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Rudolfus (Rudy) DeKonig: Dutch Indonesia to Holland (1952) to USA (1968)


Indonesia was colonized by Holland for 365 years. Rudy’s father was Dutch, born in Delft, but moved to Indonesia when he was very young. His mother was Chinese/Dutch/Indonesian.

Rudy: I was born in Soekaboemi, a little town on the Island of Java in 1935. My grandparents had a good size plantation. We went on vacation there. That was the most beautiful time. I never will forget it. Mostly we went to Bandoeng. Also on the same island, but more in the middle. That’s where we got educated until my 7th year.

[But] in 1942, WWII started. When the war broke out and the Japanese came, we went to the plantation. And that’s where they picked my dad up. They put him in a concentration camp. We didn’t know from there on [where he was.] The Japanese told us it would be for a week. So my mom gave him clothes for a week, but my mom had a suspicion…. But at 7 years old, what did I know about war?

Two or 3 days later my mom decided that it’s dangerous for us to be there, so we moved…[to] Buitenzorg. We got stopped too many times [going]. Because my grandmother is part Chinese, we didn’t get picked up…

Rudy talked about the many horrible things he saw during the occupation by the Japanese and Koreans.

…Then the war was over. My mom decided to go back to Bandoeng, because she had a suspicion…my dad was there.…

After WWII, the fight for independence broke out in Indonesia.

We went by train to Bandoeng. We got stopped by the independence fighters. So we had to get out…[They let us go], because we were Dutch, but to us, we lived there. But [the regular soldier] took us away from those guys. He took us through the village, and …we ended up at the hospital where my dad was a worker…He was one of the lucky ones who didn’t get sent to Japan or the mines.

But [everything] was in turmoil. We were under fire all the time, even in the hospital.

Rudy saw and heard the fighting between the Dutch and the freedom fighters. Many people were killed. Rudy was Dutch but also had only lived in Indonesia.

After the war, the school didn’t start for 5 years later….We had the riots going on. So in 1947 I finally went back to school, [but] I was only 2nd grade [even though] I was 12 years old. They had to pump us through. Every 6 months you had to move to another grade, no matter what your report is. It was tough….

Indonesia became independent December 8, 1949. Right after that they changed the language [to a] completely new language. Nobody even heard it. It became Bahasa Indonesia. Even the teachers didn’t know exactly how to speak it.

Rudy’s wife Sunny: You need to understand that there were at least 100 different languages in what is called Indonesia. It is a chain of 10,000 islands. And every racial type….The only thing that made Indonesia a country was Holland [and the Dutch language]. [Making a new language] was an attempt to unify….On the island of Java alone, there were 3 totally separate languages spoken.

GM: What was the language you grew up with?

Rudy: Dutch, [but] I [also] spoke the Indonesian language from West Java. I was pretty good in that language, but the Bahasa Indonesia, I couldn’t handle that. I wasn’t too good because… the teacher…was trying to learn it himself.

Rudy found a private school, but soon his father died. His mother decided it wasn’t good for the family to stay in Indonesia. They left for Holland by ship in September, 1952, arriving several weeks later.

Holland was in turmoil, too. World War II was just over. Holland was flat, got bombed and bombed. They were still rebuilding. So here come all these people from Indonesia also over there. They need housing, too. We ended up in a hotel…near the ocean. A place called Sneek in north Holland. We were sure enough in shorts! We had long pants but all in white.

GM: You had never been to Holland before?

Rudy: No. My dad when he was 12 years old, he went back on vacation, and he came back and said he would never go back to Holland again….

So the Dutch people, they called us Ysboer, that means “I sell,” like [when people] panhandle the ice cream with the little carts. That’s what they call us.

So I didn’t like it. I tried to go back to school. I’m not even 17 years old yet…and they told me I was too old. So where do I go from here? I was trying to go to radio school, but that was [too expensive]. I don’t know what to do. We had to get work clothes. The Dutch supplied us temporarily, but we got the bill. In the mean time we have our people from Indonesia to help support us. [And] social workers came to us and said, “OK we can look for another home for you but it’s going to be a while, cause they’re building as fast as they can.” [So I joined the Navy.]

Rudy in Indonesia

I was in the bus going to the town where we were supposed to be. I sat next to a lady, about 35. She asked me, where did I learn the Dutch language? Ignorant question, so I gave her an ignorant answer. “Well, you know when we traveled from Indonesia to Holland by boat that is where I learned the language.” I guess she believed it because she said, “Boy, you learned it good!” (laughter)

So I joined the Navy. I had no problems….I loved it….I got out [after 6 years at age 24]….I ended up working for the Dutch railroad. I met a young girl Dolly….Her father…was a major in the Dutch Indonesian army. …He told me, “Why don’t you fill out applications for the US? Now is the best time because Holland is going to pay most of it.” They had an agreement with the US to send so many Dutch Indonesian people to the United States. Eventually we got married, [and he wasn’t so happy about his daughter moving!]

GM: Do you know why the United States had that agreement?

Rudy: They wanted the workers….Hard workers with a good work ethic. [Part of what helped me decide to leave is that] I don’t like Holland. It’s cold. And the crowdedness and the attitude [towards us].….We had to look for jobs there, too, so they lose their jobs. So I don’t blame them.

GM: Were they not very nice to you?

Rudy: No, they weren’t. But we can handle it. We just ignore things. So when I came over here. That attitude I already got….so we went to the US. All we had were our clothes and little stuff we got together when we got married….I didn’t know the language except what I learned in the Navy and in one year of schooling.

GM: Where did you arrive?

Rudy: Hoboken, NJ. It’s where the boat landed….They put us on the train. We don’t know where we’re going. It was a ticket that said, Lafayette, Orinda, Oakland. The ticket doesn’t say California.

It took us 4 nights and 3 days. The food on the train. We don’t know anything about American food, and we only have $65. But we finally found out about pancakes….It tasted like something we had in Indonesia. So that’s what we had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And it was cheap!

We didn’t know where we were going. [Finally we found out.] Oh, we go to California! The American Consulate [had] asked me where I wanted to go, and I told them California [because of] the hot weather. He said, OK, name 2 other states. I said, “California and California.” “… But if it’s not possible, how about Missouri?” I said, “Why Missouri? From what I understand, it’s awfully cold and miserable over there.” He laughed.


So I was with Dolly. [We say], “What are we going to say to the sponsors when they pick us up?” So we decide to say, “How do you do,” and all that stuff. So we got out of the train, and 2 guys came to us. One said “Are you Rudy and Dolly?” In Dutch! So all the sudden we couldn’t say a word. And they started laughing, and that broke the ice…

Rudy and Dolly on the left in the US

GM: What group was this sponsor from?

Rudy: …Church World Service. All the churches got together and sponsored us. It took us only 8 months and [tons of paperwork!] They want to know if I was a Communist and all that stuff. They come to inspect our little apartment.
[But once we were here,] we got to the first house. She was an English teacher. The first thing she said was that we have to learn the English language. I said that is no problem. I can do that while I’m working. She said no, you stay here for the first 2 weeks and learn the English language. It was more than 2 weeks. [But I finally started working.]
Rudy then worked as a welder and was very successful until the shop was closed. He then worked as a caretaker for the church for 3 years. Dolly became pregnant and they had a baby girl.

GM: By that time you had a little apartment?

Rudy: Right. The church furnished it for us, but oh, it was really junk. I can go to second hand store myself and buy better. But we were happy with it, cause we know we have to build up our own deal.

Other Dutch-Indonesians came over, some by immigrating and others were sponsored by the churches.

Rudy worked at various jobs over the years, succeeding and moving up in his jobs quickly. He moved from Orinda/Lafayette area to Sacramento. His last job was at the Port of Sacramento, from which he is now retired. His wife Dolly died just before he started work at the Port. He is now married to Sunny.

GM: Do you still have a lot of connections with Dutch-Indonesians around here?

Rudy: Not too much. We go to picnics once in a while to visit friends, but normally my friends are United States people.

GM: When did you get citizenship?

Rudy: I became a citizen in 1968.

GM: Was it difficult to do?

Rudy: Not really. It was easy….I went to school first, which wasn’t easy to do, because I was working all the time. I have my papers there on the wall….

GM: Are there any parts of the Indonesian culture that you still participate in?

Rudy: The songs! I got a bunch of them, [and I sing them] all the time!

GM: What is Dutch-Indonesian music like?

Rudy: The rock and roll! They have Elvis Presley impersonators! More rock and roll style, but it is…different than the US rock and roll. They have proof of it. The sound is different, the tempos are different. There is a beat in between that doesn’t belong in the rock and roll here.

GM: There’s a separate Dutch-Indonesian culture from an Indonesian culture?

Rudy: Yes, but the Indonesian culture has completely changed now, too. The music, what with the bamboo sticks and all, it is almost like a tradition, but they have to be taught. It’s not like it used to be where everyone plays.

GM: And food, what is Dutch-Indonesian food like?

Rudy: Hot and spicy! And lots of rice. [And my favorite is] Reis Tafel. Its rice in the middle of your plate and you put all the fresh meat and everything, all the ingredients around it, and it has to be more than 7 ingredients. It’s good!

GM: Are there any other things from the Dutch-Indonesian culture that you continue?

Rudy: The hot weather! It’s one of my favorites! (laughter)

GM: Do you go back to Holland frequently?

Rudy: Not frequently. Sometimes….

GM: Have you been back to Indonesia?

Rudy: Never been back.

GM: How come?

Rudy: Everyone ask me. For the simple reason (tears up) –

GM: What do you miss about Indonesia?

Rudy: The freedom we had over there. And it’s is a beautiful [place]. [Once the war broke out,] we didn’t go back to the old plantation. [But] we never lost it… My grandmother buried paperwork, and a worker knew where it was. Before he died he showed it to his son, and so one of my older brothers is working to get it back. What the heck is he doing that for? He’ll be 70 in October.

GM: The day that you left Indonesia and the day you left Holland. Do you remember what it was like?

Rudy: 1952. My mom decided to go to Holland. I told my mom, “No, I’m not going.” I was not quite 17 years, and she said, “Yes you are.” It wasn’t all right, [it was hard].

GM: Do you remember it being hard to leave Holland?

Rudy: No problem! (laugher) If I have to go someplace else, it was the United States…

GM: Was there anything that surprised you once you moved to the US?

Rudy: Not really. I didn’t even have time to think about it. It’s beautiful. I love it over here. We came to Oakland, arrived July 3rd, so July 4th we were in Oakland watching the fireworks. That was my first reaction here. It was beautiful! Fireworks!

GM: Have you experienced much prejudice being an immigrant?

Rudy: Never did. No, as a matter of fact, [the] people we were working for asked if there were more of us. The Dutch-Indonesian people are easy, nothing is too much. You need to do this, we do this. You need to do that, we do that. We complain alright, like everyone else, but work wise, we have no problems whatsoever.

GM: What were your expectations, if any, about the US before you got here?

Rudy: My biggest expectation was, I never regret it, is that I had to work my butt off….And I work all my life. Here. In Indonesia, I do the same thing. When I was 7 years old during WWII, it was why I came in contact with the Japanese more than anyone else because I had to sell [cooked food my mother made]. We had to have a living.





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