Aimée (23), born and raised, until she was 14, in Delft. My parents are of Javanese descent, both born in Suriname. This was also the reason for both of them to emigrate with our family to Suriname when I was 14. In Suriname, I felt completely embraced and at home for the first time, which I always longed for in the Netherlands. In 2016, I came back to the Netherlands to study Global Sustainability Science (related to environmental sciences) in Utrecht. Since then, I also proudly identify as Javanese Surinamese.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbringing?
I’ve always denied having tiger parents when I was younger. But now that I’m older, and I am getting to know myself better, including my childhood experiences, that term is a little bit more emphasized. My parents have always highlighted the importance of having a good education. However, they fully supported my decision to study environmental sciences instead of, for example, medicine, so it’s a bit in between in that regard. I’ve always understood why the emphasis is on getting a good education, and I’ve never really blamed them for that. I am the first in the family to go to University, so the pressure was quite high for me, but everything has always been with good intentions. Raising children has no standard guideline and I take these experiences with me, and try to learn from them for when I have children in the future.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
I cannot discuss anything related to romantic relationships and love with my parents. I can discuss everything with them from my ambitions and dreams to my experiences in my daily life. But the topics romantic relationships and love quickly become uncomfortable. In particular, religion has an important role in every conversation I have with them, since I was raised as a Muslim.
Do you feel close with your Asian roots or not?
I am very proud that I am of Javanese descent. My father especially reminded us regularly of the Javanese culture and that we should be proud of it. What I find very unfortunate is that I do not speak the Javanese language and have never been to Indonesia myself, so this creates a kind of gap in my relationship with my Asian roots.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
I am very proud to be Asian and the culture we brought with us. What I did have problems with when I was younger was my skin color, since it is still a beauty ideal within the Javanese community to have light skin. But now I’m all too proud of my melanin!
Did you ever had a role model when you grew up?
From a young age, I have always been concerned with social inequalities. I think it was unconsciously, because I saw that foreigners were treated differently here in the Netherlands than the white Dutchman. My role model when I was younger was Malala Yousafzai. It was/is her perseverance and her fearlessness that inspired me a lot. She wasn’t scared, and I wanted to be like that since I used to be very shy and anxious. It also sounds super cliché but I have always seen my parents as role models, since they have worked hard, and still do, to give my siblings and I a better life than our former generations.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
As a Javanese person in the Netherlands, I am often addressed in Bahasa or whether I have Indonesian roots. In one way or another Indonesians are generally seen as friendly and obedient, which often applies for me too. I’ve had cases where people don’t take me seriously or think they can say anything to me, because we’re stereotyped as always friendly and obedient. So in my opinion, this is a form of positive discrimination.
Do you feel like you’re the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’? x
Sometimes I do feel that way. For example, I laugh a lot, because this is my coping mechanism for a lot of my emotions, and I always get the comment that I’m always happy. Besides that I also study at University, people tend to put the two together, which all fits into this myth. However, once I start talking to people, they are often shocked that I am direct and sometimes do not have a filter, because this is what they do not expect. That’s why I think it’s great that you set up such a project, because we are all individuals with unique characteristics.
What made you who you are now?
Wow good question! Of course I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have both good and bad experiences in my life. But if I really have to mention a turning point, I would say that since I started studying and came to the Netherlands on my own, I really started to improve myself, but also got to know myself. I’ve also struggled with depression for a few years, which eventually was brought to light in early 2021, and this has really opened my eyes. I started to delve into how my insecurities and my way of thinking and behavior were put together, and then you go back to your childhood, generational trauma, and your life experiences. But everything I have experienced here on my own, and had to arrange, has also made me who I am. So I would say, very cliché: Life!
Have people also made comments about you being Chinese? How did you react to this, what did you feel?
Yes so often! I often explain that I am not Chinese but Javanese. It kinda depends on how it’s said, because sometimes people are not aware and then I think it’s important to educate people that it’s not okay to say things like that and explain that Asia is super diverse in many ways.
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion and where does that come from? Do you see other Asians like those stereotypes?
I think that also depends on the region. I know a lot of stereotypes about Southeast Asians that they are always cheerful, caring, nurturing and will never hurt a fly. About East Asians you hear terms such as abg’s or that they are very driven and, for example, all want to go into business school. Sometimes you start paying attention to these stereotypes, but I always try to remind myself that there is more to the surface.
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance? Do you identify with that too? How do you see yourself compared to how others see you? What do you feel and how do you feel when people make such comments?
A lot of people identify me as a very cheerful and caring person. I have to be honest, I always try to stay optimistic and to enjoy life, but these days I don’t force it anymore and I also let people know if I feel a little bit off. For a long time, I always thought it was a compliment to be perceived as cheerful 24/7, but I noticed through the years that people often would overstep my boundaries or would take advantage of me, because they had this image of me. And this honestly made me very sad. It also took me a long time to stand up for myself, but that is getting much better by the day, and I am very happy about that.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced? Have you experienced it before? Where, when, how? Which experience do you remember most? So has it gotten worse with the Coronavirus? What do you feel and how do you feel when people make such comments?
I regularly have to deal with people who call me Chinese or shout Corona loudly when they walk past me. But what has always stuck with me is when I was in 8th grade and we were at a playground, and someone asked me if I sold spring rolls. It hurt me but also made me very angry at the same time. The reason it stuck with me so much is because for the first time in my life I responded to her comment while being super anxious. I was so proud haha! With all the racist remarks, it kind of feels like an attack on your dignity, all these experiences stay with you, so trauma certainly remains.
What is a funny trait or tell something that not everyone knows about you
I looked at the example and it is indeed true for me that I cannot eat with chopsticks. I’m practicing! But one thing I always find funny to tell is that it’s kind of a thing that most Asians are lactose intolerant. And so am I. When I got the news I refused to believe that I was intolerant. So I decided for myself to go get boba every week for a few months to train myself to counteract that intolerance. It was a tough process, but I did it haha!
In Asian culture, it is normal as a woman to get married as soon as possible, have children, and become a housewife. Because when you have a husband, you have children, you have “made” it in life. How do you see it?
I was not brought up with this mindset, because my parents always stressed the importance of my independence through a high education. So when I moved to Suriname and we went to live in a typical Javanese village, I looked a bit strange at young girls who started having children at an early age. I wanted to convince them so badly that there was more to life than marrying and having children. However, I have realized that for many people, solely having these things is really their happiness and that one has to respect this decision. I do think it is important to show, in this case, young girls that they do have a choice and that there are opportunities to achieve many dreams. But if they prefer striving for marriage and having children, then that is their journey to happiness.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
I am currently a graduate of a degree in International Development Studies and would like to do something with documentaries. I currently have a huge passion for (visual) storytelling. Therefore, I am currently studying Visual Ethnography to realize this ambition. Also, I think it is very important to contribute to more Asian representation in the media, especially in its diversity, and to educate people more about the Javanese Surinamese community. I also have an unconditional love for art, music, dance and culture, so I am eager to do something with these as well. Most importantly, I want to fight the notion within the Javanese community to work hard in silence and to stay in the background as much as possible. I want to make my voice heard, claim space, and contribute to giving attention to social issues such as decolonization and discrimination both online and offline.
Where can we follow you: