A month before I came to the United States, I decided to get my tribal crest tattooed on my bicep with the traditional hand-tapping bamboo tool. The tattoo motif is called “Gorga” and it originated from the Batak Toba tribe that my parents belong to in North Sumatra, Indonesia. This tattoo is significant to my immigration story because it carves a mark on my body which states that I belong to particular culture of which I honor, and that I have a sense ownership for my body. As a woman growing up in Indonesia, I am well aware that many women, including my mother and grandmother were unable to have this symbol tattooed due to the conservative Islamic and Christian society in Indonesia. Wherever I go in this world, women’s bodies are more often than not objectified and politicized, which permeates to how people perceive an Indonesian woman with tattoos, and how I have highlighted my ownership of my body with my tribal tattoo pressed on my skin. In addition, it has also been difficult for me to submit myself with traditional ideas of Asian femininity, while also being respectful with some of the traditional values and cultural messages that my elders want me to uphold while I stay in the United States. Given these reasons, my Gorga tattoo speaks the truth about my identity. It shows that regardless of my gender, religious beliefs, my citizenship, or what people say about me – my ancestral roots belongs to me and that I will always be proud of it and protect it wherever I go.
– Sarah Pardede