Nihâl (25) was born and raised in the Netherlands. Child of a Dutch mother converted to Islam and a Turkish father who emigrated to the Netherlands in 1991. Nihâl grew up with one older and one younger brother between the two cultures of their parents. In addition, she is Neuro Divergent and Nihâl has several invisible disabilities. As an activist she fights against Islam and Muslim hatred, racism, sexism, validism and more. On their social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, they educate others. Either with their own experiences and knowledge, or sharing their knowledge with others.
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 between two cultures is quite complex. The way I experienced it, the Turkish culture was more present, my position as an only girl was also different from my brothers, which makes our experiences different. I had to pay much more attention to my behavior and attitude. Honor is important. My parents were figuring out the co-existence of intercultural upbringing as they went while we were growing up. Sometimes that was confusing as a child. My parents did their very best to the best of their ability and the situation in which we lived. I feel for my father how justified the concerns that we would lose our Turkish identity to far-Westernization. For my mother I feel finding a new path as a converted Muslim woman and the integration into the Turkish culture and community.
My parents are both practically educated. My father grew up in poverty. Being able to finish your studies was a privilege. He has always taught me to keep my eyes on my goal, whatever it may be, and that he would always support me. My mother always said that a piece of paper says nothing about your true abilities. She has always encouraged me to look for other forms of learning because the current school system has never suited me. I have studied different directions. From art and design to social work to traditional medicine. And still I am learning.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
“It differs between my parents because of the two different cultures. As a child and teenager I was never able to discuss topics such as bullying, mental health, sexuality, gender and discrimination. I am now exploring what works and what doesn’t. I currently have conversations about discrimination and mental health With my mother as well, in addition to sexuality and gender Although I have facilitated many taboo discussion circles for mothers with a migration and refugee background, discussing taboos at home is a completely different story!
Do you feel close with your Asian roots or not?
“I have always experienced it as difficult. It involves a lot of trauma, loss, nostalgia and pain. Also uncertainty. As someone with multiple ethnicities, you are always asked whether you feel more one or the other. Because of the people myself, Dutch people and Turks in my case, I am not always recognized. Then I am called a fake Turkish, for example, because I don’t drink my tea very hot. Really nonsensical really, as if that should determine your Turkishness. I feel(the ) not close or connected to my roots. I grew up with bits of Turkish culture, cuisine and language. But not history and politics for example. Nowadays I try to restore the missed connection through art and craftsmanship. Think of traditional jewelry, traditional dress and calligraphy. But also by watching Turkish drama series. Little by little I try to improve my Turkish. There is really a lot of shame involved because I was often teased about my limited and bad Turkish. looked down upon and I was corrected in nasty ways. With many question marks but also love I look at my roots. †
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
“It used to be very often. Especially when Turkey was discredited when Erdoğan had done something, or with the demonstrations after the coup attempt in 2016. My relatives, schoolmates or colleagues think they start an interesting conversation when they ask what I think of him or life in Turkey. Only They don’t realize the pain and discomfort it creates for me to be put in front of a block. I’m not a representative or anything. I don’t know Turkish politics. That doesn’t mean I look away when human rights are being violated I don’t want to pretend I know what I’m talking about risking my words being used as a stick to beat the marginalized with My process of rediscovering and connecting Turkishness, my own definition of it Forming beyond shame has not begun so long.”
Did you ever had a role model when you grew up?
“Not one that looked like me or had the same roots. I often missed, and still do, representation of Turkish people. Irmak from the Dutch TV series SpangaS was one of the few and I really liked it. I always enjoy the Moroccan/North African representation in films and series made by, with and about the people. While I watch, I also feel a great lack and wonder if I would see a similar film with a Turkish cast in the future .
Fictionally, Hermione Granger was a role model although I always portrayed her as a person of color in the books. The actress in the movies, Emma Watson, has really become my real-life role model. Courageous, (stubborn) wise and she always keeps learning. I always looked for characters in movies and books that broke the gender binary.”
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
“It is very scarce. The ‘representation’ there is often a racially stereotypical caricature of East Asians. Which in turn perpetuates the image and idea that there is only one kind of Asian. As a result, other Asians do not feel connected to them.” Being Asian. Those who are ‘represented’ are ridiculed in the street and may feel shame. It’s a vicious circle. While as we look further, we discover how diverse we are!”
Do you feel like you’re the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’?
“No not at all. And that is because of my South West Asian roots. I am not associated with it. When people hear ‘Turkish’ it doesn’t fit this model at all, haha.
What made you who you are now?
“Everything I have experienced and (have to) endure, such as racism, validism, sexism, violence, trauma, etc., shape me as a person. That, in combination with being NeuroDivergent, gives me a great sense of justice and responsibility. I cannot look away when human rights are violated because I know how painful it is when people do that. Of course the people I have (had) around me have shaped me as a person. Also the books I read or the movies and series I watched.
Have people also made comments about you being Chinese? How did you react to this, what did you feel?
“Because of my ambiguous-ness, I sometimes become a kind of guessing game for people. Occasionally I am mistaken as Chinese, especially with my name. People literally think my parents called me “hello.” That’s very frustrating. Because it is 1) disrespectful to the name given to me by my parents 2) shows how deep the micro-aggressions of racism towards East Asians run.”
What are stereotyping Asians in your opinion and where does that come from? Do you see other Asians like those stereotypes?
“Things like being hardworking, smart and ‘apathetic’, wearing glasses and the like are stereotypes that I see often. Sure, there are Asians who are indeed hardworking, we learn to work accurately and carefully. But that’s not everyone. I also find it a capitalist view in the sense of ‘you are suitable workers to exploit’, which we also see in the production of resources, stuff, etc. Seeing Asians, especially East Asians as apathetic, I think is validist and Eurocentric nonsense We believe that everyone should express love, empathy and affection in some way. Often this is the way invented by the West. Giving a plate of sliced fruit to your child while studying is apparently not seen as an expression of love. There are 5 types of love languages. Let’s learn how those are expressed and what diversity plays in them.”
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?
“Because I’m that guessing game for people to test their so-called ‘people skills’ without agreeing to it, I don’t always get stereotypical reactions to my appearance. As a child and teenager, however, I did experience that because of my thick black I was bullied. People commented on the hair on my arms, legs and face. Guys often said I have a beard and mustache. I felt a lot of shame, insecurity and thought myself really ugly. Now that I look back and very “I rarely get these comments, especially from men, I put this in perspective to vulnerable masculinity. They are probably jealous that their beards don’t connect or something. Every person has hair on their body, there is nothing wrong with 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?
“Not based on my being Asian, since people don’t see Turks as Asians, so I haven’t experienced an aggravation with the Coronavirus. But racism and discrimination is something I experienced from a very young age as a child. Especially based on my religion. I think one of my worst experiences was when I first went to a white school. I was one of five students of color and the only one with a headscarf. In the first week of school I got lost looking for my classroom. I was the only one walking around, suddenly a white boy who apparently wasn’t in his class yet walked next to me. He then said that I am a burqa terrorist, that I had to blow myself up and he would take my headscarf off. He had quickly moved on and I was very shocked. Because of how ‘intimate’ this was, it’s one of the experiences I remember most intensely and intensely.”
What is a funny trait or tell something that not everyone knows about you
“I don’t know the Turkish alphabet (yet) when it comes to reading the letters like we learn with ABCD at school. When I write on paper in Turkish, I never dot the ‘i’ or mark under the ‘s’ and ‘c’ etc. I do that after I’m done writing.”
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 remember a conversation I once had with my cousins about this topic when I was in Turkey. They didn’t understand how I envisioned something completely different from our cultural expectations of a woman. I told them how I wanted to continue studying and would want to travel. Build my own career. And a man? That’s an afterthought, that’s not on top of my list. They were very outraged and didn’t understand at all. Which I didn’t understand. So we both didn’t understand each other. I I have learned to accept that for what it is. Because there are women who do experience satisfaction from this.. Do we have to shame them for that? Doesn’t seem like it. All my life I try to live outside the gender binary. As a child I did I already did this until I was pushed into those expectations of how a girl should behave and then it’s really hard to do what you want because we grow up caring about what other people would think and say about us and what this does with the family honour. We really don’t need a man. Certainly no white man (or woman) to save us. Because we are perfectly capable of empowering ourselves and each other. It’s already in us.”
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
Since April 2021 I have been in an Autistic and activist burnout, my chronic complaints have also worsened, so that I really take everything into account. I listen to my body as much as possible and rest. In the future I hope to have found a balance that I am now trying to discover. I see the struggle we are waging within activism as a marathon. It is of no use to anyone if I destroy myself and fall out. It is important to do things that give us joy and self-satisfaction in addition to the constant struggle. I find joy and struggle when I work with Muslim youth. We are talking about their struggles at school, internship and work when it comes to racism. I try to be a safe place for them to talk about that. They are also often curious about what it was like in my time or how I use my knowledge even more as an activist. My plans for the future include sharing (more) accessible knowledge in Dutch. A lot can be found in English, but too little in Dutch that also has a connection with the Netherlands.
What do you want to give to the readers?
I hope my words create awareness. That Asia is much more than just the Eastern part. But above all that we celebrate our differences. Keep exploring, keep learning and discovering. But above all, keep unlearning from beliefs that no longer serve us and give compassion to yourself and others in this process of learning and unlearning.
Where can we follow you:
Instagram, TikTok en Twitter: