Chinese | Caribbean
It terms of race, for short I call myself half Chinese, half Caribbean. To call myself religious would be a lie, however I had been raised with varying branches of Christianity. Being straight/gay is a spectrum for me, so I’d say I’m a 7 on a scale of 10, thus leaning more towards being straight. My Mother comes from North-East China, and she is a mix of the local Inner-Mongolian and Han ethnicities. My Dad is from Curacao, an Island in the Dutch Caribbean. My Dad also has a mixed ethnicity. My grandfather is from Suriname, and my grandmother is from Curacao, but she’s Creole.
My parents met in the Netherlands. My Dad came here in search of work opportunities. My Mother was amongst the first batches of Chinese students that got the opportunity to study abroad. She graduated high school with the highest grade of her entire province, did her first degree at the 3rd best university in China and came to the Netherlands to do another bachelor, and later her masters. As the legend goes, they met on a bus. Fast forward a year and a half later, and they’re married, and I was born.
Honestly, I always knew I was different. I didn’t have any siblings, and I knew no one who looked like me. I spent the longest time wishing I had straight hair, like the pretty girls in shampoo commercials. One of my earliest memories was when I went to primary school, kids would point to my hair and ask, ‘that’s a wig, right?’, or other times it would be the typical mimicking of Chinese eyes, screaming ‘chin chan chong’ to me on the playground.
I grew up in the Netherlands age 0-8, in Maastricht. Little kids are always cruel, so bullying was ongoing in a very mild form for everyone, not just me. I won’t dwell on that. But since the Netherlands is not the home country of either of my parents, it initially allowed me to come into contact with both my Mother and Dad’s side without preference or bias. But in general, I find the Netherlands to be a very open-minded place, especially in larger cities. Also, it was relatively easy for my parents to introduce me to food from their cultures in Holland. But in smaller communities, me and my parents walking around would always be a showstopper.
Then I was in China for a year at age 8-9, and again from 14-18. In China I had the most difficulty integrating into society. Till the very end, I don’t think I managed to. Although I am half Chinese, and I managed to learn mandarin, the locals never expect me to be one of their own. I just look too different. Whenever I approach people they seem confused, and sooner or later the ‘are you foreign?’ question comes up. Everyone is very keen on asking questions. Every time a vendor would try to give me the tourist price instead of the normal price, until they hear me speak mandarin. Also, going to hair salons was a fun experience. My Mother and I went to 5 different salons, asking if they would dare to do my hair. The answer was mostly no, but in the end we found one place who actually managed to do a great job. I feel part Chinese when I’m outside of China, but I feel foreign whenever I’m there.
In Curacao, mixed kids and families are a lot more common place in comparison to China. I lived there from ages 9-14. Curacao harbours many immigrants from Latin-American and Caribbean countries in its vicinity, but also Dutch people. I was finally seeing a rainbow of skin colours when I would go into the city centre. But again, my ethnic mix was still not very common. So here we go again, everyone is calling me Chinese. For a year, I lived with a Dutch (Caucasian) host family in Curacao, and they changed my life forever. They showed me how the way you act and behave can affect those around you, emphasising the importance of the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
So overall, living in the 3 countries that I am connected to, I felt like there is no home for me. I’m fond of each place, yet constantly I low-key feel rejected. I would receive a lot of special attention and be put on the spot quite often. Always seen as special, but never belonging. The first time I ever felt home in a place was during my 10-month internship in London. The diversity just shook me to the core, and strangely enough, I found myself enjoying and identifying with some local subculture. Everyone was diverse in some way or were around people from different backgrounds. And I liked that.
Sadly, my parents didn’t combine their cultures with each other, but they combined their cultures into my upbringing. They’re divorced and they both went back to their counties when I was 9. But I do not think this should be too alarming, it shouldn’t discourage you from dating people from other ethnicities/cultures. My Mother is a very disciplined person, who firmly believes education is the only priority of a minor. She really pushed me academically, to get high grades and read books. I’m glad she did in the end, she showed me how to ‘get it together’. My Dad’s culture showed me that it’s ok to be loud and funny, that I don’t have to sit in the corner of a room with my legs perfectly crossed. Its ok to get up and dance and shake things off.
By far the worse experience would be when people in China would realise I was half-Black or speculate it. They would not say the word ‘Black’ with their full voice, they’d whisper it, expecting that the description would offend me. But it never did, and it never will. One time my English tutoring student in China told me he thought Black people looked like monkeys. Then I told him my Dad is Black, and his face went extremely red from embarrassment. But I didn’t to act with anger, because anger further divides us in the end. My grandparents would suggest I looked prettier in the winter, because I would be more pale. And I don’t blame/hate them for it, it’s sadly just the beauty ideal in Asia till this day. But the same goes for other societies investing in tanning/bleaching, it’s all sad and pointless in my opinion. It always plays a role, whether I like it or not. Funny enough, I find it easier to make friends with Chinese people while I’m not in China. In London I found it funny how being ‘blasian’ or ‘lightskin’ was something potential dates found so amazing, how you even hear it in the local music. Therefore, I was a bit less quick to share my ethnic mix with strangers there, I didn’t want the ethnicities to be what the person liked most about me. But generally, I try to keep the same open-mindedness when meeting new people.
I’m quite content being mixed-race. I feel like we get to observe the cultures we come from and pick the best from each. Also, I love that my involvement and awareness of my own cultures have made me more observant and understanding of other cultures. I definitely don’t think I would be as open-minded as I am today without my ethnic diversity.
They say everything happens for a reason. My childhood in general has been rough to say the least, and I have not been able to keep many friends with all the moving around. However, it is exactly these difficulties which made me a stronger, better person today. So if I could be born again, I’d love to still have the mix I currently do, but just move around a bit less. I’ve had exposures to a reactive, multi-active and linear active culture, I feel like I can relate to everyone in some way.