I am dearly fond of my Nico and Diny, my Opa and Oma. They were as most pictures reflect – joyful, loving, and hopeful. My Oma was born in July 1921, in Batavia (now Jakarta), while my Opa was born in Amsterdam in January 1917.
I’m an immigrant’s daughter and have always grafted my mom’s experiences into a form of my identity. Now that I’m 41 years old, that identity is merely a shadow of my real self, but it completely formed me to view the world as an outsider.
I was raised in the Los Angeles area, urged to think critically and live globally. Traveling to different parts of our beautiful world has helped me discover kindness and friendship in every place.
My Dutch mother was part of the 1957 exodus of Indonesia in its early years of existence, just twelve years after the official end of Dutch East Indies (and end of WWII), when all white people were expelled from living there. In a very swift and violent sequence of events, their dreams of permanently grafting into the climate was no longer possible, and they quickly departed.
So off the Dutch went, to the Netherlands, where many had never lived, or even visited! To move from the balmy, rainy tropics to an oceanic, windy climate was a challenge. The country was crowded and opportunities few, with housing and integration problems. Europe was still recovering after war, and the Netherlands experienced a catastrophic, deadly flood in 1953.
Moreover, even Indo-Dutch (any Asian-European mix) were expelled from Indonesia, but not really welcomed in the Netherlands. It’s heartbreaking to consider my grandparents’ friends were again rejected by both countries they thought would be their “home”. But opportunity arose in the United States, and my Opa and Oma decided to take a risk to start anew, on their third continent together, with their four young children. Their Indo-Dutch friends were welcomed to the US as well!
So my mother arrived in America and spoke no English. Can you imagine being ten years old, a fifth grader without English speaking or reading skills? She could say, “I don’t understand you.” And merciful classmates helped her learn English… Chair. Book. Pencil. Friend. Words which held meaning. Eventually she was fluent. But English was her fourth or fifth language, after Dutch, Indonesian, various Malay dialects, French, and some German… then English…
They came to America through the Pastore-Walter Act, which resettled thousands of refugee families sponsored by recent immigrants; in turn, they sponsored 3-5 other newly-arriving families. They later went through citizenship classes and became US Citizens.
I think about the sacrifice of my dear grandparents, who gave up the Known, to embrace the Unknown. The opportunities that America held always outshined all they forfeited. They surveyed their situation and the future that forthcoming generations would encounter and decided to take a risk on America.
How many of us have that faith, grit, strength, and resolve to move to a second – or in my grandparents’ case, a third – continent – and start afresh? It’s beyond difficult.
Some of my friends know the courage and determination this takes, to be step into a culture not of your birth: friends from Taiwan, Indonesia, Zambia, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Australia, and so on. Other friends have left their life here in the US to care for people in Cambodia, Tanzania, Czech Republic, India, etc… and they know that sacrifice, too.
I’m passionate about immigration and offering others a chance to live here in America, because I know first-hand the way it completely alters one’s future. And the future of those next generations. I live with gratitude for this. And my friends from other nations are vibrant and gracious, strong and hardworking citizens, contributing positively to our country, and my life has more depth, laughter, grace, meaning, and kindness because of them.