Ingrid’s parents, Gerard and Netty and her older brothers, Erik and Ferry
I would like to share an article submitted by my friend, Ingrid Keizer Wilson, who has begun the journey of learning more about her Indo roots. Born in Kansas, where her parents ended up after repatriation to the Netherlands from the former Dutch East Indies and subsequent immigration to the USA, Ingrid grew up not knowing much about her roots. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I warmly welcome Ingrid to The Indo Project and our joint passage to enlightenment about our past.
~~Priscilla Kluge McMullen
INDOS ON THE PLAINS – by Ingrid Keizer Wilson
I’m often really envious when I learn about Indo immigrants that landed in places like California where there was a community of other Indos or at least other Asians. My parents and two older brothers immigrated to Kansas….rural Kansas. My Dutch father who was serving in the Royal Dutch Army volunteered to go to Indonesia after WWII for “Reconstruction” or what I now understand to have been “Re-colonization”. He had recently been liberated from a work camp in Germany and I imagine that venturing into a vast world without confines confirmed his freedom. Upon arriving in Indonesia, my father not only fell in love with my Indonesian mother, he fell in love with Indonesia. I think that my rather socially awkward father found a place that he felt he belonged, in Indonesia. I think that Indonesia found its lost son in my tall, handsome father. He would have happily lived out his life in Indonesia had he, my mother and my two brothers not been expelled from the country.
The Netherlands felt claustrophobic to my father after living in Indonesia and of course the economic conditions were less than ideal. When the Church of the Brethren offered sponsorship to my family the idea of going to Kansas seemed like a great idea. If my father imagined grassy plains and wide open space, he imagined right. He might not have imagined a landscape dotted with small farms, the beautiful tree covered rolling hills, the lazy lakes or the rushing creeks of northeastern Kansas. He probably also never imagined that although his Caucasian features would allow him to “blend right in” his wife and children would be sort of an oddity.
We were an oddity. At some point my father decided to start buying land and he and my mother bought a white farm house with a dairy barn. He had a romantic idea about farming so he bought a tractor and some cows. Although I don’t really remember the story firsthand, the first day he took the tractor out in the field it broke down and never moved again. At some point in the late sixties, my brothers, experimenting with, Peace, Love and the Age of Awakening, painted the tractor bright orange. The cows often succumbed to the idea that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” and frequently succeeded in an effective “jail break” to sample the fare on the neighbors land, as a result there was a lot of emergency fence mending, usually in the middle of the night. The idea of farming did not last long. Fortunately for all of us, my father did not quit his day job.
My parents kept the land and rented it out to local farmers. It served as a beautiful part of my childhood. For me the land my parents owned became an extension of our garden and a huge wonderland for untroubled play and exploration. At a very young age I would venture off into the wooded property, take my shoes off and wade in the cool water, catch crayfish in my hands and stage crayfish races and other amphibious, athletic feats in the mud. Occasionally I would encounter a snake, sometimes venomous and run to the safety of my home not to return to the woods again until the image of the snake was dulled by time.
I don’t think I knew until I was nearly 12 that there were a lot of Indo people like me roaming the earth. I was comforted by that knowledge. I imagined that somewhere in the world there might be a girl like me, eating satay with cucumbers and pindasaus in the middle of a prairie. In the 1970’s beauty and glamour were defined in my adolescent eyes by the women that I saw on magazine covers and television series. Those women were Cheryl Tiegs, Farrah Faucet and Cheryl Ladd. I looked nothing like those women and neither did my mother. The American stereotype of an “Asian woman” was a meek, subservient woman…that wasn’t me either.
To date the only other Indos I have ever seen in real life are my brothers and our children. Facebook introduced me to other Indos who have filled in a lot of the “empty blanks” in my life. You have no idea how reassuring it is to know that sambal is a staple in other people’s homes or to know that there are others who believe that a house is not complete without a barong to ward off evil spirits. The truth however is that I search through all of your photos of the early days in Indonesia hoping to find a glimpse of my mother. I keep hoping that through some strange synchronicity, I will find that your father knew mine as children in Amsterdam. Some of those “blanks” are still empty.
There do seem to be some of us, like my brothers, who don’t seem to need the confirmation that Indo groups offer. One of my brothers does not have one symbol of our ethnicity in his home. While the other two proudly display wood carvings and other artwork perhaps as an appreciation for art more than for what it symbolizes. For me the hand carved wooden sculptures and masks, although appreciated for their artisan quality, are a reflection of something I carry within me. It is something that is deep and primal that makes me feel connected to my ancestors for whom the works were not only art but part of a belief system. The tiny wooden shoes and whimsical delft blue canisters in my office or orange Holland scarf hanging in my closet are symbols of my Dutch pride and allegiance to my father’s country. I need these symbols in my life to give me balance, to remind me of who I am and from where I came.
As a parent I recognize the responsibility that I have to share our history with my children and yet I realize that the symbols with which I surround myself are not enough. My beautiful, American husband has perfected his satay recipe and I make a mean batch of Nasi Goreng, it is comfort food for my children, this also is not enough. We live in a culture in which multi-ethnicity is becoming the norm. Our Indo children have representations of other people of mixed ethnicity in the media and in film. There will not desperately seek out the comfort of the familiarity that we sought. The people that have created groups and publications to bring us together are truly heroes but each of us has to keep our story alive by telling our stories, honoring our history and like the siblings who have shared our journey holding tight to one another. http://ingridkeizerwilson.blogspot.com/