Grilled Satay at BBQ’s. The smell of Durians in the fridge. My aunt chanting in the afternoons. I have always treasured my Indonesian heritage. It has influenced me since I was a young boy.
After Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, World War II was over in The Dutch East Indies and the rest of Southeast Asia, my grandparents (Opa and Oma) and their 6 children immigrated from Indonesia to Holland in 1956. They eventually made their way to America and settled in Santa Barbara, CA in 1960. Fast forward many years and eventually my mom met my dad while taking golf lessons. The rest is history, as they say.
Fast forward a few more years and my sister and I were born. During my youth we would constantly be watched by Opa and Oma while my parents worked. This created many distinct memories. They still spoke Bahasa and Dutch to each other so we were taught many words to use for simple requests. I remember Opa cooking satay for us during BBQ’s. I didn’t know it was called satay, I just thought that was how you were supposed to eat chicken. I still think that. I remember Opa’s favorite ice cream flavor was Haagen Dazs Coffee Ice Cream. My sister and I used to steal the ice cream out of the freezer and systematically dismantle said ice cream with no remorse. I remember Opa used to bring durian home from his trips to Indonesia and smell up the house to many complaints from the rest of us. I remember my aunt ringing her gong and doing her Buddhist chants in the afternoons. I remember Opa wearing his nice Batik shirts and always thinking they were very beautiful. This has specifically had a large influence on my personal taste in clothes. Today I wear patterned shirts at my performances in honor of Opa and my Indonesian heritage.
Opa and Oma have since passed away, and the rest of our family now carry on the traditions of our Indonesian roots. Opa’s recipe for Satay was used during our last thanksgiving. It’s still the best way to eat chicken.
Like many other Indos I’m a musician receding in Las Vegas and had the privilege to meet up with the GM of the Ritz Carlton in Singapore who visited one of the lounges in Vegas were I was performing, he offered me to stay in his hotel in Singapore and by the end of this month I’ll be flying back to perform on a nightly basis, this is for me a beautiful opportunity to fly from Singapore to Jakarta to stay with my cousins.
I’m so happy to be the opening at at Socal Indo’s 2nd Annual FAIR FOOD FESTIVAL Sunday 8 September at Dutch Club Avio and look forward to meet all you Indos.
Thank you for reading, my name is Cameron Dettman.
I was born in Toronto in 1963. My father was 23 years old when I was born. When I was 3 years old, my Oma passed away. My dad, now 26, has lost both his parents. My childhood was influenced by the experiences of my father, and the scars he carried.
In 1973, I had my 10th birthday in The Netherlands. This trip was the first time my father had been back to The Netherlands since coming to Canada in 1957…
I graduated from Ryerson with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance. Originally considered following in the family steps of being an accountant, but life took me in a different direction.
I started to write this to give my daughters a sense of where they came from. Having no knowledge of my grandparents character, I wanted to find out what they were like, so that my daughters could know the past family members that they never met. As the process continued, I realized that the story was bigger and would appeal to a broader audience, as many families could relate to the lack of information that was passed down after WWII.
With the information recounted of experiences in both the European and Pacific war theaters, the information could help others heal, and start conversations. For those that had similar experiences, seeking information and the friendship of others that can relate is paramount to understanding.
Honoring the past brings a feeling that is hard to describe. Writing this book was a learning and healing experience.
I knew nothing about the character of my grandparents and reading their letters I felt like I was a child at their knee. I was able to gain an understanding of who they were as people and how they treated others. I found so many character traits of my grandfather in both my father and myself.
Searching for information about my grandparents led me to a box of letters they had written to each other, as a young couple with all of life’s experiences ahead of them. Relocation from the Netherlands to Dutch East Indies to start a new and great life was soon changed by the start of World War II.
Letters my Oma received post war from Prisoners Of War who were with my Opa in Burma give great insight into the man my father never knew. War ending brought other struggles to a widow and young mother. Doing the best for her family was hard during this period, so she sought the best options for the two of them.
Final recognition of the war efforts of my Opa in 2015 helps the family heal the wounds that passed down through the generations.
“Time” is a tribute honoring the memory of my grandparents and father, and all those that endured the horrors of Japanese internment.
Batavia, 20 November
My darling Bebetje, Tonight I am going to write early to you. Your last letters were so very cheerful, my wifey. That is, of course, because you see that time is really marching on. Don’t you think that after all it goes fast? When I think about it, it seems a long time ago since you brought me to the train and we were making love to each other in the train to Utrecht. Oh, my angel, I will never forget that!! To be true, initially I had never been burdened by the thought of leaving Holland, but when it came to the point I felt so miserable about it and I did feel how we had absolutely grown together in that time: We truly belong to each other, my Bebetje. I believe we couldn’t be without each other. I feel quite distinctly in the time that I am here now, even though we write each other so often, that I miss you, my dearest. That feeling will never go away. We must make our marriage so that it will be an example here in Indie.
Batavia, 1 December 1936
My precious girl, This will be the last letter I address to Miss Oltmans. The next one I will write to my own little wife. I find it almost like a dream. I get just so, without any ado, a little wife without noticing anything. It is really as if I fell asleep at night, dreamed that I was marrying, then woke up, and when I woke up and boom, it was true. My dearest Bebetje, I know for sure that we will be very happy together and stay that way.
Eindhoven, 11 Dec. 1945
Darling Bé and darling Woutertje, When we heard about a year and a half ago that Jaap had died and heard that he died a year earlier we were totally shocked and upset. We always loved Jaap very much. He was still so young. We couldn’t believe it. And for you, it must be terrible and dreadful. We can imagine it because here in Holland terrible things have also happened. Many died in concentration camps or were executed.
Bé, we wish you strength. We always thought of you and Woutertje. And Jaap, we remember as a fine and warm man. We hope that Woutertje has that same sunny and friendly character from his father.
Friday 14 August 2015
Dear Bebelaar family and guests, I would like to start this decoration ceremony with the playing of the National Anthem of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
(playing of “Het Wilhelmus”)
Tomorrow, 15 August, 70 years ago, the Japanese armed forces capitulated, and with that the second World War officially came to an end.
Today, we are here together to award a decoration of honour, posthumously, to Sergeant Jacob Bebelaar and Private Maurits Cornelis Cramer
“No. It’s ok…(awkward chuckle) I don’t want to say this wrong.”
“You’ll say it wrong but try. I won’t die or explode… c’mon… just try it.”
“Ok….Saah joke ka gee?”
“See! I’m fine. (Smiling) Also that’s wrong. It’s pronounced ‘shoek’ya’”
This has been the beginning of every single conversation I’ve had with people since the moment I had to introduce myself.
There have been a few modifications to this dialogue over the years. I have spared teachers the agony by saying my name first… unless I didn’t like the teacher… then they can power through it. When people look at my name tag, I tell them “it’s useless… just call me Suki” a nickname I acquired after the 500th failed attempt ending with “Suki?” “Yeah ok… it’s Suki.” I was 6 at that time.
I learned early on that if someone can’t pronounce your name nor tries, you are either completely avoided or completely focused upon as the point of unwarranted attention.
But you know what? My name is very special as it holds a wealth of history that has allowed me to educate everyone in my path about Friesland, the Moluccan Islands, Dutch Indonesian people, the history of World War II (WWII) fought in Southeast Asia and about my ancestors who live through me.
My name is Sjoekje Frederika Sasbone.
“Shoek’ya? Oh! That’s not that hard when you say it. Shoek’ya… That’s pretty! What is that?”
“Sjoekje is actually a Friesian name. Friesland is a province in Holland. My mom is Dutch and my dad is Indonesian.”
“Oh…” (I know this look… the look of “you don’t look Dutch”).. Specifically, from the Moluccan Islands, known to you as the ‘Spice Islands’ where all your spices come from.”
My maternal Oma, named Sjoekje, lived to be 105 years old. She was born and lived in a town called Heerenveen, located in Friesland. On her 100th birthday, I asked her how long she lived there. Matter of factly, she said, “A hundred years.” I laughed and then realized it wasn’t an exaggeration, which made me chuckle even more. She was on the maiden flight of the first airplane flown in the city and she and my Opa Lucas owned and operated a restaurant. She was funny, personable and had friends of all ages until the day she died. Her last words to me were, “Sjoekje, don’t let anyone forget our name.” Oma and Opa had four children (one was still born). The middle child was my mother, Klaasje Anna, born in Leeuwarden, on her mother’s birthday, August 11, 1934.
One side of my family had their tragic
experiences in Europe. My mother was 6 years old when WWII occurred, trekking
between Holland and Germany with her family for survival and safety. My other
side of my family was in combat clear across the other side of the globe. My
father was a 19 year old prisoner of war (POW)
in Indonesia proudly fighting for the Dutch army; captured by the Japanese
right at the onset of their invasion in 1942 until the day the war ended in
1945. The war ended and so did the Dutch ruling over Indonesia.
My paternal Oma, Frederika died young but was known to be a very kind and loving mother. My Opa Joshua was a master of all weapons (including bayonet, rifle, pistol and sword), he fenced, he played the violin, he was a leader in his community, worked as a nurse in a prison and “everyone knew where he was in the village just by hearing his laugh”. They had six children (one was still born). The oldest son was my father, Alexander, born on The Moluccan Islands, on November 15, 1924.
Friesians have fought against the Vikings,
negotiated with the Romans and have demonstrated ingenuity as evidenced by
creating terps to prevent flooding due to the rising sea level. They are
farmers from the North who are known for their stubbornness and strength. My great
grandfather is on the books as previous owner of the windmill in Heerenveen.
This side of the family has owned local businesses and restaurants dating back
The Moluccan Islands are notorious for their
warriors; fighting to the death for their families, justice and the honor of
the queen. As aforesaid, it is also known as the “Spice Islands”, the origin of
nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, etc. This side of the family are not only warriors
but they are explorers. My father’s true last name, Sasabone has been derived
from my ancestors who traveled (hasa
hasa: Sasa) along the Gulf of Bone, located within the island of Sulawesi (Celebes).
“Oh that’s a weird combo. Holland and Indonesia are so
far away from each other. I’d never put those countries together. How unique!”
The “World War” part of WWII includes the battle fought in Southeast Asia. Not many people know that Indonesia was a Dutch colony, which meant Indonesians fighting for the Dutch against the Japanese, who fought with Germany.
One side of my family had their tragic experiences in Europe. My mother was 6 years old when WWII occurred, trekking between Holland and Germany with her family for survival and safety. My father was a 19 year old prisoner of war (POW) in Indonesia proudly fighting for The Dutch Army, captured by The Japanese right all the onset of their invasion in 1942 until the day the war ended in 1945. The war ended and so did the Dutch ruling over Indonesia.
Following the war, my mother worked in an office and lived in the Hague. At age 21, she flew to New York in 1956 with a friend, destination: California. She and her Norwegian girlfriend were having coffee in Beverly Hills and were approached by a wealthy woman who asked them to work for her. My mother was a nanny in Beverly Hills where she met different actors and other well known people. She eventually moved to Long Beach, as well as Belmont Shores and worked at both Memorial and St. Mary Hospital as a nurse. She decided to join the convent under the cloistered Carmelite order in Long Beach for a few years. When her sister came to the United States, my mother left the convent and they both moved to Buena Park.
My father was in New Guinea for a little while
during the war and eventually ended up in Haarlem, NL where he’d laugh and tell
me, “It was cold, yo! We packed the snow to throw snowballs but didn’t know how
so we hit each other hard with snow rocks!” In 1958, he played the stand up
bass in two bands, “The Royal Hawaiians” and “The Silver Stars”; traveling
through Holland, Belgium and Germany by bike. After working for KLM as a
mechanic, at age 36 my father decided to sail to New York from France in 1960,
“as an adventure”. In its final voyage, the USS United States was welcomed by
fireworks as it sat idle next to the Statue of Liberty on the 4th of July. It
subsequently docked on July 5th where Alexander Sasabone set foot into this
country. My father first lived in Claremont, Calif. and worked as a gardener
for the Claremont Manor. His sponsor was unkind, he hated his job and was in a
country that made him ride in the back of a bus due to his skin color. He later
moved to Pasadena and negotiated his rent via his knack for intricacies. He had
a Master in Watch Making, so he fixed clocks for his landlady. For the next 42
years, he worked in Anaheim, Calif., as a parts engineer for Circle Seal; an
aerospace plant that also specialized in helicopters and airplanes. He never
once complained about this job during his entire tenure.
“Oh wow! So your mom is Dutch and your dad is
Indonesian!? How did they meet? Over there in Holland? Must’ve been so
My parents met at a Dutch club in Anaheim,
Calif, called AVIO. My mother was 34 and my father was 44. She said that he was
the only Indonesian person there, laughing, joking and socializing with
everyone. Yeah.. she was crushing on him.
“Zus! Why don’t you go for Al?” said my Tante (aunt). “He’s so fun and so nice. Al would be great for you!” On one
occasion, my mother passed by him on her way to the restroom, he stopped her (knowing she was on a date) and said,
“Why are you with that guy? Get rid of him and let’s go out.” Thanks to my
Tante Annie, and his suave charm, my parents dated and married in 1971.
Klaasje was 37 and Alexander was 47 when their only child, Sjoekje Frederika, was born on July 15, 1972.
“Wow… I didn’t know all that history with those two countries.
Were you born here or over there? Do you speak Dutch? Have you been there
In Artesia, California born and raised in the playground is where I spent most of my days. Okay okay… it’s not as smooth as the Fresh Prince but it was worth a shot. I am “first generation American”, born in Pioneer Hospital, which is now an Asian food strip mall in the city of Artesia, Calif. I took my first steps on a Dutch soccer field in Friesland. I picked up the language when I was 7 years old, after living there for the summer prior to my 3rd grade year. I remember not understanding a single thing my parents were talking about before that trip and returning home understanding every single thing they said. Mostly talking about me. By the way, I never told them I understood Dutch until I was about 10 so… joke’s on them.
Admittedly, it was not easy growing up
biracial in America from two unfamiliar cultures and looking nothing like
either. Furthermore, I had older parents, which was very uncommon for that
time. I was without siblings or cousins nor local family members outside of my
parents and my maternal aunt and uncle who lived in Orange County. My family
was spread out all over the world: Holland, New Zealand, Australia and
Indonesia. My father changed his last name from Sasabone to Sasbone right
before he got married. I was unfamiliar with that side of the family until 1997
when my cousin located me, taking a chance on a “Sasbone” listed in the
phonebook. I was listed hoping someone would be looking for me too.
raised Dutch in America. My father would tell me that
he’s an American first, then Dutch and referred to the Indonesians as
Most Americans weren’t familiar with
Indonesia, so I would geographically explain its relation to the Philippines
for others to understand. The Dutch I’d interact with would tell me that I
wasn’t really Dutch because I was half. Growing up in elementary school was a
fun time, sarcastically speaking. I
was terribly ridiculed for my name, the way I worded things (inheriting the way my parents would phrase
sentences when translating it into English), the way I looked, how loud my
laugh was… you name it, it was all on tap for being teased, outcasted and put
down. I told my parents a few times when it was happening but stopped after a
while because I saw that it was hurtful for them to hear this. I didn’t want them to feel bad.
Imagine the challenge for two people
relentlessly balancing home life while healing from significant Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) from WWII.
There was a lot of hurt from that era. That
hurt would manifest into anger, sometimes appearing to be unprovoked in my eyes
since I was just a little kid at the time being the spectator. There was a lot
of anxiety due to so many factors, including not growing up in this country.
Subsequently, this meant a lot of restrictions from things other kids were
doing because it was unfamiliar, which meant unsafe. Ultimately, they were
being protective. There was also an instilled philosophy of fighting for what
is fair and honorable, never being put down by anyone and the expectation to
demonstrate the fight was to be at a high intensity level in order to be heard.
Nevertheless, the basics must be honored and
remembered by my mother’s poignant words:
“I came to the states with a trunk… a fun, happy girl looking for an
adventure… helping a friend and looking deeper into what the United States had
to offer a girl like me… my motto was ‘come what may, I came to stay.’ This is
what it came down to: faith, hope and love. A husband from a country that spoke
the same language as I did and a daughter sent from above.”
I know my parents loved me and they did the absolute best they could for me despite having to manage their own trauma and memories from the world’s unnecessary tragic events.
“You are so exotic looking. I totally Thought you were Mexican when I first met you ! And an only child, how lucky” !
Understand, I’m no victim.
I certainly was though. Years of daily bullying from other kids at school, then coming home to residual conflict stemming from PTSD, felt unyielding to navigate through. I don’t know what my peers’ domestic narratives were for them to choose to interact with me in the way they did, nor is it any of my business. I honestly blame no one. I was simply just a kid trying to be a kid, do my homework and experience life the way it was portrayed on TV. I had to move forward.
Even though I was an only child, we were in no
financial state to spoil me. My parents worked extremely hard and lived an
honorable, selfless life to ensure I had a good education, which meant
sacrificing most popular toys and the trendy clothes my classmates had. In that
sense, I can say I was spoiled with the love and opportunity to have a strong
What’s it like specifically growing up as a “SoCal Indo”?
As a child, I experienced feeling ignored,
outcasted and isolated with children and other non related adults telling me
what I was and what I wasn’t. For example, census time in the classroom…
There was no way I could just pick one ethnicity because I was exactly two.
What a relief when the “other” category manifested. At age 11, my mother took
me for my social security card. I was instructed to pick one ethnicity on my
application. I wasn’t doing it. I am
exactly two. With my mother’s patience and support, (and my inherent stubbornness) we were there for 2 hours until the
employee finally got their supervisor’s approval to put “Dutch Indonesian” on
That day I learned two things after being
completely done with the debate, argument, explanation and fight: (1) there is
always a way and (2) I am no longer ignored and my voice of conviction finally
I went from victim to warrior.
Although there were a handful of peers who
were unkind, I was very fortunate to have peers who weren’t cruel and were also
“first generation American” from Portuguese and Filipino descent. We had our
own unspoken understanding should any of our parents act or react a certain
way. My mother was very much connected to the surrounding Dutch community so
the traditions were very much intact. I had significant mentors in the form of
teachers who helped me more than they would ever know. I had very close
childhood friends who became my family, my siblings and my foundation which
helped me foster more meaningful friendships later in life. I also had other
cultures who unconsciously adopted me.
I am a chameleon. A cultural illusion.
Cultural diversity is very indicative of
Southern California. First of all, I am mostly asked in Español, if I speak
Spanish from someone in need of help. Thus, I took Spanish for 8 years (4 in high school and 4 in undergrad) so
I could try to be of some help; actually becoming a bilingual tutor at a middle
school for a few years after undergrad. Here’s my personal census integration tally: in Long Beach I’m mistaken
for Samoan, in Hawaii I’m mistaken for a local, in the South I’m mistaken for
half black, in Mexico I’m Mexican, I’m Italian in Italy, in some settings I’m
Arab and during the World Cup events, I’m Brazillian. What an honor to be
associated with such an array of beautiful cultures.
My mantra is to live a meaningful life and
help as many people along the way. I did not want the recounts of my parents’
ambition to survive, ultimately result in vain… their only child becoming an
unproductive member in society. There is absolutely no way I am going to leave
the earth the same way I was introduced to it. Not with the tenacity of my
Dutch and Indonesian predecessors running through my veins.
Every experience I have had has shaped me into
the woman who stands here before you.
I have fostered compassion and empathy due to
world circumstances that predates my birth. By being nonaffluent, coupled with
the challenges I faced during my formative years, I am a licensed clinical
social worker (LCSW), a healer and a protector. I became culturally and
historically insightful in order to taper down my volatile responses in the
name of advocacy. I must still practice transitioning from, “Hey that’s just
me. It’s how I ethnically respond to these things. We are passionate people!”
to my thought bubble of “Not everyone deserves me at this high intensity level.
My family’s trauma response is not mine and I need to dial it back a bit within
the context of my own surroundings so I can be heard.” Finally, I bask in
reflection of initially feeling as if I belonged to nothing, now accepting that
I genuinely belong to everything. Due to the welcomed embrace from those around
me, I’ve grown to be relatable, sensitive and awoken. Without reservations, I
am invited into various cultures to learn more and more about my fellow
brothers and sisters from other mothers and other misters.
At 91 years old, my father told me, “Life is
too short Sjoekje.” “Even after 91 years, daddy?” “Yes. After 91 years, life is
My father passed away just shy of his 92nd
birthday on October 23, 2016. He literally had a peaceful smile on his face,
“no kidding” (as he would say). He
was in the comfort of his own home, cared for by his wife of 45 years and was
buried in the Artesia Cemetery.
I am fortunate to have the last surviving
members of that generation with me in California, my mother and her sister
whose husband of 42 years passed away last year. I am also fortunate to have
established a connection with my family throughout the world for this legacy to
I will end with this:
I am my father’s daughter in that I love
intricately detailed projects, I follow the urge to teach myself several
different musical instruments, and love to joke with a loud hearty laugh.
I am my mother’s daughter in that I am
spontaneous, generous and considerate of others while taking every opportunity
that comes my way no matter how radical they seem.
I am the product of my parents and ancestors
in that I am artistic, creative, unafraid, unstoppable when broken,
unintimidated, adventurous, a knowledge seeker, a protector, a warrior and I
command a presence even when I am unseen.
My name is Desiree “Dessie” Castro, the oldest of 3 siblings, Danielle, Deana and Dylan. Proudly I can say that I was raised with “Indo” family values by my oma Eleonore “Noortje” Barkey- Passage who some of you may know from Facebook when my uncle Bernhard “Ottie” Passage mentions her in his postings about “Rancho La Tuna”… That’s where I grew up on La Tuna Cyn Rd, Sun Valley, many Indos moved out there or near in the early sixties, The Cormanes, Keasberry’s, The Schrams, The Meijers, The Vander Geugtens, Lapres and many others. My mom is a first generation Indo born in SoCal in the early sixties and my dad American Mexican, looks familiar, an Indo going Mexican or Mexican going Indo ? Guess it’s a food and family thing, huh ? Now let’s go back to my oma, Noortje Barkey-Passage, she raised me in Dutch, I do understand ever single Dutch word including the “Indo vocabulary” however just like my mom and auntie I find it harder to respond back in Dutch. Also my late opa Frits Gilles Barkey who passed away in January 1992 spoke and sang to me in Dutch, he passed away when I was 13 years old and I do remember he left us at the age of 65 years young, born in Padang, Sumatra, drafted in 1940-1941 by The Royal Dutch Navy he got captured pretty quick by the the Japanese conqueror in 1942. It was the British who liberated my opa and many other Indo Europeans after Japan surrendered in 1945 and take over guard from the same Japanese soldiers who first were the enemy and then later protecting opa and the rest against rebellious Indonesian freedom fighters. After opa was recovered from those 3 terrible years in the camp, yes, trust me, opa got beaten up, punched, kicked, you named it, eventually opa died of reuma and the bad quality of life in the camp…opa joined the Royal Dutch Marines and fought against the Indonesian rebellious freedom fighters until 27 December 1949, the date The RTC accepted Indonesia’s independence, RTC stands for RONDE TAFEL CONFERENTIE, Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno declared Indonesia’s independence 17 August, 1945 and that is until today their National Holiday. In August 1955 opa and oma left “De Gordel van Smaragd” on the MS Modjokerto towards Rotterdam, they first stayed in a “Pension” in Dordrecht where my tante Monie was born and from there they moved to Rotterdam Zuid but as many Indos opa en oma including tante Monie and Uncle Bernhard “Ottie” Passage made the big move to start a new life in America The Beautiful. Opa started his new career at The US Post Office in The Van Nuys district and oma was a successful manager running her team of 25 at Richey Electronics down on La Tuna Cyn Rd, is just like yesterday when I waited for oma coming home during her break and make lunch for me. Opa and uncle Bernhard “Ottie” Passage opened their Union 76 gas station on Sunland Blvd in Sun Valley, very often that location was used for movie shoots, Chips, A-Team, I think I still have a picture of me and Poncherello and Mr T, that same Mr T is a patient of my doctor’s office where I work as a Medical Assistant and still going to school to become an RN just like my tante Monie. I’m a proud mother of a son and two daughters, I live in Lancaster but my oldest daughter prefered to stay and live with oma because of “de Gezelligheid” en oma’s cooking. I love it when I go on Socal Indo’s FB Page and see many Indo Mexicans or Mexican Indos or just say it “MexIndos” and share their stories, I always recognize one thing we all have in common and that’s our precious oma, I don’t know what the other Socal Indo omas do every day but my oma loves to read Dutch newspapers my cousin Michael Passage brings home every day from work, he gets them out of the KLM planes at LAX or she watches BNN (Dutch satellite TV station), my tante Monie picks her up and they go shopping at the Burbank Macy’s or grab a bite at one of the local Thai restaurants in The Valley. I’m blessed and happy to have my oma still around, whenever and whoever comes at oma’s, they know there’s always food for everyone, everyone is family at oma’s and yes, if your landlord has kicked you out my oma has no problems to be your temporary landlord !
…I know what you are thinking… She doesn’t look Indonesian; she looks Hispanic or Indian or Middle Eastern. At least that is what everyone else seems to think! I am constantly approached by people asking if I am one of the mentioned above or they simply start speaking Spanish to me or hand me leaflets in Spanish. I kindly correct them and say I am Dutch Indonesian, which they quickly question: What is that? Next thing you know, I am giving a history lesson to a complete stranger who was just looking for directions.
I am Tasha Howe (Van Raalten) is my maiden name and I was born and raised in Southern California. I have a lot of pride in my family’s history, which is probably why I don’t mind telling perfect strangers about it. When I think about the stories I grew up listening to, from both my Mom and Dad’s side of the family, I realize this is what history books are truly made of. Both my parents were born in Indonesia, when Indonesia was still a Dutch Colony (Dutch East Indies). Born and raised as Dutch-Indo’s during WWll and the Indonesian Revolution (also known as Indonesian War of Independence or BERSIAP) made for some interesting stories. Some heroic and others down right terrifying. During this time, native Indonesians were rebelling against the Dutch rule, fighting to take their country back. My childhood memories often consist of sitting at the table and listening to my parents, Ooms and Tante’s share stories of their experience during this time. I admit, as a child I heard these stories so often, I stopped listening. As I grew older, I grew to appreciate the history and listened with open ears. I only wish I had recorded those stories to preserve them for generations to come. I regret not learning how to speak Indonesian. My parents spoke Dutch to me, which I fully understand, however I would always respond in English. If they were speaking Indonesian to one another, I knew something was going on or I was in trouble because they didn’t want me to know what was being said! Perhaps this is why they didn’t teach me Indonesian, so they would have a language of their own in our household.
My father, Bart Van Raalten, was born in Surabaya to Cornelius David and Sophia Alice Hortense, many of you know her as “Tante Stanze” My Opa David spent time in a concentration camp, while the family spent their time in Singapore before it was safe for them to return to Surabaya. They made their move to Holland in 1956 and shortly after, made their move The States in 1961. It was here in Southern California, Monrovia to be exact, that my Opa David started the very well-known Dutch-Indo club, the R.O.S.I. Dutch-Indo’s from all around, would gather and share meals and trips together and keep in contact through this club, still known today. It wasn’t until many years later, did my dad take over as President, where he planned and executed many Dutch-Indo events and chartered buses to Vegas or Laughlin. My childhood weekends consisted of spending time playing arcade games at the bowling alley, while the Dutch-Indo’s bowled, or my parents having lavish parties or barbeques where Cendol and Sate were of course served. It wasn’t uncommon visiting my Oma on Sunday and walk in to find her cooking our favorites: Pisang Goreng, Lumpia, Saucijzenbroodjes and of course Pangsit Goreng, with her little dish of water, wonton skins and meats. I would sit with her and fold the wonton skins or (overfill) them with meat. Oh! How I miss her cooking!
My Mother, Julie Van Raalten, was born Julienne Chatelin to Adolf (also known as Ted) and Julianna and was the youngest of six, in Medan Indonesia. My Opa Ted held the title of President of the Justice Department that regulated bankruptcy and orphanages. They lived in a large home where they would entertain and throw parties for Opa Ted’s guests. During WWII, their home became a ticket item for the Japanese army, where my Oma held them off as long as she could, until one night she had the servants load everyone’s belongings and furnishings and fled to a nearby convent. The Japanese continued to search for them, as they were angry they had fled and also wanted their furnishings.
Shortly thereafter, our family did end up in a Japanese internment camp and my Opa was taken as a POW to Burma, where he and countless others were forced to build the bridge over River Kwai. After the war, the family fled to Holland, as so many other Dutch-Indo’s did. They lived in Holland for many years before making the move to the states and eventually planted their roots in Southern California.
I must share with you one more story, as it is quite possibly my favorite. My Oom Ettienne tells this story the best, I hope to convey it with the respect it deserves! My Mother’s maiden last name is Chatelin. However, it was actually “Chatelin Vicont de Muralt.” Our ancestor, a Vicont (a Count) de Muralt, had to flee France because of his religious beliefs and fled to Indonesia, which was still a Dutch colony at the time. The story is that he fell in love with a beautiful Indonesian Princess and wanted to marry her. The Dutch government insisted he drop the royalty from his name, so that is why we are just “Chatelin.” My cousin Nicole asked her father if he would like to petition to regain our full name, but he is happy being just Chatelin. I love this story and will continue to share it. To think we most likely came from Indonesian and French royalty paints a fairytale ending to an otherwise deplorable moment in time.
I have lost both sets of Grandparents, my Dad passed December 5th 2011 and my Mom recently passed on December 5th 2018. The courage, strength and success my family and our ancestors had, is instilled in me and my family. My cousins and I share their stories all the time and celebrate their lives and our Dutch-Indo heritage. We never take for granted the life they lived to provide the life we have.
I am proud to be a Dutch-Indo, living this life in Southern California, a SoCal Indo!
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Since the dawn of time, human beings have been on a relentless search for a sense of belonging. For people all across the globe, identifying with a particular culture is a vital aspect of one’s identity. But how does one define cultural identity? Better yet – is it the people that define a culture, or the culture that defines a people?
For Indos, the descendants of a vibrant yet dwindling colonial past, the answer to that question is left for the individual. Most cultures can be traced back to a place of origin. For Indos, however, Nederlands Indië is no more. The beloved motherland now solely exists in the hearts and minds of the 1st-generation.
Nederlands Indië (Dutch East Indies), or Indië for short, was a place where Indo families have resided in for generations. It was filled with rich traditions and unique customs only relatable to the ‘Indischen’, people who shared mixed heritages from European and native Indonesian ancestors. Throughout the colonial period, the Indischen developed a notable Eurasian subculture and contributed a lot to society and the ethos of their time.
Following a contentious post-WW2 political climate with the newly-indepent Republic of Indonesia, Indos were expelled from the place that they’ve called home for centuries and were forced to seek new lives elsewhere.
So how can a group of people, uprooted from their homes and forced to assimilate into new countries, retain their cultural identity? It starts with two defining characteristics: the resilience and perseverance of the Indo people.
I’m forever inspired by how my older relatives can be so lighthearted and kind despite everything they’ve endured. Indos are well-known for their openness and hospitality, and you’ll never leave their house with an empty stomach or without a smile on your face. Indos are never judgemental and will go out of their way to see that your comfortable and satisfied.
My efforts to understand what being an Indo meant to me personally have been a complex, yet rewarding journey of self-discovery. To understand this, I’ll have to take you back to my unconventional childhood. My parents have always allowed me to absorb and embrace different ways of life, various ideologies and beliefs. Because of this, I feel internationally-minded instead of being confined to a single culture, and this sense of internationalism seems to be a relatable trait for many Indos. “Be a citizen of the world,” my parents would always say.
Growing up in Denver, Colorado, I relate to American culture first and foremost. My mom has the Dutch-Indo roots, and from an early age, I’ve always spoken to her side of the family in Dutch. My oma brought me up the Dutch-Indo way and I have a such a deep connection to Indisch culture because of her. She taught me to be strong-willed and independent. She taught me that no matter what life throws my way, I can always flip it into something positive.
My dad and his side of the family are full (native) Indonesians, and I’ve always spoken to them in bahasa Indonesia. My upbringing felt unique because I’ve always navigated between the American, Indonesian and Dutch-Indo culture, while learning their differences and finding striking similarities between them. Growing up multilingual and multicultural has definitely given me a distinct perspective, and I’ve learned to be accepting and inclusive of everyone despite their backgrounds.
The idiosyncrasies of Dutch-Indo culture are reflected mainly in language, food, and behavior. Single phrases that mix multiple languages like “Ik moet gaan belandja” (I have to go shopping) or “ik heb de krupuk nog niet gegoreng” (I haven’t fried the kroepoek yet) are often heard in my family, and this hybrid way of speaking is a colorful remnant of Indo culture.
Speaking of krupuk; food is arguably the most important part of our culture, the glue that binds us together. I can never come to an Indo gathering without hearing my older relatives talk about classic dishes for hours at a time! They’ll swap recipes for sambel goreng boontjes, talk about the “jajanan” (snacks) that they used to eat in Indië, and marvel at how Tante Anneke spent the whole night baking spekkoek.
There are so many aspects of our culture to appreciate and cherish. Our cultural pride is deep-rooted in centuries of tradition and an established hybrid mentality born out of a vibrant “east meets west” culture. Indo identity will continue to persist despite Indos no longer having a homebase or a country to return to, because our culture is passed on through stories, recipes, memories, and the importance of keeping family first.
I’d frequently go with oma whenever there’s a kumpulan (a gathering of Indo family and friends). I’ve always enjoyed hearing their interactions, how they’d often mix 3 or more languages in one conversation, the sound of laughter and swapping stories, and the overall atmosphere that can only be described by the Dutch word “gezellig.”
I used to record their conversations on my phone and document them for later viewing, because I know my older relatives won’t always be around, many of whom are in their 80s and early 90s. I feared that once they were all gone, the Indisch culture would die out with them. However, I learned to overcome this false notion because I realized it’s up to my generation to carry the torch and keep our identity alive.
If I can takeaway one lesson imparted by my family’s journey and the journey of Indos in general, is to always make the best with what you’ve got. Indos have been dispersed all across the world under crippling circumstances, but they’ve not only survived, but excelled in their respective homes. Instead of playing the victim, they chose to rise up and persevere against all odds.
Indos are colorful, loud, expressive, nuanced, multilingual, multicultural, musical, kindhearted, understanding, approachable, and all around badasses! (Sorry Oma! I can already hear her saying “Ajo, joch. Niet zo vloeken!”) Regardless, the Indo legacy will never die. We are a resilient bunch and we refuse to fade away. Our culture is too beautiful, too boisterous and too substantial to be silenced. My name is Donni, en ik ben een Indo.
I’m Yvonne Eschweiler, but I’m pretty sure there are many Yvonnes out there who go by the name “Vonnie”, guess that’s an Indo thing, huh ? My dad is the Indo one, I always use him when people ask me what my ethnic background is, when the cops put “H” behind the section “Race”, I have to educate them that the “H” stands for Human, lolol, I usually tell them what it should be “Other” and not “H”. Eschweiler is German and there’s the mutt in me, dad’s family’s history goes back to the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia nowadays and once upon a time there was a German who was sent from Bergisch Gladbach, not too far from Eschweiler, Germany, how funny (my name) to Amsterdam to work for a trading company…He ended up in Batavia and history was made in the bedroom between the “Guling” under the “Kelambu”, you know in those days…to keep the damn mosquitos away from you while you can have more comfortable sleep under tropic temperatures. So old man Eschweiler played around with one of his “Baboes or servants” and that’s how there suddenly was an Indo EUROPEAN 9 months later, I don’t call him an Indo Dutch because he was German and the other part was a “Native”, not Indonesian, because it wasn’t there yet, according to my dad all of those who were born to a European father and “Inlandse or Native” mom born in the Dutch East Indies were called “Indo European or Eurasian”, but hey, throughout the years s Dutch guy got involved and so on and on until we play it simple and call ourselves “Indo”, at least I do…My great grandparents are Indo Dutch with the remaining German blood lines from and both were born on Sumatra, great grandfather in Belawan and great grandmother in Padang. My opa was born in Buitenzorg which is Bogor, Indonesia now and my oma who was born in Malang moved in 1957 to Dordrecht, Holland and in 1959 the moved to Bellflower where my dad was born in 1961, daddy married his high school love Rositta in 1984 the year when I was born, the year of 23rd Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles and the year of Van Halen’s “Jump”, yes proud Indo here and I always educate people if they answer “Indo what/who”…Yes, Indo, like the Van Halens…. Opa and Oma never spoke about the Dutch East Indies and my dad raised me with “Don’t bother asking them” which I respected…Any Indos recognize similar situations like mine ? My mom is Puerto Rican, mix that with an Indo and the result is me, “Feisty and hot”, that’s what my “Abuela”, my oma from mom’s side always tells me to tell the guys before they start dating me, beware, beware, lolol. Being a multiracial child growing up in Socal with so many other people with a different ethnic background , I was born and raised with family values, both my Indo and Puerto Rican background can share two exact the same things we have in common which are “Food and Music” ! I remember growing up with parties we had at both sides of the family, food, music, music, food, laughter, arguing, gossiping, envying each other, blaming the Indo uncle he was flirting with the Puerto Rican aunty and vice versa, the not showing up from the oom and tante because whatever might have said or done and then suddenly after 4 or 5 months they make up again with the Indo/Puerto Rican pack and all is forgiven, I bet you Indos reading this you all have that family member who screws up big time and then you have this other oom or tia or tio telling you NOT to talk to them or avoid them or one of your cousins break up a relation and then there’s her telling you she will STOP talking to you if you continue talking to her ex….But at both sides of the families it was always a Happy Ending… My dad wasn’t too much involved in the Indo thing, he considered himself American which I respect and he doesn’t speak Dutch at all, understands it though, my opa and oma raised him in English and they only spoke Dutch when it was a no no for my dad to know what the conversation was about. It was after I visited Holland for the first and only time back in 2006 when I started to look more into my identity, there’s me, considered to be a Latina in The US but in Holland I was right away put in the category “Indo”…Ofcourse, where else than Holland, right ? But us Indo girls came in all sizes and shapes with different color of eyes, hair, skin…It was so much for me to dig in and especially when I visited the Tong Tong Fair/Pasar Malam in May 2006, some Indo please help me explain and agree with me when you arrive at that big tent and you go inside, the sounds, smells and people…it does something to you, I got sentimental and on the other side it was such a nice feeling to experience that all, seeing all the opas and omas talking to each other talking about their lives back in the Dutch East Indies, watching the shows on the main stage, experience both Indo and Indonesian stuff under one roof, I loved it… Ever since then I started to educate myself about my Indo Roots on line and thank God there’s a shit load of stuff. I’m kind of a private person and I don’t do social media, that’s right, I still have an old skool Nokia N-6, still has a freakin’ awesome Carl Zeiss 12MP camera though ! I’m an outdoor person, like dude’s stuff, motor cross, Formula-1 racing, Go Max Go Max, that’s how I met Michael Passage at a Red Bull Event who was wearing a SoCal Indo hoodie and I was more than happy to write my story of being an Indo in Socal. I work at an animal shelter in Whittier, trying to manage the place and trying even harder to find a right place with the even more right owners for the poor putty’s and pooches. The only real Indo recognizable Indo thing my dad has is that he eats rice with a spoon and not a fork and there is always “Krupuk/Shrimp Crackers” and “Sambal” within his reach at the table PLUS the dude puts “Sambal” on top of any sandwich he eats, you name it, he does it, anyone recognizes this ? Michael also told me about his get togethers where other Indos meet in SoCal and about the Holland Festival every last Sunday of the month of May, I love it ! So going back to the beginning of my story, I think I can’t or blame the cops when they put the “H” behind my “Race” because it’s kinda true because my mom is Puerto Rican… Thank you for your time reading my little IndoRican story !
My name is Rani … I grew up in The Netherlands and lived in Lelystad, Hellevoetsluis, Amsterdam and after The Netherlands lost the FIFA World Cup Final from Spain in 2010 I moved to Burbank. I really like what SoCal Indo does, trying to reach out to us younger Indos throughout social media … and especially to read the stories of other fellow Indos. I can identify myself very much… especially when it comes to confusion … and the question “what or who am I” ? Please help me out here, hehehehe!
I was born in Manila, The Philippines. My mother is Filipina with Spanish blood running through her veins. Not at all complicated, at all hahaha but here comes the confusing part… but interesting enough for me wanting to know more. My father was born and raised in Amsterdam with what I thought both Indo parents and his brother, my uncle Frank Neijdorff, is an author of many books about The Dutch East Indies. My grandfather (Opa Neijndorff) has, as I have been told … some German in him and according to my aunt, also some Indian in him. From my grandmother I knew she was born in Bandung and I always thought she was Dutch and Indo. I knew that my great grandfather (Opa Hoepeling) was full Dutch, blond with blue eyes and all … and I thought that my great grandmother (Oma Ramelah) was Indo. Not so … Only a few years ago after I moved here my aunt told me that my grandmother was not Indo at all. Turns out my great grandmother came from India.
That totally rocked my world. What was very confusing for me now is only getting more confusing, but don’t we all have omas and opas with more than one different kind of ethnic background, I have Indo friends in The Netherlands who are light skinned but whose great grandfather was from African ethnicity and one of my high school friends oma was Indo with Chinese and Sri Lanka blood running through her veins and let alone my Indo hockey coach Ventje Worthington who looked so “Bule” and blue eyes….must be his British great grandfather from whom he got it from because his oma was a Mrs Subrotto, just saying. My mother’s side of the family was not very attached to my Indo father’s side … we hardly saw each other … most of the times at weddings or funerals. They did not speak Bahasa at home … which I find really unfortunate. From the Indo culture I only got bits and pieces from it … you know the expressions “Adoe”, “Ajoh”, “Een Fler or a Lel” (Light form of ass whooping, lolol) But thank God that I’m too familiar with our Indo kitchen, “Ayam Balado” is my favorite Indo Dish. As mentioned earlier growing up in the Netherlands, I had many Indo friends … but I still felt excluded because what I thought they saw me as a Filipina rather than an Indo. At least I had one good friend with whom I always went to the Tong Tong Fair (Pasar Malam) every year in Den Haag last week of May and first week of June, I always bought a Pasar Pass which allowed me to go unlimited times in and out, watch the shows, enjoy the Indo food and join the variety of workshops or seminars hosted by first generation Indos and that’s what I miss sometimes. Now I am almost 39 … And I still have the question in my head … am I also considered as an Indo or not ? Unfortunately, there are not many of my family members left who could answer my questions … especially when it comes to our family tree. But hopefully you can help me a little bit with the question that I always carry with me and that is why I am so happy there is SoCal Indo social media and there is always an Indo who can answer not only my questions but also from other Indos wo I have been following online.
I came to LA for a while each summer for the youth camp of our church, Bread of Life. Eventually I met my husband Bo there. First as friends, chatting every day on Yahoo messenger until it became more than just being friends. Losing the FIFA World Cup Final from Spain in 2010 was for me a dark year especially when that team had an Indo team captain Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Indo team players Johnny Heitinga, Gregory van der Wiel, Demy de Zeeuw and Robin Van Persie …I decided to move permanently to SoCal and marry my Bo … a year later we got our son which we named Marcello who loves to Facetime with my mom and dad in The Netherlands on a weekly basis…
My name is Fiori van Rijswijk and I’m honored to be writing a little bit about my Indo related history for So Cal Indo of the month January 2019. I’m 24 years old and originally from the Netherlands.
I moved to New York when I was 17 years old to pursue my education with an athletic scholarship (field hockey: a very Dutch sport). I studied psychology and art history/music. I’ve always been the only one playing music and my Indo grandmother was the main force in supporting this journey. She always encouraged me to continue to play the piano as long as possible. And being older now, I see it as the best gift every given to me.
I’ve recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a visual storyteller. I am currently pursuing my Master’s degree in Film and Television Production at Loyola Marymount University. I’m the 3rd generation to move to the United States. My main reason: to reach the world through visual storytelling. My Dutch-Indo background and family history are a main factor in this passion and drive.
I was born in Huizen (near Amsterdam) with two older sisters. My father (Dutch) was born and raised in Amsterdam. My Indo mother was born in Alblasserdam, the youngest of six. My mother’s family soon moved to Dordrecht. I spend most of my childhood in Dordrecht visiting my family, I bet many Indos reading this have lived or were born in Dordrecht.
When you look at me on the outside, I am often perceived as a typical Dutch girl: tall and blond(ish). I didn’t realize this till I moved to America. Many of my friends in the Netherlands came from different upbringings. Coming from a mixed cultural background was not perceived as unique. My closest childhood friend was also born into a Dutch-indo family. And, my childhood babysitter was Indonesian. I never realized how much the Dutch-Indo culture was part of my upbringing till moving to Upstate New York with little to no people who shared a similar history. Most people didn’t even know where the Netherlands were nor Indonesia. This has given me a lot of time to think about the Dutch-Indo culture and history.
My grandmother, Oma Ibu, (mother’s mother) was born in Malang, East Java, Dutch East Indies in 1919. She was the oldest of 12. Her father was from Dutch heritage and her mother full Indonesian. This mixed blood was eventually one of the reasons of my grandmother’s departure to the Netherlands.
My grandmother had three children at a very young age with her first husband, an Indonesian man. He passed away while working on the notorious Burma train tracks during WWII.
Being left a widow at age 24 with three young children, my grandmother met my grandfather who was part of the Dutch military. Together, with my uncle and two aunts, they left Indonesia after WII: Indonesia now independent, striving for purity within the country.
Arriving in the Netherlands, my grandmother had three more children: the youngest my mother. My grandfather passed away of lung cancer two weeks after I was born. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him, however, he has met me.
My Oma Ibu was the most special person I’ve ever met in my life. She has passed away as well. However, her spirit lives on in all of us. I am the youngest of all my cousins. As you can see in the picture, there are many of us. And none of us would be here without that one person: Oma Ibu (very center of everyone).
Even though my mother and her siblings have different fathers, they have always considered and treated each other as full siblings. I, as well, have always considered all my uncles, aunts and cousins the same. There are a lot of us, and I don’t know everyone as well as others, however, there is this special family connection. A type of unconditional love, warmth, loyalty, acceptance, humbleness, gratefulness, and strength. And I believe this goes back to Indonesian culture. Seeing family is like coming home. Family is always number one for me and I would go through fire for any of them.
I visited Indonesia for the first time when I was 7 years old and I remember it as if it was yesterday. Every time I visit, I can feel a special bond. I see physical gestures in the people that I recognize in my family or in myself.
And of course: the food. I thought Indonesian food was everywhere, till, again: I moved to America. Every time I am home, I make my mother cook all the Indonesian dishes I can think of and if she doesn’t feel like cooking, no worries: I will go to the nearby toko. When I cook Indonesian for some of my American friends, I will have to give them a list of guidelines, including but not limited to: you shouldn’t eat that whole piece of ginger or lemongrass, it’s there for flavor. Have more white rice when something is spicy. Etc. etc.
In America, I am considered a “white” person. Though, I don’t completely feel like one. However, I also cannot say I am “Asian”. I haven’t thought as much about how to label my ethnicity as I have in the past few years in America. For every little thing you apply to, you have to identify your ethnicity. I’ve been in the States for 7 years now and I still can’t figure out which box to check. There is none that fits how I feel.
With my visual storytelling, I intend to address many aspects of life: giving voice to those who are underrepresented and pushing labels and boxes. Family relations are a big topic in my voice as a storyteller. And I hope that one day, I will be able to portray more of the Indonesian culture in my filmmaking.
And I am honored to now not only be a Dutch-Indo but also a SoCal Indo!