A black man beamed at us with open arms from under a banner that read “Welcome to Atlanta!”.

My mother was a diplomat too even if she was just a housewife

Having the chance to live in a diplomatic household, I’ve had the privilege of traveling and living abroad. I also had to tell my friends of my life’s story of how I was able to live abroad and why I took International Relations as my master’s degree. They would resort into asking me, “Who was the diplomat, is it your mom or your dad?”

I would say “Both.”

During childhood, I was accustomed into listening my dad talk about politics. He would comment on the news and share his views. My late mom who died on December 2019, was a housewife who works side by my side with my dad. My dad goes to office and my mom would take care of the household.

Even though my mom was a housewife, she has been involved with the Embassy’s events and functions. She prepares and was a part of the committee in certain events. Indonesian diplomat’s wife has an association called Dharma Wanita. Every Indonesian Embassy or Indonesian Government institutions has the wives’ association that was set up to serve the needs of their husbands at work. Though this women’s organization was first used as a tool to control the narrative of Indonesian women through motherhood and domestication during Seoharto’s regime (who ruled for 32 years in Indonesia), but we cannot deny that they had an impact in making sure diplomacy works.

Diplomats’ wife association is not something new. Cynthia Enloe in her book, Bananas, Beaches and Bases has described how British diplomats’ wives demanded that the British government pay them for the work and functions they do for the embassy. Until today we barely talk about the role women as housewives play to make sure diplomacy works.

I understand that putting women’s roles only as housemakers is a form of domestication, but we need to take into account the soft power work housewives do in diplomatic reception. They decorate where the events take place, they made sure Indonesian food was served on the table, and they made sure guests can experience Indonesian culture be it through cuisine, fabrics, music and dancing.

Their works also involved in making sure their husband is taken care of so they could negotiate deals with the host country they are it.

Housewives are diplomats too. They made sure diplomacy works well and that comes from making sure they made their home. My mom was far from what you called feminist. She was the sixth child and only one out of seven children who did not get a bachelor’s degree, though she still went to a community college and got a lower diploma. Other siblings got a bachelor. She felt that she would rather work and let her younger sister get a better education.

Since becoming a diplomat’s wife, the structural and systemic climate of Indonesia’s government, made her oppressed. She was instructed to dress and act in a certain way to please the senior staff’s where my dad works in order to secure my dad’s position at work.

She internalized the patriarchal values and become a victim of structural abuse. My dad was not perfect either, but he would never physically or sexually abuse her. There were times where my dad does not get how his situation at office affected my mom’s circle at the wives’ association. And he won’t realize how he can be emotionally abusing her by not caring for his job in the office as it would affect her at the association. It was obvious that the toxic atmosphere at the wives’ association affected my mom’s wellbeing. I could say she suffered from mental health issues which then would affect how she raised me.

My mom was as much of a diplomat as my father was, she just had a different desk job. She also had to face the similar repercussion that my father had to face at work. She endured more stress than my dad and took a toll on her health.

She may not be a feminist, but her suffering made me a feminist. Her role as a housewife, a homemaker and a representative in the wives’ association in every country post she goes, made her an awesome diplomat. Without her, my dad and my family would ever survive living abroad.

This is a tribute for my mother, who was no feminist, but made me a feminist.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

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