Gladys (17) was born in Indonesia and grew up in The Netherlands. Her mother is Indonesian-Chinese and her father is Indonesian-Dutch. She identifies herself as a cis lesbian woman. She studies spatial design at the Mediacollege in Amsterdam and works at a restaurant at the airport Schiphol.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbringing?
My parents were never really strict. I guess they’re not the stereotypical Asian parents. My siblings and I grew up in a household where honesty is key. As long as we’re being honest with our parents, we could get away with pretty much anything. Of course there were limits, but that never really affected the huge amount of freedom I already had. Of course my parents told me to focus on school and my future. But as long as I kept my grades up, they wouldn’t have a problem with me going out with friends for example. I think I can say with confidence that my upbringing wasn’t strict in any form or way.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
There are touchy subjects, but there is always room for discussion. We all have different opinions about certain things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk and discuss them. We’re really open with each other about these kinds of things and try to understand each other’s perspectives on the subjects. Even though there are subjects that are more awkward or uncomfortable, we still try to talk about it and educate each other about it.
Do you feel close with your Asian roots?
Yes, very much! I grew up in a household where both my Indonesian and Dutch roots were part of my upbringing. I grew up with the Indonesian language and was taught about my culture. I never felt less Indonesian because I grew up in the Netherlands. My parents told me about the history of Indonesia and the Netherlands. I never did any ‘real’ research on the internet because I didn’t feel the need to do so. With my family educating me about my Indonesian heritage and culture, I didn’t feel the need to deepen my research. I think I’m close enough to my Asian roots.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
I have never felt ashamed of myself being Asian. I was never really bullied about my appearance or background because everyone in my surroundings was really accepting and open minded. I acknowledge that privilege, since this might not be the case for many Asian people. Besides the occasional verbal harassment in public, I’ve never really experienced a feeling or thought where I didn’t want to be Asian or that I wasn’t proud of my background.
Did you ever have a role model when you grew up?
It never crossed my mind when I was a kid. I just lived my life and I didn’t notice any discrimination because of my appearance. It wasn’t until I got older that I noticed things that I’ve never noticed before. My current role model is Chella Man. He’s a deaf trans artist and activist with a Chinese background. I think that role models are important because they can be a source of inspiration and motivation. Especially if you can relate to that person in a way.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
I think we’ve made a huge improvement compared to 5 years back. It could be better of course, but I do feel more represented as an Asian here in the Netherlands, unlike in Indonesia. A lot of people are still very close minded in Indonesia. Even though I’m an Indonesian myself, I can’t relate with the problems that they are facing in their country and I don’t want to associate myself with their ideologies.
I mostly follow Asian activists and artists that speak out about racism and discrimination towards Asians and other minorities, and I always feel some sense of pride when I find out that one of them is Indonesian. The media definitely has a huge influence on representation and I think they could do a better job at it. They could, for example, cast more Asian actors, speak up about discrimination towards Asians, educate their viewers about Asian cultures or maybe change the algorithm up a bit to offer more exposure to Asian creators. By sharing posts from Asian creators and artists on my own media platform, I expose my followers to them and encourage them to follow them too.
My take on ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’
This ideology is really toxic for both the Asian community and non-Asian communities. It’s very stereotyping and ignorant. To claim that all Asians are ‘the model citizen’ is just plain stupid. We don’t behave the same. We don’t think the same. And that’s alright. That makes us human.
No race is better than the other, and to put this label on Asians is just adding fuel to the racist fire that has already been burning for ages. Every community has its own struggles, and we need to work together to become stronger and overcome them.
What made you who you are now?
After I came out about my sexual orientation at the age of 14 to the people who I hold close, everything pretty much changed for the better. I’m so thankful that the people around me were all very accepting and supporting. There was room for me to experiment. I’m so glad that I was never held back to try out new things. I use them as experiences to learn from and to reflect on in future situations.
Have people made comments about you being Chinese?
Oh yes, and it sucks that I can say this without any hesitation. It’s like people don’t realize that Asia has more countries than only China, Japan or Korea. It’s very annoying and ignorant. It immediately puts me off whenever a person refers to Asian people as Chinese people. Not all Asians are Chinese! What is there not to understand?
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion?
I’ve never had a clear vision about an ‘Asian stereotype’. I just see everyone as equal. I guess what a lot of people associate Asian people with is that we eat everything that moves, that we’re very good at math, that we can’t ‘open’ our eyes and that we have a subservient nature.
Do you know any Indonesian Chinese, Indonesian Dutch, stereotype, and do you feel like you’re that stereotype?
My family has a prejudice against Indonesian people who moved to the Netherlands and try to act like a white Dutch person by forgetting their heritage. We call them white washed. Just because they married a white person and are living in a privileged country like the Netherlands does not mean that you should forget where you come from. A lot of Indonesian people I’ve met don’t know how to speak Indonesian or don’t know anything about our culture because their Indonesian parent(s) didn’t teach them anything. You can’t just say you’re Indonesian and not know a thing from your heritage, in my opinion. I don’t associate myself with this stereotype. There’s also this stereotype where mainly Indonesian women solemnly marry white men just to brag about it to their friends and family in Indonesia. It looks like they automatically think they’re better than other people because of that.
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance?
People love to tell me to open my eyes and to stop eating their pets. I do not understand why some people think it’s okay to make such remarks towards people about their appearance or race. I certainly do not identify with any of the stereotypes that are named above. I see myself as an individual who’s just trying to live their life to the fullest and I don’t use my race to separate me from my peers. I feel left out and discriminated against whenever someone makes an ignorant remark about my race or culture. What makes me different? It’s not necessary to separate people because of their race or culture.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced?
My earliest memory of experiencing something racist was back when I was still in elementary school. There was this racist birthday song called ‘Hankie pankie Shanghai’ and all my classmates used to slant their eyes whenever we sang that song. Back then I didn’t know any better, but now that I’m looking back at it, I understand why it’s so messed up and that my teachers should’ve done a better job at educating us about racism and discrimination. Through the years I’ve been harassed and made fun of just because of the fact that I’m Asian. Sentences like ‘Don’t eat my dog.’ Or ‘Ni hao’ were frequently thrown at me and my siblings. Now with Covid-19 going round, it seems like these incidents only increase every day. Every time I go out, I can say that I’ve been verbally harassed at least once. I learned how to deal with ignorance like this, and I’m not afraid to call them out on it. Most of the time they grow silent because they don’t expect me to bite back. It sucks that this is the only way to shut them up because it shouldn’t be happening in the first place. Racism is taught and you can cure it with educating yourself on the topic.
What is a funny trait about yourself or what’s something not many people know about you?
I used to be really insecure about my appearance and how I put myself out there. I used to struggle with my body image and my sexuality, but I learned to embrace myself. The traits that I don’t like about myself makes me special. It’s good to be different. You are one of a kind.
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?
People should live their life how they want to live, as long as they’re not forced to live a certain way. If you’re happy being a housewife while your partner goes out and earns the money, good for you! You’re doing great. But the fact that a lot of women are forced to live this lifestyle and grew up with this ideology is not right. We should be free to choose our own lives and we should be able to live the life that we want. Whether we want to be a housewife with a happy family and take care of our partner or be our own independent individual that is happy with living alone, the choice is ours and no one has the right to take that away from us.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
I’m happy with how my life is now. I’ve got a very loving and supporting family, I’ve got the ability to express myself through creativity and I don’t have anything to really worry about. With me turning 18 this year, my only concern is how I should handle my bills and insurance. I don’t have any specific plans for the future and I try not to worry about it, which is pretty hard seeing the circumstances we’re living in. I don’t want to jinx anything, so for now I just hope to have a financially and mentally stable future.
What do you want to give to the readers?
I hope that you all see the importance of unity. Unless we all make a change about our way of living, nothing will happen. Please speak up if you see injustice, even though you don’t suffer from it. Acknowledge your privileges and use it to help others out. Call each other out. Educate each other. We are one! Stay safe and healthy.
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