Interview: Asri Prasadani

Birthplace: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Grew up in: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Currently living in: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Age: 27

Find her: Histori Bersama website

Quick things: Asri Prasadani is the secretary of the Histori Bersama board. Histori Bersama is a Holland-based archival site that aims to foster a better understanding of history between Indonesia and the Netherlands by translating resources from Dutch to Indonesian and English, and vice versa. Asri is a master’s student of Religion and Policy Studies at VU Amsterdam.

(Photos courtesy of Asri)

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Q: Tell me more about yourself.

I was born and raised here (in Amsterdam). My parents came to the Netherlands about 30, 40 years ago to study and both had the idea of going back to Indonesia after their studies. But they met each other and, three children later, they’re still here! My siblings and I all grew up in this city, right in the city center. Have you been to Amsterdam?

Q: Never!

I think I’m very much Dutch, but also very much Indonesian. I grew up in quite a white environment. My high school was also very white and I think it was around that time that I started to think about identity, in general, and specifically what being Indonesian means to me. I think it was around the time I was 17 that I was actively looking for Indonesian friends. I did end up eventually in the Indonesian Muslim community. Of course, I was always a part of it; it’s not like I never knew them, but I was looking for people I could relate to more.

I had a gap year first, also went to Indonesia for three months, and then I did religious studies. I’m still studying, actually — I’m sort of this forever-student. Everyone knows me as the forever-student who doesn’t really want to start working, which is kind of true. But now, I’m really tired of writing my thesis, so I hope to finish this summer. So I chose religious studies and then, what kind of came on my path was, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, was spiritual care. Very simply put, I explain it as psychology with a focus on religion and spirituality, and also just how you give meaning to your life. In the U.S., some universities are already familiar with Muslim chaplaincy. It’s like that — we don’t have that a lot here [in the Netherlands] yet though, so I’m interested in looking into that. Usually, as a spiritual caretaker, you work at a hospital or other health care institutions. It’s really interesting. I did my internship in a prison, which was very challenging.

Q: When did you start thinking of yourself as someone of Indonesian heritage?

My parents are very nationalistic, in a good way though, so I’ve always been very aware of my Indonesian heritage. One time, for the little bio for Histori Bersama, I wrote that I was very thankful that my parents taught me Indonesian, and my mom said: “I didn’t teach you Indonesian! I just spoke it to you, because that’s my language. And obviously, I’ll speak to you in my language.” And that really struck me. It’s so logical, but I’ve noticed with other Indonesians who are brought up abroad, especially in the Netherlands, that the parents usually don’t teach the children the Indonesian language. And that’s really sad. I will say, my Indonesian is still limited, because my vocabulary is not very big, but I can understand people and they can understand me.

Also, my parents would take my siblings and I to Indonesia as much as possible, so I have a lot of memories visiting there. And, of course, a lot of eating Indonesian food. And my parents were always engaged, active, so there were always Indonesian people in our home. So, Indonesia was around me, even though I was in Amsterdam. I think I’ve been aware of being Indonesian from a very young age and I never experienced it as a problem. My friends in primary school even admired me for speaking another language.

Q: What has been your experience being raised Muslim in Amsterdam?

When I was younger, there was Qur’an class on Sundays, and I had really nice memories of going there, but eventually, the masjid here split up because of religious differences. I had a friend who then went to the other mosque instead of to mine. So that wasn’t so nice for me and my generation. I’m happy my parents took us to the masjid, but eventually, when I didn’t want to go anymore, they didn’t really push me. They weren’t very strict at all.

But anyway, in the Netherlands, there are many Moroccan Muslims and Turkish Muslims, and the Indonesian Muslims are not very visible. We’re not as big as the other communities. When I tell people Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country, there’s still this shock, because people don’t associate Islam with Indonesia. There’s more of a focus on more of an Arab kind of Islam and it sometimes feels like Indonesian Islam is taken as, like, a lesser, “moderate” — I hate this word, though — form. Which is partly why, by the way, my friends and I organize an Indonesian (vegetarian) iftar during Ramadan, called ivtar!

Q: What was it like going to school in the Netherlands? Was the history you learned at school different from what your parents told you at home? What was that experience like?

The Netherlands has a big problem with history and how they tell it. I concluded at a young age that the Dutch history books, especially on colonial history, were very incomplete and, sometimes, just straight up wrong. Like, 1945 vs. 1948 — when I saw it in a school textbook, I’d always think, really? How are they still not acknowledging it’s 1945 (as Indonesian independence)? I was very aware of that from what I learned at home, of course.

I would also say the Indonesians in the Netherlands … are very good at assimilating, blending in wherever they are. So, we were never really outspoken — as a small girl, I wasn’t ever really outspoken. I do try to be more outspoken now. But it’s typical for us (Indonesians) and from the Dutch point of view, they try to tell history as if it was not so bad at all, focusing on the “good things” about colonialism (“tempo doeloe”). There’s obviously a Dutch version and an Indonesian version. There’s not enough awareness in the Dutch-Indonesian community, in my opinion, about our shared history, what really happened and what it actually means, and that’s why I got involved in Histori Bersama.

Q: Tell me more about your involvement with Histori Bersama.

I actually know Marjolein (van Pagee, founder of Histori Bersama) through my father, because he was a journalist and he writes a lot for The Jakarta Post and other things, and knows Marjolein through a community of activists, writers, journalists. So, when she asked me to be on the board, I happily agreed because I really support the idea of critically listening to both Dutch and Indonesian perspectives about our shared history.

Q: What does your Indonesian heritage mean to you?

It’s part of me, whether I want it to be or not. Of course, there are some (Indonesian) things I can be critical about, especially because I wasn’t raised in Indonesia. But in the end, I’m happy (about it) and I feel very lucky, too, to have been brought up in freedom here in the Netherlands, being able to make certain choices and see the culture from a distance, yet being proud of my Indonesian heritage as well.

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