NANCY E. DOLLAHITE / The Immigrant Story

 

Jane Mantiri: Coming full circle at last

The founder of Advance Gender Equity in the Arts says her immigrant experience was often one of not fitting in – until she found a home in theater

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jane Mantiri: Coming full circle at last,” Nancy E. Dollahite’s story about Indonesian-born theater artist Jane Mantiri, was published originally on Aug. 27, 2021, by The Immigrant Story. An ArtsWatch Community Partner, the Portland-based organization, as its name suggests, tells stories of people who come to the United States from around the world to make new lives. ArtsWatch is republishing the piece with permission.


Jane Mantiri. Photo by: Karen Weliky/The Immigrant Story
Jane Mantiri’s family fled Indonesia after World War II, living in the Netherlands before coming to the United States as refugees in 1954. “I wanted to make my father proud of me,” Mantiri says. “He would say we came here so you could have a good education. I was here to be successful in order to honor my parents’ sacrifice – I understood that.” Photo by: Karen Weliky/The Immigrant Story

“You are an Indonesian mama,” the local tour guide told Jane Mantiri as she wound up her recent visit to Indonesia. “At first I thought you were American, but now I feel it – you are an Indonesian mama.”

“Then,” says Mantiri, “I [finally] felt at peace.”

Jane Evelyn Vogel Mantiri was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 18, 1953. Being Indo, or of mixed Indonesian-European heritage and culture, has remained central to who she is, even though she lived in Indonesia for only a short time. Her family immigrated to the Netherlands in 1954, when she was just over a year old. “So the stories I was told are my only memory of Indonesia,” she explains.

A legacy of colonialism 

Like many Indonesians, Mantiri’s family has both Indonesian and European roots. Indonesia, a country of some 18,000 islands, has long been a center of trade in Southeast Asia. From the late 1500s on, Europeans began arriving to try to establish control over its resources of goods and people. 

Dutch and German men came and married Indonesian women, creating a mixed race, the Indos. Colorism, or the favoring of people with lighter skin, became pervasive. The hard labor, childcare, and gardening was done by the darker skinned people (babus), who were described as “loved” and “part of the family,” according to Mantiri; however, everyone understood the caste system, with darker skinned people at the bottom of the social scale.

Nicolaas Pieneman’s painting, “The Arrest of Diepo Negoro by Lieutenant-General De Kock,” (ca. 1830-1835, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) depicts the colonial Dutch view of Indonesians peacefully submitting to the victorious Netherlands. Prince Diepo Negoro, a Javanese leader in the war, and his followers bow in submission to the officers from the Netherlands while the Dutch flag flies above.
Nicolaas Pieneman’s painting, “The Arrest of Diepo Negoro by Lieutenant-General Baron De Kock,” (ca. 1830-1835, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) depicts the colonial Dutch view of Indonesians peacefully submitting to the victorious Netherlands. Prince Diepo Negoro, a Javanese leader in the Java War, and his followers bow in submission to the officers from the Netherlands while the Dutch flag flies above.

Mantiri’s own family reflects this history. Her father passed as white and her mother, with darker skin, did not feel accepted by his family. Her father’s family, the Vogels, arrived in Indonesia from Germany in the early 1800s. Her mother’s family name, Mantiri, came from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi; however, this name was lost for several generations, until Jane herself decided to take it back.

During World War II, the Japanese occupied Indonesia, and Mantiri’s family suffered many traumas during this time. Her grandfather and father both were prisoners of war, one of her father’s sisters was brutally murdered, and her mother, a teenager at the time, lost both parents. The history of repeated individual traumas and centuries of colonialism shaped Mantiri’s world view, although the family rarely referred to it openly. She credits this history as one of the influences leading to her eventual work as a trauma psychologist. 

Immediately after the war, Indonesia declared independence from the Netherlands and the ensuing revolution ended with Achmed Sukarno’s being declared president of the independent country of Indonesia in 1949. 

The wedding of Mantiri’s Aunt Julia, whose brutal murder during the revolution after World War II was a key influence in her father leaving Indonesia. His last words to Mantiri, who closely resembles her aunt, reflected his sorrow over the loss of this sister and his enduring concern for his daughter. Photo courtesy: Mantiri Family Archives
Mantiri’s Aunt Julia, shown here at her wedding, was brutally murdered during the revolution after World War II — a key factor in her father’s leaving Indonesia.His last words to Mantiri, who closely resembles her aunt, reflected his sorrow over the loss of this sister and his enduring concern for his daughter. Photo courtesy: Mantiri Family Archives

Early years in the Netherlands

Mantiri’s parents married in 1950 and tried to get into the United States but were denied entry because of the refugee quota. In 1954, they went to the Netherlands instead, to wait for sponsorship into the states. Her father got an administrative job in the Hague. Later, her younger brother was born there. Many members of her extended family also left Indonesia for the Netherlands during the 1950s. The family was able to take very little with them, but Mantiri still has her mother’s Indonesian steamer, her mortar and pestle for grinding spices, and the small finger-washing bowls from her aunt who was murdered during the war. 

“We were not really welcome,” Mantiri says, noting that the Netherlands was still recovering from World War II. “I later found out that the stereotype about us Indos was that we were dirty and lazy.”

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