Yasmin (26) was born and raised in The Netherlands. She is Indonesian and Moluccan, and feels very close to her roots. She would never consider herself as a ‘Dutch’ person. She would say that she is mixed Indonesian/Moluccan with a western touch. She studies International Tourism Management in Leeuwarden.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbringing?
I wouldn’t say my mom was a ’tiger mom’ as I have seen it in other households. My parents never forced me to perform well in school or dedicate all my free time to studying. However, they did stimulate me to perform well and tried their best to have me reach my full potential. From a young age they stimulated me to read a lot of books, watch Disney movies in English etc. which gave me a head start compared to other children in my class.
My mom did always tell me that I had to study hard and go to university, be it an academic university or a university of applied sciences, as she wanted me to have the best start in life. She always told me that because of my foreign last name and my looks, I would already be a step behind compared to a white person. This is also one of the reasons why my mom (and my grandmother) wanted the kids to learn perfect Dutch instead of being brought up bilingual.
If we have to discuss other parts of my upbringing I would say my mom was fairly strict (my parents split up so I was mainly raised by my mom). I was not allowed to stay outside until late and I wasn’t allowed to watch most cartoons on television as they were too graphic, had too much vulgar language or were about themes that weren’t appropriate for children. Later on, I also was not allowed to have boyfriends, wear make-up, dye or straighten my hair, pluck my eyebrows etc. Looking back at it, I am happy that my mom raised me this way and I would do the same with my own children.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
I think my parents tried to be as open minded as they could when it came to raising me. Nothing really was taboo, although I do have to say that the one thing I struggle with is talking about my feelings openly. I think it has to do with me not wanting to be vulnerable or coming across as a failure. I’d rather deal with my feelings by myself instead of opening up and asking them (or anyone else) to help me.
Do you feel close with your Asian roots or not?
Yes, I do. I feel lucky and blessed to have the opportunities and education that I have had in the Netherlands, but I would never consider myself a ‘Dutch’ person. I would say I’m mixed Indonesian/Moluccan with a western touch. Some might find it strange that I don’t consider myself Dutch as I was born here and have a Dutch passport, but for me, as long as I am not treated the same as a white Dutch person, I will never be able to feel Dutch.
In my family, our heritage, history and culture is very important and therefore I was very lucky to have so many family members around me with a lot of knowledge about it. I have learned a lot from them but also done my own research. I know our history and our culture and I am very proud to be both Moluccan and Indonesian.
This is a combination that can be controversial due to the troubled and complicated history between the Dutch, the Moluccans and the Indonesians, but I consider myself to be a ‘peace child’. There have been times when I was struggling with my identity as it felt for me that I had to choose between being Moluccan or Indonesian. I have learned however, that I can embrace being both and I don’t have to choose at all. Last year, I lived in Bali, Indonesia, for eight months and although I don’t have a Balinese background, it did feel like home to me. All the things that were considered ‘weird’ in the Netherlands suddenly were considered ’normal’ in Indonesia. I wasn’t the odd one out anymore and was seen as a local everywhere I went.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
I did feel ashamed when I was in elementary school. I was one of the only kids that was fully foreign in my class and got picked on because of it. Most of the children in my class were either white or mixed blood. I remember getting picked on because I was the shortest in my class, because I had arm hair, because I was seen as a complete ‘foreigner’ and thus an outsider.
Children at that age are very ignorant and I even got into fights because I was called the N-word (which is an entirely different continent, but okay). As I got older, I started doing more research into my own background and started being okay and even proud with being different.
Did you have a role model when you grew up?
I didn’t really have a role model when I grew up, but I do think it is important (especially for children) to have someone to look up to and admire. When I think about the cartoons I grew up with, I identify mostly with princess Jasmine from Aladdin, Mulan or Pocahontas. These three are not even from the same ethnic background as me, but at least they were not white like all of the other Disney princesses.
Therefore I am happy to see that Disney is bringing more princesses from different ethnic backgrounds to the big screen! Disney movies are what I watched every single day when I was younger so I am excited to be able to show different ethnic princesses to my children later. Keeping it in the Disney theme, I’d say that right now I would identify most with Moana, as she is a Pacific Islander (just like Moluccans originally are).
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
Asian representation in the Netherlands is nearly non-existent. The Netherlands is a country with people from all different backgrounds, but the media is dominated by those with a Dutch background. If I had to think about Asian representation on television, the first thing that comes to mind is Ping Ping in ‘FC Kip’ or the Chinese guy singing songs on ‘Ik Houd Van Holland’. Both are racial stereotypes that make fun of those with a Chinese background. I don’t think the Dutch media is diverse and there definitely is room for improvement regarding this issue.
Do you feel like you’re the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’?
I don’t think I’m part of the model minority myth, but I do think there’s an image of Indonesians/Moluccans in Dutch society that we are assimilated better than other minority groups. This is probably also due to the fact that we were one of the first foreigners to arrive in the Netherlands.
What made you who you are now?
All the good and bad experiences have made me become the person that I am right now. If someone were to ask me if I have any regrets and if I would want to change something in my past: my answer would be no. I am grateful for both the positive and negative experiences as there is a lesson in everything. I would not be who I am today without the bad experiences.
Have people also made comments about you being Chinese? How did you react to this, what did you feel?
In my opinion there are many people in the Netherlands that are uninformed or ignorant when it comes to Asians. I speak from experience when I say that many of them think that anyone with Asian features is automatically Chinese. It’s all the same to them. Therefore I have had (and still get) lots of comments about me being or resembling Chinese.
I have had instances where people would randomly yell ’Ni Hao’ to me in the streets, ask me about eating dogs or cats, make fun of me because of the shape of my eyes… Obviously I am not of Chinese descent so it is even more frustrating when you know that people are aware of your ethnicity and just being ignorant on purpose by continuing these comments. It is degrading and makes you feel as if you do not belong here.
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion and where does that come from? Do you see other Asians like those stereotypes?
The stereotypical Asian in the Netherlands are smart ’nerdy’ people who are not able to pronounce the letter R properly and who eat cats or dogs. Obviously this is not true, but this is what I mainly see Asians portrayed as. The fact that Covid-19 originated from China, allegedly because of the consumption of bats, does not help the Asian reputation at all. These past couple of months hate towards Chinese and Asians has grown due to the fact that they presumably ‘eat everything’ and are ’unhygienic’. It is really sad to see that there has been hate crimes due to Covid-19 towards Asians. Obviously I do not think of Chinese people the same way and I am saddened by the fact that I have seen a lot of my friends of Chinese descent that felt unsafe to go outside.
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance?
When it comes to my appearance, people often assume that I am Chinese. So taking that as a stereotype, I have heard comments about eating cats or dogs, probably being insanely smart and if I am able to see everything through my almond-shaped eyes. I don’t identify with these comments at all and it’s frankly quite annoying to hear this day in, day out. It baffles me that people in this day and age can still be so ignorant when it comes to people of color. I don’t mind people asking me what my ethnic background is as long as they are genuinely interested and don’t assume things.
Do you know any Moluccan and Indonesian stereotypes, and do you feel like you’re that stereotype?
I think the Moluccan stereotype in the Netherlands has mainly to do with motor gangs, hijacking and hostage taking. These at least were the things I used to hear a lot from people with other ethnic backgrounds when I was growing up. People often think Moluccans have a short fuse and therefore can get angry or violent quickly. Honestly, I do have a short fuse and I can get fairly angry if I’m rubbed the wrong way and I do blame it on the genes, haha. I do have to say that lately I don’t hear the same comments anymore. Nowadays when people hear I am Moluccan and Indonesian they mostly mention the tasty food or that they think Indonesia is a beautiful country.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced?
The worst cases of racism I have faced are those where I was constantly for months bullied at work due to my Asian appearance. Another case of racism was when customers asked me in a demeaning way if they could order spring rolls and sambal from me; mind you, this was when I was working at a fast food joint, we did not sell any of those items.
When I turned around to say something about their racist remarks, they in turn called the headquarters and tried to get me fired. Other than that I have also been denied service in restaurants/cafeterias multiple times just because of the color of my skin. Racism in the Netherlands is, unfortunately, still very alive. For me, personally, it has not become worse due to the coronavirus, but I know some of my friends had to deal with very nasty remarks because of it.
What is a funny trait or what is something that not everyone knows about you?
I’m quite a crime junkie. I really enjoy listening to crime podcasts or watching crime documentaries. Learning about the human psyche and the limitations (or lack thereof) of the human mind and actions is something I find really fascinating.
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 do have the same image in mind. My goal in life is not to have a career, but I would really be happy when I one day have a happy family of my own. I don’t want to be a housewife though, I would like to keep on working even when I have children.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
At this moment I am mainly focusing on graduating and hopefully being able to move back to Bali for a longer period of time.
What do you want to give to the readers? What do you hope to achieve?
By participating I hope that readers will see the diversity that the Asian continent has to offer and that racism towards Asians is not okay. Many brush it off as a joke, but even if there is no racist intention, the remarks and gestures can still be perceived as racist and very hurtful. I hope people will think twice about their words and actions and please: do not assume every Asian is Chinese. Rather ask about their ethnic background and they’ll probably be happy to inform you.
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