American Letters

Amerikaansche Brieven
Barnard College, New York, NY
1941

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Herawati Latip

Jakarta, Indonesia
1917 – 2016

Across the Pacific
August 24. (pg. 19): How queer that after having been two years in Japan, I finally met the right girlfriend on the boat bringing us to America. I just met her tonight. She is Japanese, not that pale white woman face, but she is just like any other modern girl. Modern in the real sense of the word. She got a scholarship from an American University and she is very interested in international problems. She is going to study political economics! Isn’t that marvelous? In Japan I have been looking for girls with modern ideas, but in vain! And now on the boat I find just the right girl for me. She is 22, very smart, taller than I and very nice looking. Of course we are going to exchange ideas! I’m very glad to have met her.

World Youth Congress

July 1938: I am in a hurry to tell you the wonderful news that I have been accepted at Bernard College, the women’s department of Colombia University. I am so glad, gladder than when I was accepted at Elmira College. Just think that in September I am going to attend one of America’s biggest outstanding universities.

[…]
Meanwhile the time for the World Youth Peace Congress is not far off. One more month and then I shall be busy attending discussion groups at Vassar college. I am really anxious to go, specially now I hear from other delegates what it is going to be like. The delegates from Europe are going to stay in the International House for nothing. They will namely have about three days before the congress really starts. I expect to go to the harbour with other delegates in order to welcome them.

September, 1938: Shall we start talking about the Second World Youth Congress from its very beginning and dutifully mention each important day? Officially the congress was to start on August 16th but August 12th can not be considered of less importance. The morning of that day saw the S.D. President Roosevelt with the delegates from various participating countries sail in the New York harbour. There must have been some excitement going on among those on board the ship. Many had perhaps never been to America, but the American and non-American welcomers on the dock, anxious to greet the delegates from far-away were not less excited.

Among the many delegates expected, two of our Indonesian compatriots studying in Holland, Soenito and Maroeto Daroesman, were also registered as delegates to the Second World Youth Congress. And therefore I too was among the welcomers. I was glad to see Indonesians again after such a long time; but I was still happier because it had been made possible that Indonesia could be represented at the Second World Youth Congress. Although our delegation consisted only of three people, we felt that we too could give our contribution to its success.”

[…]

It was a typical American summer day, very sultry and for that reason unpleasant. I was curious to know what each congressist felt. We all had come for the same cause, the preservation of peace, but the background of each of us must have been greatly different. There was a Chinese delegate in front of me. A month ago he was still in China. In what different environment and circumstances must he have lived then! There were many more who had traveled a long distance in order to offer their contribution to the success of the congress. Success seems to be greatly dependent upon earnest collaboration, though. But there was no time to meditate further about that subject, because the bus stopped with a sudden jerk and we had to get off. During the rest of the afternoon and evening we were kept extremely busy (a congress would not be a true congress if activities were not going on all the time). The reception which opened the official part of the Second World Youth Congress brought many prominent speakers on the platform. Mrs. Roosevelt stressed the “good neighbour” policy of the United State with Central and South America, and speaking of the American delegation she said: “While members of this country can’t go back and influence their governments, they can carry back the feelings they have acquired from the representatives of other countries.”

My mind was like a whirlpool of thoughts when I went to bed that night. So much had happened, impressions were crowded in my mind. But in the chaos of impressions one thing stood clear with me. Indonesia was represented! It made me feel grateful that for the first time Indonesia’s voice could be heard at an international congress held in America!

[…]

In Commission B, Maroeto Daroesman gave on behalf of the Indonesian delegation an effective speech concerning the painful situation of illiteracy in Indonesia, and he proposed an International Campaign against Illiteracy which was principally accepted by the World Youth Congress Movement.

Forceful was the voice of the Indian (British India) delegation in Commission D when he started saying: “The youth of India, like youths in all other countries, are deeply conscious of the need for active cooperation with the progressive International Youth movement in the struggle for peace, democratic rights, and [unreadable] this commission. I myself spoke for the Indonesian delegation about the need of an Asiatic congress, which has to deal with problems confronting the Asiatic youth of today.

The congress belongs already to the past. Most of them have gone home, but I am sure that my compatriots in Holland, Soenito and Maroeto Daroesman with me will not easily forget the day when Indonesia’s voice was heard in a large international group of young people. And the picture of a swaying flag, a large banner carrying the words: Indonesie, pour la Paix et le Progress, will be forever preserved in our minds.

 

Barnard College, New York

November 1938: The voice of our professor in sociology sounded convincing as he said: “heredity and environment are each dependent upon each other.”  More than fifty female students were silently listening. Once in a while a pencil scratched over notebook paper – rapidly the professor’s words were jotted down by industrious students.  Those less interested in the problems of human society, students who self-admittingly had signed [up] for the course “by mistake”, yawned or drew phantastic pictures on notebook paper. The professor walked about on the small platform giving emphasis to his words by using gestures.  In spite of yawns or drawings he carried his academic message on, undisturbed.

Before I transferred to Barnard College, the undergraduate department for women at Columbia University, men-students of Columbia conveyed to me that Barnard is known for the “protective walls”.  Yes, those walls are characteristic of Barnard, but behind those walls approximately one thousand female students hustle and bustle about daily. Sociology “majors”, pre-law students, psychology specialists…, it is difficult to tell them apart.  Once in a while you catch a bit of an out-of-lecture conversation in front of the tennis courts revealing the student’s specialization. Otherwise they all appear alike. Some of them walk around with “that-students-look” (or shall I say twinkle?) in their eye, lots of them wear fashionable clothes in collegiate style; there are the masculine type of students, and again there are others who seem to be fond of Errol Flynn outside of college — a grand variety of students.

Among those one thousand female students we, foreign students, form about a group of twenty: exchange students, fellowship students and others. Many have come from South America, several from Europe and a few from Asia. The only girl from Sweden specializes in English; she take also a course in drama and untiringly visits theaters getting a lot of enjoyment out of them, she said. And I am sure not only the foreign students but the American students likewise agree that New York is the heaven for educational opportunities. The professors urge us to go to concerts, dramas, and musea. And often the Columbia University theater provides free concerts or dance recitals.

Another thing which impressed me most about Columbia University is its grand “collection” of libraries. Every department has its own library. But the “pride and joy” of the university is the new library which seems to be the remark of learning against approaching examinations. It is a huge building consisting of several floors, and to an undergraduate student the impression is everlasting.

Columbia University has a variety of departments. There is the faculty for law, for medicine, for engineering; there is the undergraduate department for men, the undergraduate department for women (called Barnard College); there is the school for Journalism, the Political Science department and a few others. All these buildings are together, but somehow they are scattered, and strangely enough, world-renown. Broadway runs right through the Columbia campus. You really could not speak of Columbia campus, the territorial area is much too large, so that there is little of a unified feeling among the students which is characteristic of smaller colleges.

Wait until a football game comes between Columbia and Westpoint, however. Then the hearts of Columbia students throb “unifiedly.” Then they are “heart and soul” for their university, cheer their football team up with forceful “ra-ra-ra!!” and many a football enthusiast comes from home after a game with a hoarse voice. But faithful to his university he dares to sacrifice even that!

When it comes to rivalry about the academic standing, Columbia certainly has many university rivals. Princeton, a university for men in Pennysylvania, considers itself better than Columbia. But you should hear a Columbia student defending his university: “No matter what you say, Princeton is not half as world-famous as Columbia,” he protests. And standing together with our Columbia brothers, Barnard College students unanimously agree that it is “great” to belong to Columbia.

??From the Diary of a Javanese Princess
It is a lonely night, dear little diary, and through my open window I feel a refreshing sea breeze, and I hear her whispering about unseen countries far away. Even the moon, shining with her golden splendor, seems to pity me. There is such a deep desire in me to travel, to see much of the world and to learn about other nations. HĂ©las, I can only sigh. Although our palace grounds are extended so far North, South, East and West, that I can’t even see the four thick walls encircling our palace, yet I feel my pressure and my prison. Some traditions are old and never seem to yield.
I know that I may not be unsatisfied; my parents are good, and their only wish is to make me happy. How could they know my hidden feelings?
It is so quiet all around me; my court ladies have gone to bed already, I only heard from time to time a cock crowing, and the crickets chirping.
Wouldn’t it be exciting if I were an ordinary Javanese girl from ordinary parents? Eh, little book-friend? How much freedom could I get and I would be perhaps independent of century-old customs and — and — ! ! My cousins are jealous of my titles. They don’t know how tiresome it is when your name needs three lines to be written down, and how it feels to see the court ladies become embarrassed when they forget one title. I’d rather have only one title after all, is life dependent on titles? Pooh! No!
I can’t help being a little different from other Javanese princesses. My cousins call me Westernized in my ideas, because I walk fast, I laugh loud and sometimes I neglect to make a “sembah” (bringing both hands together and slightly touching the nose, a gesture of respect) for my four-year elder sister, when I speak to her. And when by chance I passed my younger-brother sitting in a chair, he must immediately glide down and sit crosslegged upon the floor and bow his head until I’m not visible anymore. Poor little brother! He is just two years younger than I. Of course all over the country children respect their parents and their elders, but I am his sister!
I also would like to go to an ordinary Javanese school and have friends who aren’t of noble family. My school-mates are mostly my cousins and are just as ignorant as I about the world outside the palace walls. Sometimes I take a drive with my court attendants, but we never visit places where I can see girls of my age. My greatest pleasure is to watch a puppet performance which is held in honor of guests or on other occasions. Then my thoughts go back to long-forgotten Javanese heroes who endure hardships or had to fight demons in order to reach their noble aim. Such performances last until four o’clock in the morning, yet I never seem to have enough of it.
Little book-friend, what will tomorrow’s dawn bring me? I heard my parents saying once that it is time for me to marry a prince born of a family as noble as mine. I’m afraid I can’t love him because I’ve never see him, but my objections will be considered as unimportant since it is the duty of a daughter to obey her parents.
I wonder if my never-seen-ordinary Javanese girl friends can marry the man of their own choice . . . . . .
My eyes are falling down, dear diary. I’m weary and my limbs ache of this morning’s practice. I danced four hours with only half an hour interruption. I must give way, although
I promised myself to learn self-control . . . . .
Good night, dear book-friend, till tomorrow.

New Year’s Eve
Elmira. January 4 1938: New year’s eve is another important day in the city of New York. Just like in other metropolitan cities it is the object of everyone to be gay and joyful and get drunk. I did not get to see the “drunken” part of it, but I did see the gay part. I went to a New York’s eve in the International House, to which all the members were invited. I just felt like moving in an imaginary “League of Nations”, meeting so many nationalities and besides me there was not a single representative from Indonesia. It was interesting to talk to so many nationalities, which hopingly has broadened my mind.
I had the opportunity to converse in different languages like German, French and Japanese. I felt close to the Japanese because I have been in their country and I am able to converse in their own language. The Philippines were not strange to me on account of their similar appearance. And the Turkese, Syrians, Egyptians and Arabians had something in common with me, their religion namely. So I had a wonderful time