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Immigrants originating in the Dutch East Indies search for home

Film explores Indo roots

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

PORTLAND, Oregon - Many stories of Dutch Indonesians who left the Netherlands East Indies or later Indonesia are lost in the passage of time. Many went to the Netherlands, only to depart for yet another country. Some went to Australia, others to New Zealand or South Africa and a significant group settled in the USA, which became their third country often in less than ten years.

Michael Hillis, a part-time teacher and history buff who resides in Portland, Oregon, estimates there are now around 200,000 Indos as they call themselves, living in the United States. Hilles doubts that there is much awareness of them in the USA.

With their country of birth still in political upheaval, the Indos mostly headed to The Netherlands shortly after Independence. But when they got there, they faced a culture shock and racial issues. The Indos, who arrived in The Netherlands between 1945 and the 1960s, found that Dutch society was not ready for an influx of postwar Eurasians hailing from the former Dutch East Indies colony.

The Indos had lost their homes, their money and frequently their personal effects in their country of birth. In The Netherlands they had to cope with new issues, including the colder climate, living indoors, eating potatoes, instead of rice, and other cultural issues.


Members of the second generation, now aged up to 60, speak English; the third generation, aged between 20 and 30, no longer speak Dutch and are unfamiliar with their Indo roots. The Indos quickly assimilated into their new country, marrying people outside the community; most never returned to Indonesia.

Hillis first came across the issue of the Indos when he read Jan A. Krancer's The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies 1942-1949. He contacted the writer, who introduced him to Bianca Dias-Halpert, an Indo residing in Seattle. Dias-Halpert invited Hillis to a Dutch Indo community gathering. Hillis professed to be very surprised: they resembled Hispanics, speak Dutch, eat Indonesian food and sing Hawaiian-like songs."

As the younger generation immerses itself into America's melting pot multicultural society, the older Indos are concerned that the young ones will forget their roots. It was at this point that Hillis was inspired to make a film about the Dutch Indos.


Hillis said that the movie would paint a new picture of Indonesia for Americans, most of who know little about Indonesia apart from terrorism threats and the bloodshed in Bali. He said that the movie would take audiences to the World War II base of American general Douglas MacArthur on Morotai Island, as well as to other places of interest.

He hopes that his movie can show fellow Americans that Indonesia and America have an important historical relationship.