when I was growing up my dad would come home and talk to me about school, but when he wanted to talk about business he would talk business with my brothers,” Kadiman said. “He expected me to either not understand how to do business or expected me to not work in the future. There’s this gender role enforcement that we’re trying to fight against.”
Kadiman and Limuria plan on self-publishing the book in Indonesian first to help Indonesian girls develop a greater sense of nationalism and confidence.
“I hope this book can contribute in creating a healthier, happier and more confident generation of young girls in Indonesia,” Limuria said. “I want to hear stories of girls reading this book and go, ‘I didn’t know an Indonesian woman can do something like this.’”
The authors also anticipate that the book’s later publication in English would increase international awareness and attention to Indonesian women and their achievements.
“Most of them are not internationally acclaimed simply because they do not speak English or their work is not in English,” Limuria said. “It is not that they do not achieve something great, it’s just unfortunate that the internationally spoken language in the world is English and not Indonesian, so there’s always that language barrier.”