American Letters

Herawati Latip

Jakarta, Indonesia
1917 – 2016

World Youth Congress

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 Pennsylvania, 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.