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A short history of the Indos

A short history of the Indos: On the migration of Indo-Dutch and Indo-Americans 1950-2020

On September 12th, the Institute of European Studies’ director Professor Dewulf hosted Peter Von Riel for a lecture titled “A short history of the Indos: On the migration of Indo-Dutch and Indo-Americans 1950-2020”. Peter Von Riel is a specialist in the Dutch East Indies and Indonesian studies at the Pelita Foundation  and host of De Indische Podcast. As the son of an Indo mother and of a Dutch father, he is working on recording the stories of mixed families who left the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia in the mid-20th century.

His presentation began with a brief historical context. After World War II, the former Dutch East Indies escalated into a four-year decolonization war against the Netherlands. Amidst the growing violence emerging against the former colonial powers, a large portion of the Dutch population was forced to leave the new republic of Indonesia.

Von Riel explains that this context was particularly complicated for mixed families that had emerged as a result of the many years during which European men and Indonesian women had mingled together. With over five migration waves that occurred across almost three decades, the testimonies of Indo-Dutch and Indo-American families have all been extremely different.

Von Riel’s main focus is to understand how these families’ adaptation, or lack thereof, took place upon their arrivals to the Netherlands and the United States. He affirms that the difficulty always came in reconciling their two cultures and finding a way to frame their Eurasian identity. Many also struggled to adapt because their unique identity excluded them from the local populations and made their inclusion into society much harder. Often forced to change their names and give up elements of their culture, they worked hard to assimilate. Decades after their difficult experience, Von Riel’s mission has been not only to hear their stories but to provide multi-media platforms for their voices to be heard and their testimonies not to be forgotten.

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