The 31st Annual Holland Festival in Long Beach is scheduled to return on Sunday, September 5th, 2021. The last time the Dutch-American community had their annual cultural festival was in 2019.
by Jeff Keasberry, August 2021.
The year 2020 has been a hard year for many people and the pandemic halted the major Dutch themed celebrations, usually scheduled for the months of April and May. Finally, the community can look forward to coming together again and celebrating their culture.
From picnic to festival
What once started as a Dutch-themed family picnic in the park, has become one of the largest celebrations of Dutch cultural heritage in the western United States—and de facto, the largest gathering of Americans with a connection to the former Dutch East Indies.
The first event was organized in 1989, by the combined efforts of several Southern California Dutch Clubs. To ensure that it was well organized and executed, a new non-profit organization was established: The United Netherlands Organizations (UNO). The name was chosen to unite the different Dutch clubs and to celebrate the people who came from Holland, their culture, and to keep traditions alive.
The UNO Board of Directors consists of representatives of all the affiliated social Dutch and Indo Dutch clubs and organizations. Once a year all clubs come together and join forces to offer the Dutch community their Holland Festival — a celebration of anything Dutch.
The audience consists mostly of people who lived in the Netherlands before they came to the States. A large percentage of the public also has roots in the former Dutch East Indies—modern Indonesia. This explains the many Indonesian-themed vendors that join in the celebration of a shared cultural heritage.
Suggestions to change the name to the Holland-Indo Festival, to better reflect the makeup of the audience, were met with fierce opposition by several members of the board. One fellow Indo board member Oom Ben said: “We are not changing the name, as Holland is the brand and Holland is in our heart!”
Another board member Tante Robin said: “We are Indisch—that means including Holland! To say that the Holland Festival should be called the Indo Festival is diminishing the sentiments that live in most 1st and 2nd generation immigrants. It’s disrespecting and denying the fact that the majority of the visitors honor their Dutch roots.”
The late René Creutzburg mentioned in a past interview: “I remember a few Pasar Malams organized in the town of Encino, a day before Labor Day. They were individual initiatives, but they stopped due to high costs and bureaucracy. Moreover, many Americans with Indo lineage are feeling a stronger link with Holland Festival than the Indonesian Pasar Malam. The fact that they started serving saté over the years was a way of pleasing the visitors who liked it.”
At the crack of dawn
The day usually starts at sunrise—the first volunteers and contractors arrive at the POA Park to build the vendor booths and stage for the Annual Holland Festival. While everything is still being prepared and the musicians do their sound checks, it’s common to see visitors line up as early as 8:00 AM, eagerly awaiting the gate to open at 10 AM. Some of the elders bring their folding chairs, coffee, and breakfast. Their ‘micro kumpulan’: a small gathering with family and friends has already started. They want to be among the first to claim a good spot with a view of the stage, preferably under a canopy or big tree that provides shade against the hot sun. There is also a strategy in place to beat the heavy traffic at the many food stalls. When the Holland Festival is at its peak, the wait time for a snack or meal can be one hour or more.
Up to four generations of Americans come together from different states to reunite with relatives, friends, and to celebrate their culture at this outdoor bazaar. You see people on picnic blankets with coolers and people strolling along the different arts and crafts booths. People stand in line for Dutch Street Food like: patat speciaal (special Dutch fries) poffertjes (silver dollar pancakes) oliebollen (Dutch donuts) rundvlees kroket (beeft croquettes) and, of course, haring (Herring)—specially flown in from the Netherlands.
Long lines also form at the different Indonesian food booths, everyone waiting their turn to get lemper, risolles, pasteitjes and sate or a complete meal like Nasi Kuning. When you follow the music to the stage, you see a crowd of people around the dance floor just listening to Dutch or Hawaiian music, line dancing to country, or jiving to Indo rock. Sometimes a dance group performs.
Andrea Matthies remembers one of her first times attending the festival with her Indo Opa and Oma, about 26 years ago—she was pregnant with her first son (see picture below). After the festival, they would visit the Holland America Store and buy more imported foodstuffs. Over the years, three generations of her family have joined and always looked forward to the Holland Festival: “The main reason for visiting the annual festival is to see all of the other Dutch Indo’s who look like my family. I think of it as a big family reunion of people who I am not related to by blood, but don’t need to be to have an instant connection. It fills me with a sense of cultural pride and a joy that cannot be attained any other way.”
For more details about the Holland Festival and to buy tickets online for Express Entrance, go here. Tickets also sold at the entrance at $10/p.
Part of this article was published in the Moesson International, 2nd edition. Go here to subscribe.
Look for Part II coming up September 2nd, 2021.
Pictures © Andrea Matthies, Saida Kerkhoff, Jeff Keasberry