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Indos: The Last Eurasian Community in the USA?

When the Netherlands relinquished control of Indonesia in 1949, nearly 200,000 Indos (Eurasians of Dutch and Indonesian descent) fled the country in search of a better life. Dr. Jan Krancher tells the history of this remarkable Eurasian community, and its attempts to preserve its unique cultural heritage.

By Dr. Jan Krancher

April 2003

The Indos are a small Eurasian refugee-immigrant group in the United States. They are also sometimes referred to as Dutch-Indonesians, Indonesian-Dutch, and Indo-Europeans. What moved them to come to the U.S.? What were their experiences as immigrants? How did they find their place in American society?

Roughly 60,000 Indos arrived in the U.S. in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Many conditions inside and outside the group have contributed to their phenomenal success in entering the mainstream. Very little is known about this ethnic group due to their small numbers, the brevity of time since they first set foot in the U.S., and the scarcity of literature in either English or Dutch.

Many Indos left their native land (then known as the Dutch East Indies) in 1949 after it gained independence and became known as the Republic of Indonesia, convinced that that there was no future for them in the new republic. They evolved into three overlapping socioeconomic categories, differentiated by dialect and certain art forms. During the early period of the East India Company, the language spoken was pidgin Portuguese. In the 18th century it became a type of bazaar Malay. With the increasing number of Dutch people in the colonies, Indos spoke more Dutch.

Most Indos "repatriated" to the Netherlands before they immigrated to the U.S. That term is actually a misnomer, since the overwhelming majority had never set foot in Holland before. For a people born and raised in the tropics, the flatness and smallness of the country and its northern European climate were great disappointments. They considered their presence in Holland a consequence of political events over which they had no control. For this they blamed the Dutch government. Understanding of the Indos by the Dutch citizens was minimal. And the Dutch were not prepared for the unexpected postwar influx of more than 200,000 individuals from the former colonies, competing for housing and employment.

Although familiar with the distinction between European and "native" (Indonesian), the Dutch were not prepared for the existences of an "in-between," a Eurasian. The Indos objected to being referred to by terms denoting skin color. Indos represent a true kaleidoscope of color, ranging from those with blond hair and blue eyes to those with dark skin and black eyes. The active and vocal among them began to organize. Most were not used to collective action and problem solving. However, they were learning, some for the first time, about their past and present situation through a recently established periodical named after the sound of the native alarm system consisting of a hollowed piece of carved wood beaten by a stick. The Indos entered the U.S. under various legislative measures. The two major sponsoring organizations were the Church World Service and the Catholic Relief Services. Throughout the years, the problem of obtaining an accurate count of refugee-immigrants remained unsolved. The U.S. Census classified people according to their self-determined ethnic affiliation. The Indos could have been included in overlapping categories of "country of origin, other Asians," "total foreign or mixed parentage," "total foreign-born, foreign mother tongue," or all three. In 1973, Indos could be found in practically all fifty states, with a majority in southern California.

The formation of Indo enclaves was prevented because of various factors, not the least of which was the fact that they settled initially with their sponsors or in locations offered to them by the sponsor. The Indos also had a wide variety of occupations and in this respect were not limited to certain geographic areas. And finally, there were no forces in the host society limiting the choice of location. There was a rather full choice as to where to settle, with the family income as sole limitation.

There are seven main factors that account for the rapid rate at which Indos are disappearing as a group.

1) Their unification was impeded by the diverse nature of this group, a characteristic inherited from the Dutch colonial period.

2) They lacked a clear concept of and agreement about Indo ethnicity.

3) They were unwilling and unable to organize, a characteristic inherited from the colonial period, when they suffered from intragroup as well as intergroup competition.

4) There were so few of them, and they were dispersed geographically. They did not increase numerically but were steadily losing members.

5) There was no proverbial "old country" for Indos to look back to. World War II and its aftermath had destroyed Indo society in the Indies.

6) They lacked a continual influx of new immigrants who could function as reinforcements of traditional behavior.

7) The Indos were extremely familiar with Western culture and behavior, and this eased their path to assimilation.

There is great concern that the Indos as separate identifiable group may soon disappear. This saddens those who helplessly watch the younger members change. But they are also strengthened by the fact that there are still a few small Indo clubs, mostly in southern California. There is, however, a strong realization among the Indos that they will be no more a separate ethnic group.

There might always be Eurasian populations, but never anymore of the Indo type, a combination of one of the many Indonesian peoples and one of the various European peoples who had lived on the Indonesian islands.

(This article is adapted from "American Immigrant Cultures - Builders of a Nation," volume 1, 1997, Simon and Schuster McMillan) by Jan A. Krancher.

About the Author Dr. Jan A. Krancher, PhD is of Dutch-Indonesian descent on his mother's side and of German ancestry on his paternal side. Born in the former Dutch East Indies, now the Republic of Indonesia, he always possessed the Dutch nationality. He was "repatriated" to the Netherlands after the Japanese occupation of the islands during World War II and uprooted a second time when he immigrated to the USA. Krancher belongs to the largest Eurasian ethnic group in the world, with substantial communities in the Hague, the Netherlands and southern California. They are attempting to keep their culture alive by having their own local organization. Nevertheless, regretfully there might always be Eurasian populations, but never anymore of the Indo kind, a combination of one of the many Indonesian peoples and one of the various European descendants who once lived on the Indonesian Islands. You can read more about Dr. Krancher at his Web site krancher.org.

(EurasianNation is an online community for people of mixed European and Asian descent. We aim to provide quality content on Eurasian issues and to be a forum in which Eurasians can meet each other and share ideas. In late 2000, then 14-year-old Iris Van Kerckhove started a community site for Eurasians called EAZone because she felt that her needs as a person of mixed European and Asian descent were not being met by traditional Asian and Asian-American community sites.

In less than a year, and with very little promotion, Iris found herself with over 200 members. Recognizing how large the potential audience was, Iris decided it was necessary to expand and improve EAZone.

With the help of her sister Carmen, EAZone was relaunched in April 2002 as EurasianNation.)

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