My Indo grandparents left Indonesia in the 1950s after the Indonesian Revolution. They settled in the Netherlands and raised four children, one of whom is my mother. My mother grew up in the Netherlands, but later moved to London with my father, who is British. Growing up, my mother and I regularly visited my grandparents in the Netherlands.
Whenever we visited, my grandmother would cook Indonesian food for us. I’ll never forget the aroma of Indonesian spices in the kitchen and the sound of sizzling oil in the pans. We would all sit and eat together and chat about everything and anything.
My ethnic background is mixed British, Indian, Dutch, and Indonesian. I have no connection to my Indian roots, so I culturally identify as British and Indo.
I was born and raised in the suburbs of London, but I currently study Spanish and Japanese in Manchester. Studying other cultures has sparked an interest in my own cultural background. I feel that it is important that we share our culture with others and likewise learn about the cultures of others.
One way I share my Indo culture, with others, is through food. Growing up I saw how food has the power to bring people together. Whenever I visited my grandparents’, my grandmother would cook lots of Indonesian dishes and my family would gather around the table to eat.
My mother also cooks Indonesian food to share with others at parties. I remember my friends would obsess over my mother’s satay and always ask if she could make them again. I never thought about it as a child, but now in hindsight I realize that they were experiencing a little bit of my culture and that makes me very happy.
Now at 19 years old, I try to cook Indonesian food so that others can experience it, just like when I was a child.
I also feel closer to my grandmother and my Indo heritage when I cook Indonesian food.
Last year I spent two weeks alone in the Netherlands to visit my family across the country. During my few days at my grandparents’, my grandmother taught me how to cook Indonesian dishes, such as klepon and kolak. I felt closer than ever to my roots. I made a note of the recipes on my phone and took pictures of the ingredients so that I could cook the dishes myself when I return to the UK.
Under lockdown, I wanted to make klepon, but had completely forgotten how. Therefore, I called my grandmother over FaceTime, who guided me through the recipe. It didn’t taste or look as good as my grandmother makes them, but I was happy with the final product, nonetheless.
This year I haven’t been able to visit my grandparents due to the coronavirus and although it has certainly been difficult, I am thankful that technology allows us to stay in touch.
Whenever I cook Indonesian food now, I am reminded of these precious moments together and feel connected to my Indonesian roots. This is important to me, because I grew up feeling a little bit lost in my cultural identity.
I have never met another Indo in the UK, let alone anyone with the same ethnic and cultural background as I. Moreover, I am an only child, so I truly do not know anyone else with the same cultural upbringing as I. Although I sometimes feel lonely in my life experiences, I have learnt to embrace my difference and uniqueness. I feel proud to be interracial. I believe that one day everyone will be interracial like myself and I feel proud to be one of the first.
When I was younger, I knew I was mixed race, but I was not aware of what my ethnicities actually were. I vaguely remember my family calling me a ‘gado gado’ (mixed Indonesian salad) because of the variety of ethnicities running through my blood. I used to think that I was from every country in the world – that’s what I (think) “mixed race” meant.
At high school, people started asking me where I was from. I asked my grandparents and my parents about where we were really from. Throughout high school, I learnt more and more about my cultural background. At around 16, I joined a Polynesian dance group in London, where I felt a sense of belonging. The community reminded me of my Indo family and it was then that I realized who I am. I am Indo.
As I got more into writing, I felt an urge and duty to tell my story. I wanted to share the beautiful Indo culture and history with the world. I have always had a passion for culture (I currently study Spanish and Japanese) and to feel connected to one’s own culture is a wonderful feeling. I began to take an interest in Indonesian cooking and study further about the history of Indos. I discovered Melati Day and spoke to my grandparents a lot about their story.
I know that Indos were rejected by many due to their mixed-race background, but today I am able to live in London without rejection, but rather a sense of community and embracing cultural difference.
Although I feel closer to my roots through cooking Indonesian food, I would also love to visit Indonesia and delve further into the culture. I have visited Bali for a holiday, but the island has unfortunately become a tourist focused and commercialized place to visit. I hope to explore the other islands and learn more about where I am from.
Besides cooking, I dance Ori’ and Hula (Polynesian dance). As previously mentioned, I feel a sense of belonging within the Ori’ and Hula community. Moreover, Polynesian dance is a beautiful way of connecting to nature and expressing oneself.
It has certainly been a journey of discovering my cultural identity and I am sure that this is not the end. As I delve further into my cultural heritage, I feel more secure within myself and no longer lost. I hope to connect with many other Indos and feel closer to my roots.
I am and will always be proud to be Indo.