Frisian | Javanese
In the Netherlands, I say that I am half Frisian/ half Javanese. In Indonesia, I’m ‘campur-campur’ (mixed). In the UK, where I live, I say that I have a Dutch father and an Indonesian mother. In the Netherlands, people will assume or suggest that I’m ‘Indo’. Which I am not. Many Indo’s are racially like me but were born as a direct effect of the Dutch occupying Indonesia, and/or are in the Netherlands ‘through circumstances’. My history does not include the Dutch East Indies (colonised Indonesia) and neither of my families have fond memories of it, like many Indo families do.
My Mother is from the country side in Middle Java, my Father is from the country side in Friesland, the North of the Netherlands. They met in Amsterdam. My Mother’s Aunt had fled to Surinam with the love of her life to avoid an arranged marriage with another man. When the Aunt’s husband passed away many years later, she moved to the Netherlands. Around that same time, my Mother was told she could no longer attend university as her parents needed the money for her elder sister’s wedding. So, the Aunt invited her to stay with her in Amsterdam. My Mother was then introduced to my Father. They got married within months. I grew up in a small -all White- village in Friesland, the Netherlands.
I remember very well that I was playing in a sandbox and another child asked me why I was ‘so dark’. I didn’t know why (and panicked a bit) and went to ask my Mum. She said ‘Well, because your Mother is Indonesian and people in Indonesia are darker than people in the Netherlands’. I brought back the answer and happily continued to play in the sandbox. I must have been around 5/6 years old. What I didn’t know then of course, was that I was going to be asked that question in many different ways for the rest of my life onwards.
The biggest challenge has been around (not) belonging. As a child, adolescent, you want to belong, or even, a sense of belonging. To get to the insight that I don’t fully belong to either culture, and that it is actually completely fine, was a process and that took a bit of time.
Like any challenge, it helps you grow, and I am thankful for it. I think being mixed-race, or multicultural, has been one of the biggest drivers for me to live abroad. I have studied and worked in Thailand, China, England and currently live in Edinburgh. Because I don’t have one home country, the world is my home. Also, understanding the society my Mother is from and how unequal women are treated from men there, has made me a fiercely independent feminist. It has driven many of my life choices because I don’t take my freedoms and rights for granted. I am grateful for them and I cherish them even if in the West we still have some way to go.
In Dutch culture I connect most with its liberal attitude to things like the Freedom of Speech, the emancipation of women and that of our LGBT+ brothers and sisters. But also its policies regarding drugs, euthanasia and prostitution. The Netherlands have also given me the opportunity to receive an education for which I am forever grateful. In Indonesian culture, I connect most with the unconditional hospitality. To always have room and food for guests, to me, is not just a habit. It is an attitude in life. I also very much like the idea the Javanese hold that everybody is family. You don’t refer to somebody as Sir or Madam, but effectively, depending on age - Grandfather, Grandmother, Father, Mother, Auntie, Uncle and also; sister or brother. Javanese culture also brings rituals to pay respects to ancestors as well as rituals of gratitude. These rituals are a part of me.
A negative experience is that throughout life, people will always remind you that you are not ‘one of them’. Every time somebody asks you where you are from, they are implicitly saying you are not from ‘here’. However kind and interested the questions and remarks are intended they reiterate the perception that you don’t belong to them. Sometimes, the remarks have no kind intention whatsoever. For example; when I was 16 and was about to say hi to a friend in the local disco, a friend of his stepped right in front of me and said ‘What do you think you’re doing? You don’t belong here, go somewhere else’. I understand other factors played a part in this as well, but in her case, my racial background played a huge role. I have also been rejected for it, romantically. Although that makes me laugh out loud now, at that time –I was much younger then- it was quite harsh.
I think people don’t realise that I have been asked and told these things at least once a week, my entire life, in Indonesia as well as in the Netherlands. And it has resulted in me being very much aware that ‘my nose is too flat to be Dutch, too pointy to be Indonesian.’ So I know, I’m not really either. I also experience homesickness and when I do, there is no place to articulate this, because I’m ‘not really from there’. When I would express my fondness of hearing the Frisian language or missing that smell of clove cigarettes, I got many surprised faces. So I have learnt to keep that to myself now as much as I can.
A positive experience is that growing up with two very different cultures is that, you learn to navigate both and the whole spectrum in between. This has given me cultural sensitivity, but mostly a fluidity I use on a daily basis. I could not have done my work as a manager as well without it and I would not have been able to connect with people the way I do now, without it. But also, it has given me the understanding that people are not defined by their nationality and I hardly have an eye for country borders. As I learnt that I did not fit a specific box, I quite quickly realised that an attempt to fit the mold was going to be fruitless. I also realised that the mold was a silly concept anyway. And that is a strength, a luxury. To be able to listen to yourself and what you want and do that, rather than feel a need to live up to society’s expectations. Above all, the positive definitely outweighs the negative for me.
If I had the opportunity to be reborn, I would like to come back as myself. Why not?
However, I’d like to come back in a world where we’d be judged on our characters. Not our gender, race, socio economic status or whatever. A girl can dream, right?