tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
[personal profile] tim
I was born in the United States. I am a US citizen. I'm a first-generation American and a child of refugees.

My mother was born in Indonesia; so were her parents and grandparents. Her father's grandparents were refugees; her great-grandfather fought in the Napoleonic Wars and had to get the fuck out of Europe after all of that went down. That part of the story is a bit sordid, not that the rest of it isn't. My mother was three when Japan invaded Indonesia in 1942. I'm not sure exactly what happened to her over the next ten years (she talked about it when I was growing up, but always in a fragmented and fractured kind of way), but I know most if not all of the Dutch population in Indonesia was sent to prison camps or placed under house arrest by the invading forces.

They survived that (somehow), and shortly after Indonesia became independent in 1949, my mother, who was a teenager by then, and her family moved to Amsterdam; a place neither her nor her siblings nor her parents had ever seen before, as far as I know. Along with more or less everybody else of European descent in Indonesia. That was about 300,000 refugees, most of whom were of mixed European and Asian ancestry -- including my mother, though she's white-passing, as am I. I don't know much about her mother's family, except that her mother's father was of European descent and her mother's mother was of Asian descent. They were Indos, a word I didn't learn until I was an adult; my mother taught me that we were "Indonesian Dutch."

Out of curiosity, I ordered a copy of her mother's (my grandmother's) death certificate; she died before I was born, in Australia. Australian death certificates have a space for the deceased's parents' names. Her mother's name is listed as "unknown", although her son (my uncle, who I've never met) reported her death and he presumably knew what it was. There's a whole complicated story here involving racism, xenophobia, colonialism, interracial marriage coexisting with racism (because guess what, anti-racism is not sexually transmitted), co-optation of nationalist movements, and revolution that I won't pretend to know more than the beginning of.

"Nine tenths of the so-called Europeans are the offspring of whites married to native women. These mixed people are called Indo-Europeans… They have formed the backbone of officialdom. In general they feel the same loyalty to the Netherlands as do the white Dutch. They have full rights as Dutch citizens and they are Christians and follow Dutch customs. This group has suffered more than any other during the Japanese occupation.” -- Official US Army publication, 1944 (quoted on Wikipedia)

Those 300,000 refugees of mixed Dutch and Indonesian descent? They weren't welcome in the Netherlands. Where else were they going to go? They couldn't go home.

Short story long, my mother ended up in the US, two of her brothers went to Australia (where I've never been, nor have I met either of them), and her other brother stayed in the Netherlands (I met him once). Except for a second cousin, the rest of her extended family, other than me, remains in Europe and Australia.

My mother was single when she conceived me with an anonymous donor. Thanks to the magic of 23andMe, and the magic of the genetic bottlenecks, I learned when I was an adult that my other biological parent (I hate that phrase, by the way, but I also don't have a second "non-biological" parent) was likely of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. The history of how Ashkenazi Jews ended up in the US is better known.

I'm still not sure how much personal meaning to read into genetic material that didn't bring a familial or cultural component to my life, but I know what meaning the Nazis would have read into that genetic material if I had lived during World War II in Europe: from their point of view, I would have been Jewish enough to be the enemy. So if I choose to think this way, I'm descended from refugees on both sides, in a deep and historically complicated way on both sides, one side that survived multiple genocides and another that survived multiple violent regime changes. Both sides spent time in prison camps, or internment camps, or concentration camps because of their ethnicity (literally on my mother's side; maybe literally on the other side too, or maybe there was just a blood relation to people who did) and because of invading governments with political agendas that required ethnicity-based punishment. This is not to equate the Japanese treatment of Indonesian-Dutch folks with the German treatment of Jews; same war, different events, different reasons, although Google has quite a long list of possibilities for autocompleting "Japanese invasion of".

We know that Japan imprisoned 300,000 Dutch citizens living in Indonesia, we know that no one stopped them, and we know that most of those Dutch citizens, including my family, were people descended from both Asians and Europeans. Indos were loyal to the Dutch, so to the invading Japanese army, they were European and therefore the enemy. But that loyalty was not reciprocated: Dutch folks in the Netherlands saw Indos as Asian, and therefore as second-class.

Maybe that kind of double bind is why so many of us who are descended from mixed-race people are so acutely aware of the contradictions of racism. We can never be fully loyal to our more privileged ancestors, because we know what they think of us.

Growing up, I never felt like an American. My mother spoke two languages that weren't English, and people constantly asked her where her accent was from. Now that I'm grown, I know that there is no one more American than me, except for indigenous people, Black people brought to the US by slave merchants, and Chicanos/Chicanas. The reason why us refugees and children of refugees are so vocal right now is simple: we're living proof of the best things America aspires to, and know the human cost of the worst things America has always done up till now and is currently intensifying. Listen to us.

"Remember what I told you,
if they hated me, they will hate you."

-- Sinéad O'Connor

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-30 08:04 pm (UTC)
sasha_feather: Retro-style poster of skier on pluto.   (Default)
From: [personal profile] sasha_feather
Wow. Thanks for sharing your story.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-01 05:22 am (UTC)
toorsdenote: (Default)
From: [personal profile] toorsdenote
That was totally fascinating!

And: surprise Ashkenazi heritage high five! My (racist, somewhat anti-Semitic) grandma discovered very late in her life that her own father, who had been adopted after coming out West on an orphan train, was the biological child of Berlin Jews who emigrated to the US to escape some 19th century pogrom. Nothing about my genetics gives me more satisfaction than knowing that racist old Grandma was a Jew all along.

Edited Date: 2017-02-01 05:23 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-05 08:19 pm (UTC)
hairyears: Spilosoma viginica caterpillar: luxuriant white hair and a 'Dougal' face with antennae. Small, hairy, and venomous (Default)
From: [personal profile] hairyears
My father upset the wrong bishop, in Ireland, in 1957. Twice. He found himself working in an English town where every boarding house put up a sign "No dogs no blacks no Irish".

Fast-forward sixty years, and I look and sound so English that my relatives in Ireland joke about it...

...And I would find it difficult to find work there, with my accent.

My future almost certainly involves working in a European Union where the British will be very, very unpopular indeed.

But not, officially, as a refugee: I am eligible for an Irish passport, which grants me rights of residence, workand voting, in every European country.

Nevertheless, it is an uncomfortable prospect. And there's a future waiting to be born, a rough beast slouching towards Bedlam Hospital, in which British nationalist hardliners make taking up that passport and asserting my Irish Nationality a reason to expel me from the UK.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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