Struggling with my cultural identity…

Several months ago, during busy season at the yarnshop, this tall guy stepped into the store. He immediately caught my eye because he was wearing a button down shirt made out of beautiful traditional Javanese batik fabric.

When he stepped towards our desk to inquire about gift certificates, I immediately asked him about his shirt. He told me that he regularly travels to Indonesia and that his wife’s family is from Java, Indonesia.

After our brief encounter in the yarnshop that day, I hadn’t seen this man anymore until very recently. He invited me to have dinner with his family, his wife was going to prepare a traditional Javanese meal.

I could not have foreseen that accepting his invitation would entail entering into a part of my life I hadn’t touched for a very long time: my Javanese Heritage..

A story untold…


When people ask me where I am from, I reply: “I am from Amsterdam, the Netherlands”.

When I detect in their eyes that they are a little bit puzzled by my answer, I quickly add to it: “But I was born in Suriname, South America.”

Finally, I will add: “However, my ancestors are from Java, Indonesia.”

My nationality is Dutch, my heritage is Javanese-Surinamese, and I have been living in the United States of America since 2005.

Usually, this is all the information you get from me. However, there is a whole history behind me being from a Javanese-Surinamese background. A history that traces back to as far as 1512. A history that involves colonialism, spice trade and human trafficking.

A history that has affected my family deeply…

Let us not talk about the past. Let us focus on the future.

Two Guardians

When I was a little girl, I remember my Uncle and Mother talking about my great grandmother. I was busy playing with my toys, but caught bits and pieces of the conversation about my great grandmother:

“She was shipped from Java to Suriname…hard labor on sugar cane plantation…she had to leave behind a baby daughter… never saw her family in Java again”

On another occasion I remember hearing my Father talk about Suriname:

“Not going back to Suriname…political situation unstable…staying in the Netherlands with my family…let’s make sure our children integrate seamlessly into Dutch society.”

In another conversation I overheard my Uncles and Aunties saying:

“What has happened in the past is in the past. Let us not talk about it anymore. It is the fate of our people. Let us focus on the future…”

And thus, dear reader, this knitter carries a story untold. A story that I have carefully put away in a room in my being. I have locked the door to this room firmly and lost the key…

Integrating into western society

For as long as I remember I have been trying so hard to fit into western society.

I have done my utmost and more to fit into Dutch society and ever since I moved to the United States of America, I have done my utmost and more to fit into American society.

But the thing is… I am undeniably Asian…at least my looks say so…

Exploring My Layers5

Dear reader, this knitter is struggling with her identity right now  in so many ways. It is a layer in my existence which I find difficult.

Who am I? With which culture do I resonate the most? Dutch? Javanese? Surinamese? American?

As I raise these questions, even more questions arise. Questions about my family’s past… and I realize that I have a deep yearn to tell the story untold.

I have the feeling that a tidal wave of my complex heritage story is hitting me hard…I think I am ready to go more deep into this layer.

OMG. Somebody please hold my hand.

Thank you for reading and until the next entry…


8 Responses to Struggling with my cultural identity…

  1. jenni says:

    My hand will always be extended for you my sweet darling.

  2. Rebecca Z. says:

    You’re a citizen of the world, not a single place or genetic pool.

    And your roots run deep through the world. That’s a wonderful thing.

    And I adore that fabric. I’m glad the man invited you to dinner with his family; if you were a flower, I’d say that cross-pollination is producing some new blooms with a beautiful color, heady scent, and sweet fruit to follow.

  3. Sondra says:

    Relish all the many parts and layers. They are all “Knit” together making up the glorious fabric that is Nancy. Accept your past, and celebrate the present Let the future take care of itself.
    My heart is with you in this healing journey.

  4. Wanett says:

    I am so sorry that this plagues you. It must be so difficult to adjust who you are so often. I’ll be here if you need an ear to bend. Email or Rav mail. Hang in there, we all struggle with who we are and in my case with a scarred family history as well.

  5. bibz says:

    Wow… I honestly did not realised the hardship one have to go through, especially when it comes to define one’s identity.

    Thank you for your post. Such an eye-opener.

    Will add you to my blogroll, if that is alright 🙂

  6. Sarah says:

    “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” With that said, what lies within us is made up of all that came before us, our family’s blood and tears, their depression and happiness. It surfaces here and there, good luck on your journey.

  7. Mark Schuyler says:

    I have similar feelings, but I am not a first generation immigrant. My surname is Dutch, but invented. My ancestors came here in the 1600’s, but I have no “cultural identity”. Here in America, this seems so important, but it actually is a limitation, a label, a guide. I have learned to celebrate my humanity by celebrating the cultures of others. I grow in spirit by observing and becoming more respectful of my neighbor’s values and spirituality. I have learned to admire the cultural expressions of others, and to practice the one’s I enjoy. I wish you peace with yourself in your journey.

  8. Bianca says:

    I am from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. And fleed to Australia to escape the past and the inheritance of a family imbued in secrets. Several years ago I travelled to India to follow my partner’s footsteps back, yes lots of hardship for him and a lot of emotions wrt the acts of the british. I am not proud of my birth countries history, what they did in ceylon, and Indonesia. my aunty Sandra is Indonesian, my BIL is from Paramaribo and is African South American. Okay lets call it out, his ancestors were brought there as slaves. I am part Austrian French and some of my forefathers decided to join the Nazis. I have been Australian for many years but still struggle to define who I am. How I see myself most is as as an artist a knitter, a beader, a fibre freak. We knit ourselves, we stitch our hearts. What you said resonates – trying to fit in, I try all the time – too dutch, too outspoken. Maybe we are just very special people who have a role on the outside as it helps us be creative. I don’t know. Let’s find out.

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