Dutch | Sri Lankan
I identify as being half Dutch and half Sri Lankan. Even though my grandfather preferred I call myself half Frisian and half Sri Lankan. Also, I think that identity is fairly fluid and so it kind of depends when, where and how you ask me.
My mother is from The Netherlands and my father is from Sri Lanka. They met in Colombo, Sri Lanka. My mother had flown in from Amsterdam for a training course for Sri Lankan Airlines and my father flew in from London since he was country manager for the UK and Ireland for Sri Lankan Airlines. They soon moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I grew up in Colombo, Sri Lanka for the biggest part of my life. Just before turning 16, I moved to The Netherlands.
I don’t have a distinctive moment that I consciously or actively recognised nor realised I was of mixed-race. Growing up, our household was a mix of both cultures. At school, I was conscious of the fact that I was also Dutch but because it was an international school, it wasn’t a ‘problem’ or extremely ‘unique’. Also, having to always explain myself as being half Dutch and half Sri Lankan made it all relatively ‘normal’. I think, that in The Netherlands, I’ve had to justify or explain myself more than I had to in Sri Lanka. But it might also just be because I’m more conscious of it now.
Growing up in Sri Lanka, I automatically adopted the Sri Lankan culture through school, my friends and at home. At home, my mother did her best to immerse us in all that was possible of Dutch culture. We also took Dutch classes two times a week after school, which also brought my brother and I in contact with other Dutch children. I asked my mother and her personal experience was that the difference in culture worked outside of the country of origin. She had a hard-time adapting to the expectations of the Sri Lankan culture and this eventually worked vice versa for my father in The Netherlands.
I find challenges a difficult word. I don’t think I have experienced challenged based around my mixed identity. Maybe without my knowing. People are often surprised when they see my name and then see the face to the name. Having to explain myself and my background to people gets tiring but I’d like to think that the questions are out of interest and curiosity.
In Colombo and that being the social environment I was in, most of my friends are Sri Lankan. After moving to The Netherlands, I am still in close contact with my friends from Sri Lanka. Eventually, a lot of them dispersed across the world as well, so catching up became easier. I guess I’ve always been drawn to the similar kinds of people. Not necessarily race-based. As long as they’re open-minded, understanding and funny. This applies to my future partner as well. I’d hope to think that the friends I hold close now know that I appreciate them no matter their background/ethnicity/race/religion etc.
I don’t think being mixed-race has had an effect on my work/personal life. At university, because of being surrounded by a more diverse pool of people I automatically became more ‘proud’ of highlighting my mixed-raced background. At work, I know that people often leave it up to assuming I’m ‘just Dutch’ because I speak the language well enough and since The Hague especially is a melting pot of cultures, it doesn’t need to have an effect on my work.
I find that the term ‘mixed-race’ itself is redundant. The world continues to globalise, being mixed-race will no longer need to be unique but just a representation of the world we live in.
In Sri Lanka, the main official languages are Tamil, Sinhalese and English. However, I grew up only speaking English at home or at school. My father grew up in an English and Sinhalese speaking household and I still question why he didn’t want to implement this in our household. But I don’t think it’s too late, with my basic understanding of Sinhalese, I might be able to hold a conversation if I go back.
My mother actively spoke to us in Dutch (English when she was angry at us) and we followed Dutch classes in Colombo. When I moved to The Netherlands, I had to held back a year since my Dutch was not up to par. Eventually, this all turned out for the better. My goal in life is to learn to speak Frisian, Sinhalese and Tamil proficiently.
I feel as if, I will never be enough of either culture. Whether it be ‘Dutch enough’ or ‘Sri Lankan enough. I used to want to create my own mixed-race island. Everyone’s welcome of course!!!
How I respond to the question ‘where are you from?’ is dependent on who asks me. The usual answer is ‘Half Dutch, half Sri Lankan’. Here, a lot of people assume that I’m either Moroccan or Turkish. Since they are both a large demographic in The Netherlands. Depends on the situation, but if I don’t feel as if I owe people a justification, I go with whichever race they shout at me. So, I’ve collected a fair bit of nationalities over the years.
A negative experience is that people at my old work used to think I was adopted. My mother is blonde with blue eyes and my father is Brown with brown eyes. Yet the conclusion most people came to when they saw me with my mother is that I must be adopted. It doesn’t necessarily bother me personally. I just find ignorance an awful quality in people. Whether that be with race or other things.
A positive experience is that most of the time people are genuinely interested in my heritage. I manage and try to reap the benefits where and when I can.
Being mixed-race amongst a sea of more beautiful mixed-raced people, makes me feel happy that cultures are merging and creating new cultures. The world is an ever-changing place and I’m glad to be a part of that.
If I were to be born again, I’d like to still be half Dutch and half Sri Lankan. I wouldn’t know what else. For my parent’s sake, I’d like for them to stay in Malaysia or chose another country to raise us. I know that they’re both strong enough to help us discover the Sri Lankan and Dutch culture as well.