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Indo Of the Month – May – Written by Cor Van Overeem

Ik Ben gevraagd om even een beetje over mijn leven te schrijven.  Ik dacht, nou zeg, dat is misschien een 1 April grap en ik word belazerd…..aduh, in American-English maar.  This is an April Fools joke right?  That is how I saw the email message on my well used IPAD.  I read the message again and then understood the seriousness.  Let me just get this angst out of the way and shake my old head so the memories will not be too foggy.

Yes, I consider myself an INDO.  Why?  For the many parallel reasons so many of our INDO families have.  The history of having suffered and endured and overcome strife and a new world.  The multiple stories we have all read, about the time before, during and after the big WWII.  The stories about family names that bind us to the Dutch or European lineage.  The common thread of our parents under brutal captivity in camps.  How they survived sickness, empty stomachs, rations and barbaric treatments.  This went on after the WWII ended.  For another four years of the Bersiap period when many of our families had to find shelters to defend against the now growing numbers of Indonesian independence fighters.  The repatriation of the Dutch colonials had begun.  The allegiance to the Netherlands (Dutch) made many families leave everything behind and make the big move.  From a tropical island setting to a cold and wet flat land.  Those that made it thru the war and repatriated to the boerderijen were the first generation. I am an INDO because I am a second generation, born after the war WWII.

The Indo heritage started in 1890’s when my truly Dutchman grandfather decided he should leave his family and travel to the Dutch East Indies colonies.  He started a new branch on the Van Overeem family tree that had grown since the early 1400’s.  I thank my dear grandfather Antoine Cornelis Van Overeem for the linkage to the Dutch-Indo heritage.   He was smitten by a beautiful West Javanese girl and together they toiled the land and lived in peace.  My dad, Herman, was the eldest of 7 aunties and 2 uncles.

The Japanese war machine rolled over the colonial islands. My dad as a KNIL soldier was captured in March of 1942 and was immediately send to Siam/Burma.  He survived working on the railroad of death and in August of 1945 was reassigned to keep the order and peace in the lower Sunda Islands and Celebes.  He met my mother, Marlien, and she was a Menadonese, a very good cook, sings as a bird and dances as a butterfly.  Her family was 12 kids large.  On the way to bring his bride home, I was born on the island of Sumbawa.  It was unfortunately too late for my dad to see his father.  His father, passed away in the last month of captivity in a Japanese prison camp.  I was named after him, Antoine Cornelis Van Overeem.  On a side note, just a couple months ago, Herman Van Overeem was posthumously honored by the Netherlands Ministerie van Defensie with the Mobilisatie and Orde en Vrede Kruis medals.

All of the Van Overeem brothers and sisters had survived these awful times and had made their way to the Netherlands.  Our Van Overeem family was the last to leave Indonesia.  In early 1958, My dad had to leave everything he worked for.  The tea and rubber plantations were taken over by the Indonesian government.  He left everything behind and now with a family of four kids, boarded an Italian steamship and left Indonesia from Tanjung Priok.  If you asked me to go out and eat Italian, I would say anything but spaghetti.  On the ship we had spaghetti every waking hour for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack.  We disembarked in Genoa, Italy, and then by train made it to the Netherlands.  We were now placed in a welcoming camp and then moved to bungalows in Leersum.  I remember the hills with short brush and some pine trees in the distance.  I remember the big chestnut tree that if you threw your rock perfectly, a bunch would fall and we would put them on the kachel to roast.

My mom and dad were not ready to make our home in Niewerkerk a/d Ijssel a permanent one.  Yet, we assimilated, my dad learned a completely new trade, we grew up ice skating the canals, and bartering for fresh chicken and eggs with the farms nearby.  I will always remember climbing up trees at the apple orchards and stealing green apples. I also remember that all the aunties and my beautiful tiny Oma with bun in her hair, and wearing a sarong kebaja would come together in her flat in Schiedam.  I remember the weddings we attended and of course it was always that Dutch-Indo food that was cooked.  We listened to Radio Veronica and sang songs by the Blue Diamonds.  I remember the mooije meisjes in Gouda and then I went to HBS school in Rotterdam by bicycle, and played soccer (voetbal) on the school team.  On the month we were to play in tournaments in London, England, my parents got their wish answered.  We would leave “Holland” in March of 1962 and emigrate to the USA.

Our journey by plane to New York and then by train across the USA was a big eye opener.  We had flats in Holland that were perhaps 15 stories high, but these are skyscrapers, and the land we crossed was endless.  So much too see and take in.  The train ride took the better part of 4 days travel and every story you had read about the Wild West are no longer imagination.  This is the real deal.  I remember the prairies and the green forests and magical mountains.  I remember real oranges from California.  We made it to Los Angeles and the church sponsors drove us to Long Beach.  We settled in and with my British -English, I was placed in the ninth grade at Jefferson and went to Wilson High School.  Funny how you learn to acclimate real quickly because you had too.  It was jeans and white T-shirt or jeans and plaid shirts and “tennis shoes”.

How and where did our parents get the courage to continually seek out the best for the family?  Why did they not stop when all was good and happy?  I think every second generation Indo has perhaps asked that question.  With all the adversity of starting a new life in a whole new country, not once, but twice, we can’t thank our wonderful parents enough.  We all learned that if you truly wanted and worked hard, the opportunities are there for the taking.  Both my parents worked multiple jobs, my mom was a great seamstress and later made all the special outfits for grandchildren.  My dad became a knowledgeable oil drilling machinist, and often sent to far away places for installations and repair.  Our parents made the ultimate sacrifice so we can continue to carry the torch.

We as children and being second generation, learned of other families that were here, and especially in Southern California.  A whole community of Dutch and Indo are living here and they have social groups and they get together.  There was The Wapenbroeders that my dad knew, and then there was AVIO and the Holland Soccer Club.  You hear about Pasadena and the Mousson and the Pasar Malams and kumpulans.  The parents were now getting their lives back and the silent front saw cracks and little by little you hear about the who, the what and the why from days past.  You could sense the pain, but also the relief of that heavy burden they had carried.  May both Herman and Marlien forever Rest In Peace.

We grow up and we find the partner in life.  The one you bring home becomes the Indische meisje and she learns from watching OMA.
We become our own families with third generations and we get together for special social holidays and picnics and always we find what brings us close; family, food, and fun.  We speak of our past, but most of all we plan our future.  My two brothers and sister are close.  They live in California and they too have their families and stories.

My story has many starts and finishes, yet it continues forward to this day.  I worked my tail off.  I was a gardener, a newspaper boy, a chauffeur, a factory assembler, a tool maker, a draftsman, I climbed on airplanes and helicopters, I am not a veteran, but have worked with every DoD and Space based industry.  I played hard, I swam, I surfed, I did tennis, did racquetball, did handball, tried out for under twenty USA soccer! We danced all night and watched submarine races.  I am retired now and my knees ache.  Ann, my lovely wife, I met in college and she for many years was an ER nurse.  We are now the OMA and OPA and we want to leave our INDO heritage alive and well.  We live in the USA and much thanks to our past Indo affiliates and to the Indo Project and the Indo Dutch Cook Book and the many social media groups and special Dutch-Indo and now include local Indonesian events, our wish will be granted.  Tot ziens en Slaap lekker allemaal, morgen gaan we goed eten.

Antoine Cornelis Van Overeem

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