Mira Kusuma Oaten
“The Immigrant’s Story”
My mom, (Elly) Mira Basar Kusuma Oaten, passed away peacefully on January 30th 2023. Around Santa Barbara you may have seen her delivering food to the homeless along State Street, befriending a homeless vet looking for a home for their dog, volunteering as an usher, reading her poetry at a local pub, or singing at the Red Piano Bar with her walker in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
Mom was in a hurry to meet the world. She left her prosperous Indonesian family at age 17 by buying a one-way ticket to Melbourne, Australia. Two months later, she won a hotly-contested audition to become a radio broadcaster for the Australian Broadcasting Company, reading the daily morning news to millions in Indonesia. She married my dad at 18, had me at 19, and moved to the United States. She struggled to learn English, especially colloquialisms ‘a bird in the hand saves nine… or no, is like a rolling stone? ack.. Two in the bush is better than a rolling stone without moss…ack! what does that mean?’ And yet, she earned degrees from UCSB in Anthropology and an MFA from UCLA’s premiere film-making school where she won a Sol Siegal Award for best screenplay, an award given to Francis Ford Coppola several years prior.
She was known for throwing multi-dish dinner parties for friends from film school, and people she befriended commuting on the Los Angeles RTD bus. After film school, she trekked through Afghanistan, Pakistan, and remote parts of India as a single woman in the 1970s. More recently, at age 70, she tried hitchhiking back to her hotel after missing a bus while traveling abroad. A Good Samaritan saw her, screeched to a halt, and packed her in his car while scolding her that hitchhiking along the Yemen border during a civil war was crazy for a small old lady.
In Santa Barbara, she loved buying coffee for others, bought lots of dog treats for random dogs around town, and fed birds under signs that said ‘Please don’t feed the birds! ‘ As a small Asian woman with an accent, she was unable to break down the Hollywood barriers of the 70s, but she persevered and ended up teaching Indonesian to our military at the Monterey Language Institute. I was able to provide for her in a manner that allowed her to live a life without boundaries her final 20 years or so. She led a fully engaged extraordinary life on her terms. She was proud of her son, and grandsons Alex and Adrian, perhaps feeling that through us the world finally recognized that she mattered, and was unique. She did and was.