Kalpani (24) was born and raised in Germany, her parents are both from Sri Lanka. She describes herself as curious, ambitious, open-minded and energetic.and raised in Germany, her parents are both from Sri Lanka. She describes herself as curious, ambitious, open-minded and energetic.
My upbringing was quite conservative and strict. My parents were pushing us hard to study well and not get in contact with European boys. That was very important to them. No partying, drinking, drugs etc., very caring on the other hand. They picked us up whenever we went somewhere. At some point, they stopped being so strict, this was after I moved out for university. Since then, they are less strict and more chill.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
Smoking or drinking was and is a taboo topic. Sexuality and relationships too. However, topics of relationships have changed recently. The older I get, the more common it is to talk about relationships. The other topics are still taboo, though. It is different from my surroundings, because I see that most German friends for example can talk about sexuality and relationships very openly. Especially when we were younger. I know that other things are also less common, such as drugs and partying. However, they could still more openly talk about all these things than me and my sister, for example.
Do you feel close with your Asian roots?
I am still confused about my Asian roots. The conflict is more related to the fact that when I am in Sri Lanka I am considered as “the European”, while when I am here in Europe I am the “the Sri Lankan”. It is weird. But I consider myself as both, Sri Lankan and German. Because I certainly have the good parts of both cultures. On the one hand the collectivist thinking and on the other hand the more open-minded lifestyle. I still have a connection to my Sri Lankan roots, because we visit our family almost once a year.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
I felt ashamed of being Asian, when I was younger. During school, I was ashamed to bring friends to my house or invite my dad to school events, because his German is not so good. Another example is that in Sri Lanka we call younger sisters “nangi”. I felt so embarrassed because my fellow students asked me constantly why I called my sister this way. So I eventually stopped doing it, which I now regret, because I don’t see the point of not doing it. Later during university, the circumstances changed. I had a lot of (second-generation) immigrant friends, whom I could identify with. So I released that it is not bad, and that I have no reason to be ashamed about anything.
Did you ever have a role model when you grew up?
When I was younger my role models were different celebrities, like Alicia Keys, Nelly Furtado etc. I think I was impressed by their “confidence” and of course their music. I think I also admired them, because they were perceived as beautiful, strong women by society and media. Today my view changed. Certainly my mother is my role model. It’s because I admire her strengths and how she managed everything. coming to a country that is completely different from her poor home village in Sri Lanka. Everything new, no friends, no language and education, etc. I think getting to know her story and learning more about how difficult life is and how much we actually have, being born here in Europe, made me switch my role models over the years. I think it’s important to have role models, it is kind of a guidance for someone to hold on to when you feel that you cannot make it. Someone that inspires you.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
I think in Groningen, there are many international students, among those also many Asians. Also Bremen, the city that I studied in before, is very multicultural. However, I had the feeling that in Bremen there were more multicultural events, specifically targeted to address different cultural holidays, etc. For example, we had several Indian or Turkish festivals. In Groningen, it is more of a multicultural mix up. It’s more about meeting new people, etc. but not so much (as far as I got to know), about the specific cultures. I think the media might also lead to an underrepresentation of the Asian community. Models, singers, actors, etc.,are usually from western cultures. I think more diversity should be included in the future, to normalize having different cultures and without centering the western culture as the main thing.
What do you think of ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’?
I never heard about the Asian model minority myth. I don’t identify myself with this myth.
What made you who you are now?
I met so many different people during my studies, especially many people with different backgrounds. I think this shaped my sense of curiosity, and open-mindness.
Have people made comments about you being Chinese?
It bothered me before that people associated me with “curry” and “Bollywood”. Nowadays I just go with the flow, I just admit that I like curry, that we eat a lot of curry and that we watch Bollywood. Nowadays I take the differences that others point out to my favor and then I point out the cool thing about being different from the majority. It usually works, people get curious about what I have to tell them about these things.
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion?
Asian stereotypes especially relate to education, strict parents, etc. I sometimes agree about these things, especially regarding how we are raised in the family. It’s because it is a collectivist culture, and the importance of studying has to do with the difficult system in those countries itself. So I understand that there are similarities among Asian parents. I don’t agree with the generalization though, not everyone whose parents are from Sri Lanka/India eat curry 24/7. But then I think it is better to ask, whether this is true or not. I think it is completely fine to be curious and ask people and then people can explain how their culture is, and how they live etc.
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance?
People commented before that I look like a Bollywood singer and asked me to dance or sing. I was bothered by it when I was younger. Nowadays I just explain that I am from Sri Lanka, not from India, but that cultures are similar and that I love Bollywood and that it is actually quite cool. If they don’t agree I just let them be.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced?
I got some indirect racist comments. For example, as a child I was asked when I would get white again, because some kids thought I would have gotten tanned due to the skin. Afterwards, I didn’t really get racist comments, but rather about me being a woman, or me being from a lower socio-economic status. I had the feeling that this type of discrimination was not related to where i come from (directly).
What is a funny trait or tell something that not everyone knows about you?
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?
The thing with a family is a very difficult topic I am dealing with right now. I am finishing my masters and my parents constantly comment on me finally getting my life right. With that they don’t mean my education, but rather finding a boyfriend. So this is an issue that bothers me, but I need to keep in mind that this is not how it should be. I still have the wish to marry and have kids, but not now. I am planning to first live my life and then finish education, become independent, and only then, settle.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
I am currently finishing with the masters, my plan is to now travel and do voluntary work for a year, and then continue with the PhD.
What do you want to give to the readers?
I want to show the audience that minorities need to face different, and difficult issues. It is therefore important to be open-minded, to ask, listen and understand. And to share backgrounds. For me having differences is only a first step for a nice and interesting conversation.
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