A History of PERMIAS: Origins and Formation
This is the first part of the series “A History of PERMIAS”. PERMIAS is the Indonesian Students Association in the United States of America.
December 24, 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of organized Indonesian student movement in the United States. On this date in 1961, the Indonesian Students Association in the United States of America, commonly known by its acronym PERMIAS (Persatuan Mahasiswa Indonesia di Amerika Serikat), was formed from the conglomeration of six pre-existing Indonesian student groups. Today, there are dozens of PERMIAS branches scattered across American campuses, and their memberships range from fewer than ten students to a few hundred.
Despite the widespread presence of PERMIAS today, the occasion which gave birth to the organization fifty years ago has become a faint memory in Indonesian American history. PERMIAS’s golden anniversary was never celebrated by students, and the date passed with little recognition from local embassy and consulates. It is likely that no Indonesian student today has read or even seen the PERMIAS charter written in Washington D.C. by representatives of the six regional organizations.
Several years ago, while a student at Cornell University, I discovered a 1974 copy of this charter hidden in the shelves of one of its libraries. And so here I wish to make available for the first time in decades the preamble to the Articles of the Indonesian Students Association in the United States of America, translated from its original in Indonesian.
Driven by a sense of genuine responsibility for the country and nation of Indonesia and consciousness of the necessity for unity and brotherhood among all Indonesian students in the United States of America, and
Believing that by tightening the brotherhood and unity among Indonesian students in the United States of America and deepening a sense of responsibility toward the country and nation, we will be able to contribute greater dedication to the country and nation on the path to a just and prosperous society based on the five principles of Panca Sila,
We, therefore, the representatives of Indonesian students who study in various cities in the United States of America, in the first deliberation of Indonesian students across the United States of America,
Have reached consensus with respect to establishing a student organization named:
The Indonesian Students Association in the United States of America.
To understand the social environment which gave rise to PERMIAS, one cannot ignore its links to the history of the Indonesian nation. Youth mass organizations played a significant role in generating awareness of a collective national identity during Indonesia’s late colonial period. The most famous was Boedi Oetomo, whose founding on May 20, 1908, is commemorated today as the National Day of Awakening. These organizations held numerous congresses as venues to advocate for independence from the Dutch. These congresses gave prominence to numerous student speakers who inspired a generation of nationalist youths.
This affinity for mass organizations continued following independence, and it propagated throughout Indonesian communities overseas. Such organizations only have one objective: promoting consciousness of a single national identity. This is perhaps why the Indonesian diaspora, while few in numbers, is able to create cohesive communities. As seen in the preamble above, this sentiment also served as the basis for the formation of PERMIAS. Organizers even created a framework for national leadership council, regional leadership councils (four in total), and membership. The charter and its 20 clauses and dozens of sub-clauses reflect Indonesian affinity for organized movements up to the 1960s.
PERMIAS as a student movement has significance not only to Indonesia and its diaspora, but also to the United States. Indonesians were among the first segments of the Asian American population to discover its collective identity. PERMIAS predates even the Asian American movement, which emerged in 1968 amid the greater civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War efforts. For decades, it has remained an independent and less examined segment of the Asian American student movement, but today it plays an important role in understanding the convergence of Asian and American student histories.
Richardson Kilis is an alumnus of Cornell University with a degree in Chemical Engineering and an International Relations minor. As former President of the Cornell Indonesian Association (CIA), he helped realize a partnership with the Yale Indonesia Forum (YIF) to hold bilingual, biannual conferences on Indonesian studies which began on the 80th anniversary of the Indonesia's Second Youth Congress. Richardson has been a presenter at the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) and the Midwest Asian American Student Union (MAASU).
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