Dutch | Indonesian

Charissa Dechène AMSTERDAM.JPG

I would identify myself as a woman, mixed/biracial, an intersectional feminist, cultural anthropologist, and TV-series lover, Dutch, Dutch-Indonesian, and Asian.

I was born in Rotterdam, and when I was 3 years old we moved to Gouda where I grew up.

I'm Charissa, I love to write about socio-cultural issues from an anthropological and sociological perspective. I am working as a social entrepreneur. At the moment I am a TV-series reviewer and leading a project, which tries to tackle segregation with a fun and educational programme. The program introduces pupils from different schools and very different neighborhoods to each other. Over the course of 3 days, they work together and explore each other's worlds.

My Mum is from Rotterdam the Netherlands and my dad from Jakarta, Indonesia

That is a really funny story. My dad had an advert for pen pals in a youth magazine called ‘Popfoto'; he got lots of responses from all over The Netherlands and other Dutch-speaking countries. And one of those who wrote him was my mom. She wrote him more of a joke because my aunt was writing to someone and didn't want to do that alone. So she asked my mom to write someone in the magazine as well. After a few months of writing letters to each other, they met, fell in love and got married.

I have always known that I have two different cultural backgrounds; because of the ways my two families look and act. For me, it felt completely normal, but when I was about 6 years old when I noticed that people would look funny when I called my mother ‘mom' because she is white and I am not (visibly). People would also ask if she adopted my sister and me. This, by the way, still happens. When I am in the store with her and my sister and my mother is standing close to us. The people in the store would ask her if they could help her. When she says that she is with us, the store people often look confused. Even though we, mixed people, are becoming more visible like with this platform and seeing TV and movie characters, musicians and other celebrities who are mixed, it is apparently still confusing people that a white woman can birth a child of color.

I actually have very few friends who are culturally similar to myself. However, when I was in my teens, I did. Back then I was, like every teenager, exploring my identity, which also meant that I longed to have a sense of belonging to a group that looked like me. 

I would only date people with whom I would feel a connection. I do not so much care about their cultural background; I do care about how they are as a person. 

I think there are always bias attitudes or stereotypes to any ethnicity/race, because of (lack of good) representation in mainstream media and people staying "in" their own familiar sociocultural worlds. The most common stereotype I keep hearing is that people say/assume that people who are of mixed-race are the most beautiful people. Another stereotype or biased attitude is that people would label you automatically as being interesting (solely) because of your mixed background, and if you throw in Asian you become exotic, compliant and shy. Which has an effect on the ways in which people see you, behave around you and put certain expectations on you?

I have been asked a lot about what I am, where I'm from or rather where I am really from. A lot of times this was asked by a person whom I had just met a few seconds ago. Some people, of course, ask these kinds of questions out of interest, but often times they ask it, in my experience, to place a label on you and with that comes biased expectations and assumptions. I tell them I'm from Gouda and if they ask where I am really from, I say Rotterdam. They will most likely nod politely or smile or laugh. And I know what it is they want to ask and wait for the obvious question ‘why are you looking the way you do?' but packed in a question of ‘where are your roots?' or ‘are you a half-blood?' (In The Netherlands there is a word ‘half-blood', which implicates being of two drops of blood.). These questions are usually not meant as negative, and people are maybe not aware of the impact it has. However most of the time this question is really offensive. When asked in the first few minutes of meeting someone, I feel that I am not good enough, not Dutch enough and it also has me wondering why it is so important to know where my parents were born. My cultural and ethnic heritage does not tell a lot about who I am, nor is it the most interesting aspect about me.

I think my mixed background has helped me gain an understanding of different points of views. Also, I learned to open mind and to adapt and move in different (cultural) situations.

From a sociocultural scientific point of view, a race is a social construct. I hope that society in the future will be more open-minded and less race-minded. I think that could start with more accurate (re) presentations of people of color in mainstream media, like in ‘Black Panther' and ‘Crazy Rich Asians', and also in newsrooms, casting agency's, writer rooms, etc. but also with the ways in which we use language in talking about diversity in society.