New generations of Americans with Indo European lineage, at some point in their lives, have a desire to rediscover or know more about their origins and (multi-) cultural background.
For a long time I asked the questions: How do Indos in America identify themselves? What is their emotional relationship with the Dutch East Indies, the Netherlands and America? What are they interested in? This year I had some more time to reflect on this subject.
First- and second-generation immigrants of mixed Indo-European ancestry, with strong ties to their origins and history in the former Dutch East Indies and the Netherlands, have proudly assimilated into a distinct American culture they craved to be a part of. The U.S is so large, and comprised of so many various immigrants; people often refer to their (sometimes partial) heritage or ethnic culture. I learned they call that ‘hyphenated American’: an American citizen who can trace their ancestry to another, specified part of the world, such as African-American or Irish-American, Italian-American. It may sound strange to foreigners, especially when you are 3rd or 4th generation born in the U.S. with no emotional ties to the countries your ancestors came from.
We all have many different identities; for example we identify ourselves by our family name, race, sex, country, city and we have cultural and ethnic identities. It’s quite common for people to ask a question like: “Where are you really from?” Some people have difficulty explaining their heritage and just answer: “I am American” or in my case, “I am originally from the Netherlands.” The latter answer still gets a puzzled look because I do not fit the typical Dutch profile of 6 feet tall, blond hair and blue eyes. I consider myself ‘multicultural’ – I identify with more than one culture: Amsterdammer, Indo, American.
As more Americans with Indo heritage embark on a quest of self-discovery, some still feel embarrassed to disclose their ethnicity (INDO was once a derogatory slur) or find it difficult to explain. It’s time for what I call ‘Ethnic Coming Out’; a metaphor for the process of understanding, accepting, and valuing your ethnic identity. It involves both exploring your identity and sharing it with others. It is an important part of your self-image and it can help you feel more connected to those around you. Like my dad always used to say: “Never deny your origins!”
In order to nurture your inner Indo, you first need to identify the Indo within! This requires a general understanding of the terms.
WHAT IS INDO?
The term INDO was already recorded in 1898 as an abbreviation for the Dutch term Indo-Europeaan (Indo-European). It describes people of mixed native Indonesian and predominantly Dutch descent with roots in the former Dutch East Indies. The terms I prefer to use are Indo-Dutch (Indische Nederlander) and Eurasian. I don’t like the term often used in English: Dutch-Indonesian, as it implies that we were at one time Indonesian citizens – we were not. These days, even Indonesians call themselves INDO – which in my opinion is a case of misappropriation.
Over generations, a subculture developed in the Dutch East Indies, encompassing adopted and blended elements from both the indigenous people and Dutch colonials. When we speak of ‘Indische cultuur’ we refer to a hybrid community, a fusion cuisine, and the period before the Netherlands transferred the sovereignty of the Dutch East Indies to the Republic of Indonesia – December 27th 1949. The cultural heritage is now mostly carried by the Indo Diaspora, which was largely formed as a result of the independence of Indonesia. Dutch citizens were forced to leave their motherland and migrated to mainly the Netherlands and North America.
With the passing of the original carriers of our Indo heritage, loss of language and traditions, our culture is slowly fading away. The first and second generation maintained ties with the old country and community. With subsequent generations, this connection decreased rapidly. The youngest generation may not have direct or emotional ties with the land of their parents or oma and opa. This threat of extinction urges us to preserve our cultural heritage by defining and expressing it more, not to be marginalized, nor to become a footnote in the history books. Unlike the Netherlands, maintaining Indo heritage in America with a dominating culture proves to be a big challenge. Especially, with the loss of ancestral Dutch language, intermarriage, and Indos living scattered, it becomes difficult to maintain unity. On top of that, the Indo community is diverse. There are differences in background, environment, and social status.
5 TIPS TO NURTURE YOUR INNER INDO IN AMERICA
- Stay in touch with people from the old country – consult those who came before you, have conversations and ask questions about their lives in the ancestral countries. Document facts and their memories. Visit or connect via social media and join groups like SoCalIndo, Dutch Indo Community
- Join local clubs with ties to the old culture and connect. In California for example: Dutch Club AVIO organizes monthly events, UNO; organizes Annual Holland Festival – largest Indo Dutch reunion in the U.S. and the Annual Dutch King’s Day, the NAF: organizes Dutch cultural and business events.
- Pass down cultural heritage by defining it first and then instructing the next generations. Cultural heritage is all about upbringing: the full range of inherited (tangible / intangible) customs and traditions, values and believes, language, food, achievement, history, religion, music, art, literature, physical spaces, activities, skills, etc. For the ‘Indische’ culture to survive, you have to accept that it has been shaped over time, enriched with elements from both the Netherlands and Indonesia, and understand the underlying thoughts behind certain customs and traditions. For instance, Indos are known to be a gregarious bunch: they are social, hospitable, and generous. Indos are optimists and persevered (learn about WW2, Japanese internment camps, Bersiap, and the exile from Indonesia and for some a cold reception in the Netherlands). Above all they like ‘gezelligheid’ (togetherness).
- Share your culture with family and friends – celebrate with Indo food and music at special gatherings like ‘kumpulans’, potlucks and BBQ’s.
- Support a non-profit organization like The Indo Project – The Indo Project is dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and celebration of Indo culture and history through education, unification and raising public awareness. Be part of the project – join!
“Some family recipes were deemed lost forever with the passing of our Oma who never shared her recipes!”
INDO FOOD BRINGS US CLOSER AS A COMMUNITY – EVEN IF WE ARE APART!
Especially in our Indo culture, food acts as a mechanism of identity and establishing of cultural, ethnic, spiritual and social belonging. Now more than ever with social distancing, we need food that brings us comfort and joy. Indo food triggers fond memories of people we have shared it with but cannot visit or those who have been long gone. Indo food will help us to reconnect.
Indo Dutch is considered an ethnic cuisine (like Balinese, Sumatran, Chinese Indonesian, Javanese, Maluku, Madura, etc) originated in the time period of the Dutch East Indies and refers to the ethnic community and its food culture which evolved in the same geographic area now known as Indonesia. Therefore often also referred to as Indonesian cuisine. There is a very fine line between the two as the cuisines are nearly the same. Saying it is also Indonesian, is not wrong. Yet, it doesn’t cover it all. I say; Apple is fruit. But not all fruit is apple. Indo Dutch is part of a shared Indonesian and Dutch culinary heritage – it belongs to both countries. Yet, this cuisine needs to be marked, recognized for its unique dishes and influence – to get it the accolades it so richly deserves. Learn more about our Indo Dutch Food here. Are you an Indo Foodie?
INDO DUTCH KITCHEN SECRETS – MORE THAN RECIPES
While you still can, get your mother’s and grandmothers’ recipes. Cook with them and learn how the family signature dishes are made, often without measuring, and how they should taste. I know it is a challenge to document. When grandmothers pass away, they often bring their kitchen secrets with them. Any cookbooks left were often in Dutch. With that a part of Indo family heritage disappears. So there was a need to share the recipes in English. So, I started my project: Indo Dutch Kitchen Secrets, which is more than a book with recipes. I wrote it to give tribute to the cuisine of our grandmothers and mothers who said “I love you!” with their food. It’s a testament of our culinary heritage. It follows the path of a hidden community in the US, the Indo Dutch diaspora. People with roots in the former Dutch East Indies, who traversed different continents and multiple cultures while managing to preserve their heritage to reinforce their identity.
My mission is to make Indo Dutch food accessible to Americans. To provide an introduction or a way to reconnect with Indo heritage by explaining food customs, traditions and history. As was shared with me by one of my English speaking Indo Americans who ordered my book: “Some family recipes were deemed lost forever with the passing of our Oma who never shared her recipes!” – a common thing in the Indo world. Click here for more details on the cookbook.
As I always say; Gezelligheid starts in the kitchen!
Let me know if you have any questions and please share your experiences and comments.