Southeast Asia: Adding Flavor to America's Melting Pot (page 2)

Southeast Asia: Adding Flavor to America

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Updated on Apr 14, 2010


The Republic of Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country, comprised of close to 230 million inhabitants and 17,508 islands, including Bali, Sumatra and Java. Indonesia is characterized by a wide diversity: there are hundreds of distinct ethnic groups and over 700 languages spoken, not to mention a rich diversity of plants and animals that include now-endangered orangutans, rhinoceroses, and tigers. Indonesia boasts a rich cultural heritage. It is home to Batik, a traditional art form that uses wax to create intricately-patterned textiles.

Indonesia’s rich offerings made the region a prime participant in trade with Indian, Chinese, and Muslim traders, and it became a Dutch colony which supplied such delicacies as nutmeg and cloves to Europe. At the conclusion of World War II, Indonesia secured its independence following three and a half centuries of Dutch rule. However, the history if Indonesia has been marked by unrest, including an anti-communist backlash in the 1960s which left between 500,000 and one million people dead, separatist violence, and widespread poverty. This upheaval prompted the emigration of tens of thousands of Indonesians to the United States, enriching America’s cultural landscape with their traditions, beliefs, and art forms.


While Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia had to fight for their independence, Thailand was the only Southeast Asian country to avoid colonization. Thailand still suffered from political instability for much of the 20th century, seeing one military regime after another, until instating a stable democracy in the 1980s. Though American involvement in Thailand’s political history has been limited, American culture has benefited greatly from its Thai population, especially in the areas of culinary and religious diversity. The largest influx of immigration from Thailand happened recently; from 1981-1990, about 64,400 Thai people immigrated to United States. Los Angeles boasts the largest population of Thai people outside of Thailand.

Though the history of Southeast Asian immigration to the United States is fairly recent, their cultural contributions are deep and varied. From the Buddhist temples of Los Angeles and California to the Thai flavorings revered by America’s top chefs, Southeast Asians have enriched American culture with the best from their homeland.

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