My Indo Legacy !

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.