Amber (21) was born and raised in The Netherlands, her parents are Chinese. She studies Artificial intelligence at University of Groningen. She identifies herself as Dutch born Chinese, creative, nerdy and the “mom friend”.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbrining?
Growing up, my parents did not have a lot of time to spend with my siblings and me, since they were really busy building their business. We were brought up by them, but with a lot of help from au-pairs and my paternal grandparents (who lived very nearby). They were always vocal about their expectations from us (which were very high), but they never enforced them by making us schedules or anything. However, since they always spoke about their expectations from us, it became a self-fulfilling mechanism, where I would become very disappointed in myself if I did not satisfy my family.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
There are many things that are simply not spoken about in our household. Those topics include sexuality, sex, drugs, and also racism. For example, if I were to bring up something that could be categorized under one of those topics, my parents might be awkward albeit willing to talk about it, however they would stress that we never let anyone else in our family know, especially the grandparents.
The argument is always that they would simply not understand. I find it incredibly frustrating at times, since I feel like I’m not showing my authentic self to my family. Unfortunately, I do think that my parents are right that my family is even more uncomfortable with these topics. It’s weird since my friends and younger family members all feel comfortable speaking about these things and breaking taboos. What usually happens is that I do not talk about these things with my parents at all, but rather discuss it with friends or younger family members (cousins, siblings, etc).
Do you feel close with your Asian roots or not?
I feel close with my roots, in the sense that I am interested in my heritage (history, culture, language). However, I don’t always feel like my ethnicity, if that even makes sense. When people ask me if I feel more Dutch or more Chinese, I usually say that I feel like a Dutch born Chinese, which is a different kind of identity altogether. I’ve spent a year living in China, studying Chinese language and culture.
This was an insightful experience, because of the things I learned about my heritage at school, but also by just living in the country with “my” people. I chose to do this, because my family always wished for me to learn Mandarin at Chinese school (in the Netherlands, every Saturday afternoon), but had dropped out because I didn’t feel comfortable with the learning environment. After I dropped out, I was very aware of their disappointment, but that was not the reason I went to China. It was because they stopped pressuring me to learn, that I started to develop my own interest in the topic. That’s what eventually led me to the programme and why I stayed in China for a year.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
There were many times when I was ashamed of being Asian. I remember being 4 or 5 years old, so I had just started elementary school, and I was lying in my bed and wondering why I had to have black hair and brown eyes. I wanted to have blonde hair and blue eyes, like all the other girls in my class. From that same time period, I also remember being on the playground with my brother (who is 1.5 years older than me), who I asked a question in Wenzhounese, our dialect. He shushed me, telling me not to speak Chinese in public.
I did not understand what the fuss was about, but I now realize that he too, was ashamed. Being ashamed of your heritage is always a mix of factors, I think. It’s the way that we don’t see ourselves represented in the media, and therefore wonder what is wrong with us and why we can’t be more like the people we do see represented. It’s the way people make fun of you, after which you can’t help but wonder if they have a valid reason to. And it’s the constant questioning about your identity: “Do you feel more Chinese or Dutch?”, “Will you later marry a white person or a Chinese person?” and so on that makes you really confused at times. I think that all of these examples can really make someone be ashamed of their ethnicity.
Did you ever had a role model when you grew up? Who is your role model now and why?
Growing up, my mom was a role model for me, and she still is. Although there certainly are things in my upbringing that could have been done differently, I have a lot of respect for her, for leaving her old existence in China behind and moving here. That takes a lot of courage and strength, as well as determination.
I think that role models are incredibly important. There is something very empowering about having someone you can look up to, who is strong and can guide you in your life. Having role models that are representative of the whole population is also really important, since it conveys the message that anyone can be successful, kind, and strong, not just white people.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
Even though there are quite a lot of Asian people living in the Netherlands, they are not acknowledged 100%. This usually expresses itself in the dismissal of complaints about racism & discrimination, which is very frustrating. Discrimination against Asians is so normalized in the west and the Netherlands, that people don’t even really see it as discrimination anymore. I do feel at home here, since this is my home.
What irritates me sometimes is that some people don’t assume that this is my home when they see me. It’s strange that their assumption is purely based on my appearance. A good example is the sudden switch in languages. Sometimes, I don’t speak loud enough for the other person to hear me, and they immediately switch to English (even though I can clearly hear by their accent that they are Dutch). As for representation, I do feel like the Asian community in this country is pretty strong, especially in cities like Rotterdam. However, the way we are represented in the media leaves a lot of room for improvement. This ties back to what I said before: our struggles are not often taken seriously.
Do you feel like you’re the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’?
I think the model minority myth is incredibly toxic. It was indeed made up by the white man to create a rift between Asians and other people of color. We should be uniting and fighting against racism alongside each other.
What made you who you are now?
The experience of two cultures, using both perspectives at the same time (being Dutch/Chinese in China, and being Dutch/Chinese in the Netherlands), and the influences of my parents, family, and friends.
Have people also made comments about you being Chinese?
Something I remember from a conversation a few years ago was that someone said that there were no international people present, to which I responded that I was there. One guy said, “But you’re practically white.”. I had very mixed feelings about it, because I know that he meant well, but at the same time it was just very strange to me. I’m very proud of my heritage and it is not my goal to be white, so why did he act like I should be proud of the fact that I’m “practically white”?
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion and where does that come from? Do you see other Asians like those stereotypes?
The stereotypical Asian (Chinese at least) is very good at studying (Maths in particular). Their parents own a fast-food/Chinese restaurant. They play the piano or violin. They keep to themselves and are non-confrontational.Nowadays, I see a lot of people deviating from this stereotype. My generation is obtaining university degrees and entering the job market. New parents learn the importance of communication with your children, and listening to their wishes and needs. A lot of people are standing up for themselves, calling out racism, and protesting for what they think is right.
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance?
I’ve heard that all Asians look alike, that we’re yellow, that Asian women should be fair and slim (usually coming from family), and that we have flat faces. Some comments about my appearance are that I’m “pretty for an Asian girl” (even from other Asians), that I “don’t look Chinese, but Asian” (what does that even mean?), that I’m “too dark [skinned], eat some more rice” (from my grandma).I can’t find myself in these remarks. They’re usually made out of ignorance. When people make such comments, I usually just feel disappointed.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced?
Most racist remarks I’ve received were when I was younger, usually made by younger kids. I think schools encourage this by singing “hankie pankie shanghai”. Kids would pull their eyes at me, and ask questions like if I ate dogs and cats. People would yell “hey Chinees” at me while walking down the street. I’ve had things thrown at me while I was biking. Later on, racism would usually occur in more subtle cases. It would express itself in well-meant comments, that had a racist undertone.
Something that sticks with me happened about 1.5-2 years ago, when I left my student house to go to my lecture. As I was unlocking a bike, the construction worker that was repairing the sidewalk in front of my house started verbally harassing me, saying stuff like “Hey do you do Thai massages?”, “Ni hao”, “Thai massage! Thai massage!” (with a presumably Thai or Chinese accent). His coworker didn’t say anything to stop him. I felt scared, so I didn’t say anything either. I was wearing headphones, so I pretended not to have heard him and biked away.
Now with Coronavirus, I don’t feel that attacks on me personally have gotten worse. It does scare and anger me to see that Asian people have been the victim of violence and racism because of corona. It makes you feel really helpless: you want to do something about it but don’t know what. In the beginning of the lock down, I was really scared of going outside. I was afraid that people would be looking weird at me for being outside, and that they would verbally harass me for doing so. At one point, I was on my way to the supermarket when two guys were standing on a corner, talking to each other. They were looking at me while they laughed, and I got really scared. Luckily, nothing happened. But that fear is something that sticks with you.
What is a funny trait or tell something that not everyone knows about you
I learned English by watching my brother play videogames on his playstation
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?
In my eyes, success is defined by happiness first, and career second. To me personally, a good career is really important, but of course it is not worth much if you’re not happy with it. If I could choose between a career that paid a little less/contributed to society a bit less, but would make me happy, and a career that has better pay/contributes to society more but makes me not as happy, I’d choose for the former rather than the latter.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to graduate and obtain my AI degree, and to find a job where I can tie my passions together and use my knowledge for doing good (such as fighting against racism!).
What do you want to give to the readers? What do you hope to achieve?
One day, I hope to obtain a top position and to prove the statistics wrong, as a female person of color in a white male dominated field. To the readers: listen to POC, think about what you say, and educate yourself on (systemic) racism/discrimination/oppression.
Where can we follow you?