27/05/2008 To be or not to be a migrant
The ideal migrant is what an ‘Indo’ is sometimes called. The term Indo stands for people who combine Dutch and Indonesian roots in their family history. In some cases these roots are quite young, in other families the mixing started many generations ago in the former Dutch East Indies (Nederlands Indië).
Indos, and anyone else interested, can dip into a nostalgic atmosphere at the yearly Indo fair Pasar Malam Besar that takes place in huge tents at Malieveld, a central commons in The Hague. This year I am invited to join in a public debate called ‘The Forgotten Migrant’ (De vergeten migrant). Tomorrow this discussion will take place in the Bibit Theatre, one of the smaller tents that will host the fair’s cultural programme.
The main issue at this afternoon will be: can the history and experiences of Indos be of significance for the current discussion about integration in the Netherlands? I did some hard thinking about this question because this is not a topic that keeps me occupied in daily life. Yes, in my opinion the Indos are a forgotten category of people, especially the first generation, which arrived in Holland shortly after World War II. Both my mother’s and my father’s family arrived in Holland after turbulent years of wars in the colony. They left the country of their childhood after independence was declared by Soekarno, Indonesia’s first president. From the very moment they arrived at Rotterdam harbour, a cold reception awaited them. People in Holland were busy putting their own lives together after five years of war; there were not enough jobs and not enough houses for everyone. There were no big, warm welcomes for the 300,000 Dutch men and women arriving from the tropical colony.
Of course, my parents can get angry remembering their first years in Holland. Nobody seemed to have any idea about what had happened to them in Indonesia. There were no facilities, no subsidies and in the beginning no houses or work for those strangers with their funny accent and brown skin. My parents did not indulge in self complaints and bitterness, like some other older Indos. They adjusted quickly, silently and successfully. Fortunately we, their children, did not inherit many complexes or traumas.
Notwithstanding that when I am feeling ironic, I wish the first generation Indos had reacted more irritated or even angry during those first years in Holland. What if they had protested more loudly and had also demonstratively occupied an embassy or a school, like the Moluccans had done? Should they have drawn attention to their situation in a noisy way? This definitely would have increased publicity and raised more awareness of the Indos. But in the slipstream of this (negative) attention, also subsidies would have streamed in the direction of the Indos, including street-corner workers taking care of problems, even problems you did not even know they existed. Looking back, I do not consider this to be an enviable option. Maybe the Indos are simply lucky that people forgot to look upon them as migrants.