Indo-ness…

What does it mean to be Indisch, Indo, Dutch Indonesian, Indonesian Dutch? Most of us Indos believe it is all about the food – sate, sajoer assem, sambal, pete, lontong – the Resep-Lemper-Abon-Ikansnacks: lemper, loempia, risolles (is that one rissoles and two risolleses???) – or great single words that have so much meaning: rakoes, bohong, sombong, tjerewet, senang; or maybe a system of pretty traditional, conservative, yet super generous values: never go to someone’s home empty handed, never accept drinks or anything offered to you the first time (wait until you have been asked at least twice – if you accept so eagerly, people will think you don’t get enough at home), NEVER call an adult by his/her first name without Oom or Tante before it.

The sum total of Indo-ness is so completely individual, it may not be describable, but at the same time, it’s easily recognizable, comfortable, and familiar when you know the extremely subtle and mostly unwritten rules of engagement…

In the days when we were all fresh off the Holland America Lines’ Maasdam having sailed from Rotterdam to the port of New York City and then by train across the country to Portland, Oregon, the Indo community was tight as can be — everyone helped each other out and though the roddelpraatjes (gossip) abounded over who was on IMG_2264welfare, who got free government cheese, who went to which school in Indonesia, who was more “Dutch”, who claimed not to speak any Maleis, it didn’t prevent Indos from helping each other find jobs, make ends meet, come to the rescue in a crisis (like when our house burned to the ground except for one bedroom and eight kids and 2 parents were suddenly without a roof over our heads) – yes, that’s when Tante Fien van Waardenburg who worked as a school cook brought food for the whole family daily until we figured out what to do on our own (restaurants were out of the question since they were far too expensive)…

Generosity abounded within the Indo community – if someone had enough, there was always room to share and stretch it even further. Oom Gaby Ladage must have given my mom at least a couple dozen canaries and beautiful finches over several decades of friendship because he knew how much she loved those birds. Tante Gerrie Bergman (nee van Dien) was always cooking something delicious in her kitchen and sharing it with us kids not the least being her enak sekali (super delicious) oblok-oblok. And I’ll never forget Tante Mien Verdonk who passed away so long ago, but has a corner of my heart IMG_2251always because of her kindness – I was her “hired” garden helper as a kid who worked very little but sure had lots of homemade pasteitjes and other refreshments at her place. She would always pay me much more than she should have because she knew our family struggled financially.

As a group that came about as the result of racial and ethnic mixing in the context of a very distinct colonial infrastructure, Indos come in every size and color. There are tall ones, short ones, dark and light skinned ones, and brown haired and blonde ones. Some feel very Dutch and minimize their native-ness while others cannot but express pride in their hybrid culture being neither Dutch nor Indonesian. Some Indos trace their mixed Dutch East Indies roots back 350 years while others have a much more recent and more clearly defined mixed background with one Indonesian Oma and a totally Totok (Dutch) Opa who arrived in the Dutch East Indies to fight the Japanese during World War II. My family on both mother and father’s side go back at least three centuries with the first figure22apaternal Dutchman arriving in the colonies in the mid 1600’s and my maternal seafaring ancestor sailing into the Indies in the early 1700’s. Then there is the fact that we are not talking exclusively about a mix of ethnically diverse Indonesians with Dutch colonizers. The Dutch East Indies was a super diverse trading society so the population very early on included Chinese, East Indians, Africans, Arabians, Austrians, French, Belgians, British, Portuguese, etc. It’s a wonder with the huge differences in Indo-ness that there could be anything we can call Indisch at all! But as a folk that has always had to fit in and adapt, we are and we do, for now anyway.

My fear is that with the daily loss of our direct connection to this place we call the Dutch East Indies which no longer exists except in the memories, customs, traditions, values and actions of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, this mestizo culture will fade into the distant past and we will be assimilated into wherever the current generation landed. Australians, Americans, Nederlanders, Canadians, Brazilians, Spaniards and Indonesians, to name just a few, but with roots in a magical almost mythical place faraway in distance, memory, and history.

To my generation born in Indonesia and the Netherlands: Listen to and document the stories and carry on the Indische traditions however modified and adapted they may be – remember it is your story to pass on or to lose. Tell your children and your children’s children about our journey – whichever one it is because there are many – all of them valid Indo histories. To the next generation who probably is not reading this and may not be particularly interested anyway: don’t let yourself be totally subsumed and assimilated into the mass culture that surrounds you. It’s an inevitability and much easier, but with the loss of your individuality, something deep inside you is also lost. Your DNA has a stamp on it that places you squarely on the shoulders of so many who came before you who lived expansively, took risks, sacrificed, bled, cried and suffered but still managed to live and love so that you could be here… Teroes adja…

NOTE: I mostly used the Dutch East Indies conventions for spelling of words in Maleis as a nod to the past…

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Heading for disaster, continued…

I didn’t think we would find ourselves in this disastrous state so soon after my post yesterday. I felt in my spirit that there was more to come and not for good… And then woke up to another morning of grim and grave headlines. Five people killed. This time they were transit police – there to keep a peaceful protest peaceful. Random individuals picked off without thought to who they were. We don’t need to discuss whether they were good people or bad people, kind people or mean people, they were people, period. This morning, I wept for them and all the other senseless killings that happen in this country and across the world. And paraphrasing President Obama who stated it so clearly, there is no contradiction in supporting efforts to stop police violence against minority communities and standing solidly with law enforcement who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. I repeat, there is no contradiction. I don’t think there is ever an issue with seeking justice and speaking out against injustice. This is not an either/or situation. It does not diminish the gravity of what has been happening to communities of color. It punctuates our deep need to come together as a nation. Demonizing any group of people because of their race/ethnicity, because they wear a uniform, because they pray differently, because they think differently gets us nowhere which is where we find ourselves today. But in times like these I have to rely on faith that God has everything under control. God’s justice has, does and will prevail but it may be beyond our comprehension to understand it – it cannot be put in human terms. The question for us is, “What can WE do?” that falls in line with God’s will for us on this earthly journey.

So I go back to the roots of this blog when I named it. WE MUST BE THE CHANGE.  I modified and abbreviated Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quotation, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” So if we want to spread God’s love, we must love others as God loves us, with compassion and mercy, with steadfastness and faithfulness, without end, without judgment, and without regard to our pasts. If we want to see justice, we must be just in all our actions, in our treatment and interactions with family, friends, loved ones, strangers, those like us and those unlike us. Oppressing others, lying, cheating, killing, stealing, racism, homophobia, vigilantism, sexism, xenophobia, egocentrism, to name just a few, do not fall in line with anything remotely considered just. If we want unity, we must seek understanding, which might mean not just listening but truly hearing. We must stop fearing that which we do not know or understand. We must expand not contract our interactions with others and the world. With depth of knowing and understanding comes enlightenment. Let’s shine some light on this dark place we find ourselves in today. Let’s not spend any more time on the road headed for disaster. Peace.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Heading for disaster…

As the disparities between poor and rich, black and white, uneducated and educated increase, so does the civil unrest brewing in the underbelly of this amazing country we call home. I usually steer clear of political statements and other pronouncements about the many changes we need to effect in the United States because as a successful immigrant of color with a background of poverty, I was afforded opportunities to achieve that I might not have had otherwise. Nevertheless, today’s headlines engendered a deep sadness inside my soul. We keep reading about gun violence and violence overall but today it is about the systemic brutality and violence of those who are supposed to be protecting us and the unjust and frankly racist underpinnings of excessive force that seems to disproportionately affect persons of color, in particular, African Americans and so often seems to end in death… Once is an anomaly, even twice might be by chance, but the evidence clearly demonstrates there is an extremely high incidence of arrests and excessive use of force for anyone who dares ask the question, “What did I do wrong?”

I have experienced racism and prejudice in my own life (being perceived at various times and places as Latino, Filipino, Black, Mulatto, Chinese, Brazilian, etc.)  but never to the extent that I have seen perpetrated against one of the kindest, most law abiding persons I know (my spouse) who happens to be Black. Imagine driving home from work from a late shift at the hospital and being pulled over by a police car (for no reason other than suspicion and driving Black too late at night), pulled out of your vehicle, accused of drug possession, handcuffed and arrested, thrown in jail and miraculously being released in about 6 hours with no apology, no reasons or explanations given, no charges, no prosecution… The sheer terror of such an ordeal is sufficient to shake you to your core. To add insult to injury,  you have to hire a lawyer and pay thousands of dollars to have this illegal arrest expunged from your record. Luckily, Marvin survived this ordeal with law enforcement and is alive to tell the story. Unfortunately, this and other experiences (from being informed “the position you applied for has been filled” when he appears for the interview to being tailed in a retail store by security) have reshaped him as a person. He continues in his kind and gentle ways but there is joy that has been stolen from him and an optimism that has been replaced with the harsh reality of the world.

As Christian people who follow a Savior who sought justice for the meek, the diseased, the shunned, the alienated and the poor, what should we be doing to stem the violence and unjust actions of our society? We are called to speak out for those who can’t speak, to stand for those who can’t get up, to place ourselves in the gap for those who can’t cross over. I believe that we are heading for disaster if we do not, in love and compassion, speak out, stand up and place ourselves in the gap for those whose very lives are being threatened. Otherwise the violence will continue to escalate. It is only through our loving actions that this place we call home can be transformed. Are you willing to speak out, stand up and place yourself in that gap? This is not a call to arms for that is what got us here in the first place. It is a call to consciousness. An awakening and awareness that the suffering and pain out there is real and we all have a responsibility to create a world in which love and caring trump greed and violence. Peace.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What are Saturday mornings for?

For those of us who work a Monday through Friday schedule, Saturday morning-37130s are like heaven. No alarm buzzing, no hastily getting dressed, no urgency, no dread of what the day will bring… If played well, Saturday mornings truly are like heaven on earth. Unrushed, relaxed and unimaginably peaceful – there’s time to contemplate life over a nice cup of hot tea, focus on your breathing, and even to write a few free flowing creative thoughts… Saturday mornings are like heaven on earth.

Contrast your Monday morning with your Saturday morning experience and I bet you will note a host of differences. However, if these two dawnings are more alike than different and you are on the Mon-Fri work schedule, you might want to check yourself… Workaholism is an addiction that might not kill you, but could very well prevent you from living the full and joyful life you see others around you creating. Yes, I said “creating”. Though appearances might lead you to believe that life just happens, my contention is that each of our lives is shaped and created by us! I sometimes ask my friends who cram their lives so full of tasks and activities, “What are you trying to avoid – what are you fleeing from?” You see, we all need to take time for ourselves, to reboot, to re-energize, to re-assess, to be. I often joke around with my loved ones when I say, “You wake up, go to work, rinse, repeat, then you die.” I don’t buy a word of it. I say it as a joke that is in utter and complete opposition to what I believe. Saturday mornings are like heaven on earth – let it be so.

So what are you doing this Saturday morning?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Awesomeness of God

O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise… This morning I sit in awe of God’s wonder. Not because of all He has done for me (which is colossal), but simply because of the sheer vastness of His glory. Forgive my use of the masculine form as I refer to God – this is a convention I grew up with. I am keenly aware that God is male and female or maybe neither or a combination of both or maybe He/She doesn’t need to worry about all that, maybe God just is…

This morning, I marvel at His creation. I watched as individual lives drove past me during my daily commute – each living a separate but totally connected existence with me and you on this plane we call earth. We affect each other in so many ways without ever meeting. A total stranger can change our lives in an instant for both good and bad… I think God set it up that way purposefully. Because it’s not just our individual lives that matter to God (and they deeply do – I know this through lived experience) but it’s also about us as a collective. Once many years ago, I had a dream in which God revealed to me a singular truth about life. He told me, it’s all about your relationships… Your relationship with Me and your relationship with humanity. And this has been proven to be a time tested truism for me.

But let’s get back to my wonder of God… As I look out at God’s creation, trees my age and older, each passing through time much like I do, growing taller, sprouting and dropping leaves, shivering in the cold of winter, thirsty when it’s dry – and the thought (and my belief) that God actually intimately knows us all to the dropping of a single leaf in autumn engenders wonder in my soul and a deep gratitude for this care. Imagine God’s omnipotence over 3 trillion trees (you can estimate in your mind how many leaves we are talking about here), 7.4 billion intertwined human lives, not to mention “the birds and the bees and the fishes in the sea and the moon up above, and a thing called love… “. It is in a single word awesome.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stop hurrying and you’ll get there faster

As I was driving into work today listening to my Deepak and Oprah meditation on living with passion while simultaneously thanking God for this fantastic life, I realized that as I slowed myself down mentally and (in my car) physically, I was actually making more and faster progress toward my goal, which was to arrive safely to work.

I have spent most of my life believing that being quick and agile is so much better than being slow… I often get frustrated with my spouse because he is on the opposite end of the spectrum (according to my standards) with regards to speed in getting things done. I often wonder in my mind (and do my best not to say it out loud), “How can anything be accomplished if you go so slow?!”

During my drive to work this morning I had a fundamental and possibly life-changing shift in perspective. The more relaxed I became about my daily experience of driving to work, the more it seemed that traffic just flowed. Lights turned green. My lane kept moving with few to no holdups. And I drove into the parking lot earlier than usual… How could that be? I hadn’t been hurrying as usual. I wasn’t passing other cars at 80 miles per hour. I didn’t become impatient with the driver in front of me who was going slow in the fast lane (oops, I wasn’t in the fast lane so there was no need to even go there). I maintained a steady, slightly above the speed limit, pace. I was breathing in the cool morning air with my convertible top down and “enjoying the ride”… and I still arrived early.

So today I learned that:

When I stop hurrying, I get there faster.

Though my morning commute was the basis for this grand insight, there is a much greater message here that I hope will impact my life (and yours) going forward. Think of all the times that you are hurrying trying to get somewhere or get something done. If you’re driving, you will hit every red light, encounter multitudes of pedestrians crossing in front of you, find slow drivers in your lane and a host of other time impediments – every single time you are in a hurry… If you’re in the kitchen cooking and trying to get something done quickly, you always ending up dropping something that makes a big mess, forgetting an essential ingredient, cutting yourself, or burning a wrist on the oven door… every single time you’re in a hurry. Today’s advice: Stop hurrying and you’ll get there faster.

I could drudge up all the old saying like “stop and smell the roses” or “life is about the journey not the destination”. There are a host of such sayings and today, I FINALLY got the message. But I can distill them all down to one short phrase: WHEN I STOP HURRYING, I GET THERE FASTER.  Love and peace be with you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I am my purpose

We all come to a place in our lives where we ask the question, “What is my purpose?”. Often we spend time meditating and praying, ruminating with friends on the topic, wondering if we will ever “discover” that all elusive “purpose” that will give us satisfaction, completion, joy, comfort, that which will help us avoid that feeling of uselessness and banality. For none of us wants to feel ordinary, right?

I contend (and Oprah and Deepak Chopra agree – in fact, they proposed this to me– digitally, and I am choosing to embrace it) that

I AM MY PURPOSE.

No need to search my soul. No more anguished pleas to God to show it to me. By my very creation and by virtue of God’s love and mercy, I truly AM my purpose. I embody it in all I do. I live it with every breath I take. I feel it by my touch and being touched, through loving and being loved. Through every tear I shed and every burst of laughter that springs forth from my mouth I am showing my purpose. So I am stopping with the self judgment and self doubt. I am putting away my soul sleuthing tools. I am venturing out today and living my purpose, loving my purpose and being my purpose. How’s that sound?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Every day I accept the incredible gift of being here…

Here I am. With these 3 simple words I proclaim my existence. Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I exist. Wow, I have to think, too? That’s asking a lot! There are times that I just want to be – not often, mind you –  for I am by every definition a doer, constantly on the move, ever hurrying, in production, using my time wisely – that’s what I’m usually all about. But in those moments in which existential angst and my own mortality catch up with me, I am truly ready to just be. Taking the Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra 21 day meditation is just the beginning of the journey. I’m also learning about reading auras and I’m about ready to take up my Tarot cards again… Nothing wrong with trying to find some insights into the future, right? Striving to remember to accept the incredible gift of being here is a challenge even though by identifying it as a challenge it challenges its very precept… Life and living, an incredible gift indeed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Life in the MidTerm in an election year

Sometimes coasting is okay… That’s what I tell myself to rationalize these periods in life that are neither hot nor cold, neither vibrant nor boring, just life. I thought it a befitting title since we are in a very big election year that closes out two terms of our first African American president whom many refuse to give the credit he deserves. Now that’s passion and commitment. For my life in the MidTerm, it’s more about finding my stride again. sisyphus-1549Getting myself motivated and moving in a way that feels right; waking up with wonder and joy and falling asleep with contentment and gratitude. It’s about the passion I wrote about two years ago. It’s certainly in there somewhere, definitely not lost, but pulling it back up to the surface feels so difficult, a Sisyphean task. Woe is me who in Camus’ estimation may have slipped into the role of the absurd hero. Solitary and alone daily repeating my inconsequential existence – living Groundhog Day over and over again… But Bill Murray got smart. He mastered his skills and talents as he repeated his day, making corrections, avoiding mistakes, and improving the quality of his interactions to ultimately overcome his self-defeating character. My iPhone rings at 6:15 a.m. every (weekday) morning and I often feel the dread of another day of repetition, another day of the grind, another day pushing the rock up the hill. On the good days, I am able to take stock of the privileged and richly blessed vie en rose I lead. On the bad days, I’m just shoving the rock up the hill with the [bad] attitude that goes along with it. I’m voting for nothing but good days from now on.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the importance of being earnest…

It’s that moment when job meets work meets occupation meets profession meets passion meets life… The change happens gradually. That first job was truly a job–making 10 tacos for a dollar at Taco Time earning $3.25 an hour. It was fun. I worked with friends. But it was a job. When I was done with the night shift, I was DONE. Throughout my undergraduate years, I dreamed big about all the possibilities that would become available when I completed my studies. I studied earnestly. And I still held down a job and it was work. I had not yet moved to an occupation… In actuality, I’m not really sure when my work became an occupation. But I do know when my occupation became a profession and most importantly, when my profession became my passion. I had an inkling that my passion had been ignited when under the shower head, I would have an epiphany related to solving a problem in my profession. I recognized passion when I engaged in discussions with colleagues around revolutionizing our field. Finally, I didn’t even know that this thing called work could be so enjoyable, life-consuming, collegial, spirited, and expansive. What an amazing place to find myself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment