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Immigrant brings slice of Indonesia to county

Cherry Grove man shares music, spreads 'good life' message in Oregon


Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Cherry Grove resident Gunawan Murhadi, who became a U.S. citizen in 1995, celebrated his roots with a solo entry in Hillsboros July 4 parade.Bringing the phrase “one-man band” to life, Gunawan Murhadi decided to appear in Hillsboro’s Fourth of July parade a month ago simply to share his positive outlook with others.

Murhadi, who lives in western Washington County and works at Epson Portland, Inc., was the solo individual playing a percussion instrument with one hand while carrying a sign in the other that read, “Indonesian Community.”

Coming from literally half a world away requires optimism and faith, and Murhadi epitomizes those traits — along with a sense of humor.

“Thank you for having me to spread the words of my life to others,” he laughed. “Just good life only.”

The idea of joining the Independence Day parade in Hillsboro was Murhadi’s, but he pointed out that he has a lot of experience with parades in the area.

“I used to organize the Indonesian community of Oregon for events like parades, and last year, I organized the team for the ‘Beaverton Day Celebration’ parade. Our ‘Indonesian Community’ float got number one for nonprofit float,” he said.

He explained that he decided to go as a solo entry in Hillsboro’s parade because he is the only Indonesian in the community he lives in — Cherry Grove, near Gaston.

“We have a lot of Indonesian community in this area, mostly in Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, a few in Beaverton and a couple in Hillsboro,” he said. “And one in Gaston, which is me, the only one.”Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Gunawan Murhadi (far right, with a drum stick held high) poses for a photo with the Portland band Bloco Alegria, a samba band that celebrates the music of Brazil.

Although he is the only Indonesian in the Gaston area, Murhadi is acquainted with many of his countrymen from around the region, in part because he plays a key role in organizing important cultural celebrations.

“I know almost all of the Indonesians in Oregon,” Murhadi said. “We have two big events each year, and I have been two years in a row as main event committee for the Indonesian Independence Celebration in Oregon. This year will be the third one.”

The music Murhadi played while walking in the July 4 parade was made with a “gamelan,” a percussion instrument from his native Indonesia.

Murhadi was born in Madiun, Indonesia, graduated from high school there, and went on to college in Bali. He graduated in 1983 and later moved to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, where he took a job as a dining room waiter at a fancy hotel. A few months later, he parlayed his hotel experience into an opportunity to work on a Holland America cruise ship.

For the next 10 years, Murhadi served as a waiter, bartender and wine steward on cruise ships, but his life changed when one of the cruise ships he was working on arrived at Swan Island in Portland. He made the decision to emigrate to Oregon, a choice that later paid off with a good job as a machine operator for Epson, a manufacturing company that makes ink cartridges for printers and performs precision injection molding of plastic parts.

“This month is my 21-year anniversary (with Epson),” he said.

In addition to enjoying his job, Murhadi said he is ecstatic about the quality of life in the Northwest.

“I love Oregon,” said Murhadi, who became a United States citizen in 1995. “I love the people, politically correct; and I love the place; clean, green, beautiful, easy to commute, travel or go somewhere else. All parks, beaches, rivers, mountains are for public.”

Coming from Murhadi, who has traveled extensively around the world, his appreciation of Oregon seems especially meaningful.

“I have been visiting in 15 states in the U.S. and more than 45 nations in the world,” Murhadi said.

Murhadi lives in Cherry Grove with his wife, Judy Schilling.

“We love the place, we love the landlord, we love our friends and we love the community,” Murhadi said.

Appropriately for a world traveler, Murhadi met his wife at a location considered a hot-spot for tourists.

“I met her in Juneau, Alaska,” Murhadi said. “She was on an Alaska cruise.”

Everything is not perfect in Cherry Grove, however. Murhadi joked that sometimes there are drawbacks to living in an isolated rural community.

“It is very hard to get phone connection in Cherry Grove, and email sometimes does not have good connection either,” he said.

Murhadi has strongly embraced the community he has adopted. At Epson, for example, he is a volunteer with “Road Warrior,” the company’s road litter cleanup program, and his dedication has earned praise from Epson managers.

“All of our employees play a role in some fashion, but Gunawan is one of my consistent volunteers,” said Kimberley Sackman, environment and safety specialist with Epson.

According to Sackman, about 20 volunteers from Epson go out three times a year to clean up a five-mile stretch of Highway 26 in the North Plains area, a project the company has sponsored since 1997.

“Gunawan has been a longtime supporter (of the program),” Sackman said, adding that Murhadi seems to be particularly environmentally aware.

“We’ve been a ‘zero waste to landfill’ company since 2001,” she explained. “And Gunawan is one of the proudest about that, and about Epson buying clean wind energy.”

Even on his weekends off, Murhadi likes to find a way to make a difference in his community. Recently, he volunteered to help clean litter from local roadways with the Hillsboro-based Community Action Organization.

Despite his full-time job with Epson and his dedication to volunteering, Murhadi finds time to have a good dose of fun as well.

“Recently, I am playing samba music with Bloco Alegria of Portland,” Murhadi said.

Bloco Alegria is a Portland-based “Rio-style samba band” comprised of a group of “musicians who love samba and celebrate the music, dance, and culture of Brazil,” according to the band’s website.

“Someday, I will collaborate music between gamelan and samba and others,” Murhadi added.

He already is sharing gamelan with Hillsboro residents. Now and then, Murhadi sets up a booth at the downtown Tuesday Marketplace and offers free lessons and demonstrations for a musical instrument most Americans have never even heard of, much less played.

Lesley Wise, manager of the Tuesday Marketplace, said Murhadi has become a popular figure at the market.

“He was there last year and had a booth, selling musical instruments and playing music,” Wise said. “He comes and spreads out his stuff; it’s really quite interesting. He’s always so happy and so cheerful; he’s awesome. He gets all the kids interested. Kids love and enjoy his music. It’s very different.”

“I have a gamelan instrument, and I like to share my knowledge, ability and experience with everyone and the community in Hillsboro,” Murhadi said. “People, children never hear gamelan, and now, they have chance to see, to feel, to touch and to play the unique music instrument with me. All are welcome.”



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