Both my parents are Indo’s. They met in their teen years here in Southern California. In my generation, (80’s kid) most “Indo” kids did not come from both parents of Dutch Indonesian decent. All my mom and dad’s Generation, who all mostly shared the story of their parents being in concentration camps on the island, married outside of the Indo race. Like my cousins, they are Dutch Indo and Hispanic. But not us Benjamin’s kids. In our area, we where the last of the Dutch Indo’s. I am sure there are more in my generation, but in my life time I have only met 1 or 2. This alone has always made me feel very unique.
Its a question that comes up almost on a weekly basis. “What nationality are you?’ I am a green eyed Indo. I got my eyes from my dad. The combination of my dark skin and light green eyes always made people approach me to ask if I was Hawaiian, Greek, Mexican, Jewish, Black, Mulatto…There where so many guess’s, I couldn’t list them all. And when I would tell them what I actually was, it was always the same response. “Dutch-Indo what?” A lot of people didn’t even know what Indonesian was! I would end up telling them the history of my Oma and Opa being raised in Sumatra and Jakarta, the war, the struggle of finding a home after the war, and the move to Southern California. I love telling the story. And it seems like people love to hear it. Its a good story.
I wouldn’t be a true Indo if I didn’t talk about the food. OH the food! Satay, Gado Gado, Peanut sauce, Sambal, Nasi Goreng, Ayam Goreng, Rendang, and Lemper. Just to name a few. Literally a few! There is so much more! The smell of shrimp paste at my Oma’s house in the evenings will always stick in my brain. My Oma and Opa never used the AC so it was always hot and humid in their house, but it was just how they liked it! (and it saved them money! Those Indo’s are penny pincher’s!) She would have her wok out frying something delicious for dinner.
Sambal was always on the table no matter if it was spaghetti, or a rice dish. Our food meant a lot to us. Everything was usually surrounded by what my Oma made. The food always brought us together, even if just for a moment. That is where a lot of my Oma and Opa’s stories of their time in the prison camps came out. We always ate all of our food on our plates. People not having food was not this distant Chinese kid we didn’t know, starving in China. My Oma and Opa starved in those prison camps. So food was sacred, and we ate every last bite. Indo’s love to party!! I remember being small and going to the Rosie parties. Lots of dancing, drinking, smoking, and dirty jokes! It was a cluster of dark Asian people speaking Dutch.
Its a very confusing sight to someone who has not been introduced to the Indo culture. They where loud, funny, and loved to eat. We really are a beautiful, unique group of people. Especially the old Indo’s. They have a history that us younger Indo’s will never know. Looking back now, and remembering them celebrating and having such a good time together is almost symbolic of them rejoicing in that they have been through so much, and that they survived. They would shut down the parties, staying up late and finish out their fun with a cup of coffee and a smoke. .
Growing up Indo, my friends always knew my family and I were different. My brother and sister and I were very California cultured but when we would whip out our Muisjes sandwich for lunch (chocolate sprinkle sandwich) our friends looked at us confused. Some of our friends embraced the food and loved it. Some would squirm and I knew instantly, my Oma would NOT like this friend! HAHA! The friends that hung around where the ones comfortable around my Oma to let her slap them up side their heads with her house slufflje (her slipper) or feed them a rice dish even if they said they where not hungry.
As much as my Oma and Opa laid down their house rules and demanded good behavior, it was the only place I really ever wanted to be. Swimming all day, a never ending supply of food and treats, and all my Opa’s wild animal friends. He would feed Lizards, humming birds, wild crows, and let us hand feed his beautiful Koi fish, dead fly’s! I had an amazing childhood and I wouldn’t change it for anything! I am very thankful for being brought up in such a unique, tradition filled culture. My kids, who are mixed, will never truly know the magic of this culture like I did. All I can do is keep it alive by the food and the stories. I am proud to be an SoCal Indo and will do my best to keep the memories alive.