By Jack Profijt, Canada
After their immigration to the USA and Canada, the task of integrating into a completely unknown culture began. Finding employment, housing and other services was, at times, very difficult, as the USA was going through its own problems with racial tensions in the southern states and its past actions in Korea. It was common for the Indos to be mistaken for Hispanic, Indian, and Hawaiian.
According to the Dutch Bureau for Statistics (CBS) it has been shown that Indos in the Netherlands have lower than average crime rates, incomes at par with pure ethnic Dutch citizens and rates of participation in government, education and healthcare fields close to the national average. These statistics are reflected in data from the USA and Canada as well.
The original migrants from Indonesia did their duties to their adopted lands and worked hard at assimilation and integration for themselves and their children. For years, the old ones worked hard. However, while fulfilling their duties to their new countries, they did so in silence. For many of those who left the warm breezes of their tropical home, many made a choice subconsciously or consciously to not relay their stories to the next generations.
On the North American side of the Atlantic Ocean, it is as though a collective mind simultaneously turned off the information that should have been relayed to the young. This absence of information has led to a hole in the history of the third generation of Indos that live in the USA and Canada. For the most part, there are very few English books on the subject, no film, no cultural events and no real connection to their past. There are no outside cultural influences on Indos that help them identify with their history. Especially the young ones cannot speak, read or write Indonesian or Dutch, but they can understand a few words passed on from grandparents. Ironically, one of the only constants that most Indos share is the love of Indonesian food and eating.
There are many second and third generation Indos that do not really care about their heritage and have completely assimilated into their respective cultures. They see themselves as fully American or Canadian and have no desire to pursue their past. This is a sad testament to the ability of the Indo to blend into whatever society that they join. The Indo can be found in every corner of the world with the highest concentrations in the Netherlands, Australia and the USA.
For those who do wish to look, it is as though they live in a cultural vacuum. In the US and Canada the Indo is often mistaken for Philippine, Hispanic, American Indian, Hawaiian, or someone of Middle Eastern descent. There is a lot of explanation required when asked where they are from, because the history of Holland and Indonesia is not known at all. Couple aging and silent grandparents, with the absence of information and no cultural influence with a language barrier, it makes it almost impossible to search for ones past. Also it should be noted that those who search for their past do not wish a return to colonial rule or for an Indo homeland or any such thing for Indonesia; they only wish to know the truth of their origin.
However, the modern age is changing how people connect with one another. The age of email, the internet, and social networks are changing how people look for their roots. Many people of Indonesian descent are now searching through the internet to find lost loved ones and reconnect with those on the other side of the world. They post old photographs and dust manuscripts to have them translated to English. Slowly, the holes that were once dark, are now being illuminated by voices from across the ocean in the blink of an eye.
One group that is currently a fledgling nonprofit organization is called The Indo Project, or TIP for short. The TIP organization originated in the United States and its main goal is to keep the Indo heritage alive. This group can be found on Twitter, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. The completion of a documentary is one of its main goals and is intended to raise awareness of Indo history. There are other groups on social networks such as Facebook that have a specific purpose of reconnecting the past with the present.
The people who are looking for their roots are in a race against time and complacency. The generation that was born in Indonesia are slowly passing into history, and the generation that replaces them are faced with a choice. That choice is to move forward into the future and let the Indo become a dying breed, or they can try to preserve their history for future generations. It is inevitable that blood lines become diluted and blurred as time passes, but if the steps are taken now, there will be something to pass on so that the ones who follow after them will know their roots.
Editor’s Comment (updated 4/14/13):
This is an excerpt from Jack’s essay, “Missing Pieces”. Jack Profijt is the creator of the Dutch-Indonesian Community Facebook page, which has grown to 3,123 members worldwide with the highest number from North America. He was born in Holland and as a baby, immigrated to Canada with his Indo parents.