Isabelle (20) was born in Austria and raised in Thailand. Her mother is Thai and her father is Austrian. She identifies herself as Thai. She came in 2017 to The Netherlands to study.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbringing?
Growing up in Asia I definitely had a lot of classmates/family members/friends that had parents with very high expectations for them academically and were very competitive. Luckily, my parents were very laid back in this sense and were happy if I was putting in the effort and passing my classes. I’m thankful that my parents gave me the freedom in this sense as I saw a lot of kids suffering under the immense pressure. If they were not at school, they were either studying at home, in cram school or taking extracurricular classes and a lot of them didn’t have much free time.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
I have a relatively close relationship with my parents but some topics were just not discussed or weren’t allowed. For example, my parents didn’t let me get tattoos as it has a bad reputation. We never had the “birds and the bees” talk or about my relationships and things like that but it was similar for most of my friends. I felt uncomfortable discussing it with them anyway so it wasn’t really an issue for me, but sex is generally quite a taboo topic in Thailand and people are relatively closed-minded on this topic.
As I grew up, I started noticing how this was problematic as a lot of girls are slut-shamed for their clothes, attitude, etc. Teen pregnancy rates are high. Abortion is frowned upon because a lot of people are religious (mostly Buddhist), like my mom for example, and they consider it an act of killing. But I believe that every woman has a right to make a choice for their own body, so this is something that I am trying to bring more awareness to.
Do you feel close with your Asian roots or not?
Growing up mainly in Thailand I definitely feel closer to my Asian roots than my Western side, but even still sometimes I feel like an outsider in my own country because in Thailand I am sometimes considered as a “Farang” or foreigner.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
I never felt ashamed to be Asian growing up because I grew up in Thailand and everyone was kind of like me, but sometimes I did feel alienated because of my western-influenced features and mindset. I felt this strongly with my Thai family and when I went to a predominantly Thai school. I was lucky enough to have a lot of mixed friends in my class but because of this, we were also treated differently by the teachers compared to other Thai students.
Did you ever have a role model when you grew up?
I didn’t really have any role models growing up, but I think it’s important for the media to represent people of color. We are so used to seeing beauty by western standards and sometimes you wonder if you’re weird for not looking that way. But beauty comes in all shapes and forms, and people of colour need to see themselves represented and know that we are beautiful too.
I think one of the people I look up to is a model called Yada Villaret. She’s a model who’s half Thai like me and she’s breaking through a mainly white-dominated industry and making a name for herself.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
Asian representation is very scarce, especially here in the Netherlands. In Thailand, we have a lot of Asian representation but even then it is whitewashed. From skin whitening products to plastic surgery promoted by stars with western features. We need to be represented and our features celebrated, not something to change and for businesses to make money off of.
Do you feel like you’re the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’?
This stereotype may be associated with positive traits such as intelligent, hard-working, law-abiding, etc., but it really just puts us under a lot of pressure to be like this “model” citizen and discourages people from seeking help. I’m definitely not the model minority myth and I don’t think any of us really are. Some of us may be smart, or quiet/shy, or none of those but we are human just like everyone else and sometimes we need a little help from our friends.
What made you who you are now?
Everyone who played a part in me growing up. From my family, friends, to the schools I went to and of course the country I grew up in.
Have people also made comments about you being Chinese?
This has only happened to me once as far as I can remember, and it was when I first moved into my apartment here in the Netherlands. My neighbor came to say hi and the first thing she asked was if I was Chinese. I was quite confused because not only am I not Chinese, but I am also half white. It seemed like an honest mistake so I tried to not take it too personally, but it definitely shows that people here aren’t very familiar with Asians.
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion and where does that come from?
I think it’s always easier to put people who are different from us into a box and sometimes it isn’t intentional, but we have to challenge these stereotypes and try to do better. There are so many Asian stereotypes, the most common being probably that we all have “Chinese” eyes, are exceptionally smart, are terrible drivers, have terrible English, etc. I understand that stereotypes are somewhat based on truths, but there are so many different types of Asians and we are not just defined by our race.
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance?
I’ve had a lot of people make comments about my appearance from things like my skin color to my face, height, etc. Sometimes my skin isn’t dark enough to be considered brown, sometimes I’m too dark. Sometimes my eyes are too big to be Asian and sometimes I have “Asian eyes”. The list goes on but it seems like people always have something to say about my appearance and they’re never satisfied.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced?
On two different occasions, I told a white dutch guy in a club that I was Thai, and both times they were taken aback, maybe even offended that I dare claim such a thing. Apparently I couldn’t be Thai because my skin was “weird”. That my skin wasn’t dark enough for that and that my eyes were too “open”. Did I get plastic surgery? I was pretty shocked and didn’t really know how to respond.
What is a funny trait or what is something that not everyone knows about you?
I’m really bad at remembering the names of things, so I try to describe it but it never really goes well. One time I looked up “machine that sucks things” because I couldn’t find the name for a vacuum cleaner. It doesn’t get any better in conversation either.
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 think this way of thinking is quite old fashioned, but times are changing so fast. Everyone has their own aspirations and goals in life, whether to be a Businesswoman, an artist or a housewife and they’re all great things. However, pushing a certain ideology or expectation on young girls just puts them in a box and discourages them from exploring their options and finding out what they really want.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
I’m graduating with a bachelor in chemistry and don’t plan on settling down anytime soon. I still need to find out what my passion is and want to overcome my fear of travelling.
What do you want to give to the readers? What do you hope to achieve?
Racism is so deeply rooted in society and within ourselves that sometimes it’s not a conscious choice. We all need to do our part and challenge these stereotypes, be a little more open-minded and open to criticism. We’re not perfect, but we can change.
Where can we follow you?