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.
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…
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…