On being ‘exotic’

– Where are you from?
Sweden, or uh, the Netherlands.
– Huh, ok, so what is it then?
Are you Swedish or Holland-ish?
Well, I’m Dutch, but I live in Sweden.
– So what does that make you? Do you have double nationality?
My passport says Dutch, but I’ve been in Sweden for more than four (and a half: gasp!) years, so I’m a member of ‘society’, but I’m not Swedish.
– But you don’t look like you’re from Holland. Where is your blond hair? And your wooden shoes? Do you have those? And your curls, are those natural?
Well, my mom was born in Surinam, so that’s where I got the curls from, I think, and the big ol’ but.
– What? Surinam? Is that in Africa? You’re not dark, your skin is so pale. But I guess I could see it in the lips and hips.
No, it lies in South-America.
– South-America, like Brazil or Argentina? can you speak Portuguese?!
It lies in the north, close to Venezuela. Unfortunately, no Portuguese no. They have their own language though.
– Oh, so is it close to like Colombia? Paraguay?
Something like that.
– I’ve never heard of that country. Are you sure it’s real?
Yes, yes it is. There’s a lot of rainforest and the amazon goes through there as well.
– So your mom grew up in the jungle?! Is she from one of those super secluded tribes that shoot arrows at passing aircrafts?
(with a stunned yet professional face) No she grew up in the capital for a couple of years, Paramaribo, on a farm. No tribes. Although she did mention there where crocs sometimes. Then she moved to the Caribbean.
– Well, you’re awfully tall to have South-American roots.
Well yes, my dad was a very tall man.
– Ok, so he’s not from there?
No he was Dutch, I think.
– You think? Well, he grew up in the Caribbean as well, and in Switzerland, and somewhere in the Netherlands as well, but his parents were both Dutch. They’d been living in the States since before I was born.
– So your family is scattered across the world?
Mmm, a little bit. I have a brother in Austria, the other in the Netherlands.
– Yeez, and now you live in Sweden? If you’re gonna have a baby with a Swede it will be like a mutant-super-baby.

Lovely, this dissection of my looks and roots. And one that I more often than not care to explain. It’s not that I find the questions annoying, it’s just takes so god damn long to explain everything over and over again. But seeing as these days being an immigrant is all the more bespoken of, I figured it was time to give a small insight into what it’s like growing up (a privileged) immigrant. As yes, I have been gifted with multi-cultural genes past down from generations, and for me, it’s been an awesome experience.

As descendants from Iran, Indonesia, Morocco and Turkey are much more common in Europe, hearing the story of my roots often sparks a lot of curiosity in people. Like I’ve escaped from the zoo and Jane Goodall herself needs to have a sit-down and study this ‘new species’

– Yes it is true that someone has asked me about shooting arrows and airplanes. –

History 1-on-1

Like many of us know, our current world was created due to drunken pirates sailing the world and claiming sacred grounds that weren’t theirs. There isn’t a single country in this world that hasn’t purged and raided other countries ‘in the name of the king’, or have been ravaged themselves. So did the Netherlands. In the 1800’s the Dutch ‘owned’ a lot of land. They didn’t so much own it, as that they just took it. With their big ships they’d go from harbour to harbour and pond off spices, goods and yes: people. They’d send out colonists to establish new ‘civilizations’. People would sail off to ‘new beginnings, riches and the power of autonomy’. The reality was much different. Much harsher.

Over the course of time, the Dutch once took Australia, New Zealand (which is literally the new ‘Zeeland’, a province in my home country), India, the West-indies, parts of South-America and to this day, some islands in the Caribbean are still Dutch. Until the British figured out how to build ships and took over. Surinam was a Dutch colony for over 150 years, until they declared their independence in the 70’s. The Netherlands is still drooping off of every corner and façade. Street names in the capital are still named after the ‘vermeers, verhoevens and kloppenbergens’. It is however, a widely diverse country: it has roots from the creols, local tribes, dutch farmers, the Indies and all of that has been blended into one big cultural melting pot. And yes, there are people living in the jungle, but only a few. Outside of the Netherlands, the country isn’t very well known. But even to Dutch people it’s hard to explain how I’m half-Surinam. ‘You’re not tinted! You don’t even talk like a Surinamer!’ As soon as I switch over to my mom’s ‘in-house only’ thick accent they stand corrected.

Both my parents also lived on Aruba – you know, that happy island overflooded with Americans – for several years, before they headed to the Netherlands for their studies. Afterwards they returned and my oldest brother is even born in the Caribbean. He’s a typical Dutch boy, but his passport states: born in Oranjestad. My father would sometimes tell me stories on his array of pets: a donkey, a parrot and even a monkey. What a difference from the regular dog- or cat-owner in Europe.

And so..

Growing up in a household where my parents spoke ‘Papiamento’ – a language spoken on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao – and mom cooking up a slowcooked spicy pot of food every night, I have been honed and proned into exotic standards. Perhaps it’s due to this I adapt so well into different countries and cultures. I’ve simply always had to. To this day, my mom can sometimes turn my face shame-red with some of here cultural behaviours, which she’s not at all afraid to flaunt in public (still love you for it, mom!)

Although it was very strange to go to my parents’ reunion days, from an early age on I knew that looks definitely deceive. Pale kids could talk to me with the thickest of Surinam accents, while darker kids whom had crazy wild and beautiful curly afro’s would approach me with the fanciest of Dutch.

So where am I from? Sweden, the Netherlands, Holland, Amsterdam (as some people neither know the Netherlands or Holland), Emmen, Stockholm, Bromma, Scandinavia, Sundbyberg, Mariehäll, Brabant, Breda, Tilburg, Europe… South-America? It purely depends on which time or history you are referring to. My passport doesn’t really say where I’m from. I’m rather a walking Scandinavian cliché these days.

I’m not the typical ‘cheesehead’, nor am I a Viking, a more common deduction people tend to make these days. I basically grew up with curries, lots of rice, shaved ice with tamarind flavour, ‘pom’, cassava, maizena cookies and Caribbean carnival parades. ‘these Dutch people just get laddered on beer and humping, what’s the fun in that? Where’s the daaaancing?!’ my mom would say. And even though I have grown up with salsa music and ponchi crema (google it), there’s nothing foreign or exotic about it to me.

Not that that mattered to any of the school bullies when I was little. My birth certificate said I was 100% Dutch, but they better made it clear I wasn’t like any of the other kiddos in town. ‘LOOK! Ellen’s hair can hold all our pens!’ ‘Can you even fit into jeans?!’ ‘You look just like scary spice with your hairdo! – Excuse me, but what was actually so scary about Mel B?? I am glad I wasn’t like any of the ‘dutch’ kids! Why be vanilla when you can be stratciatella-lemon-pistachio? I roll out of bed with a behind that some (wo)men train 10 years for in the gym. Being able to speak 5 languages or block any nasty looking face with my big hairdo when we’re at the theatre, beats being vanilla ANY time.

Inviting different cultures in to your country, in to your lives and in to your homes will only enrich your life. It will create perspective and understanding + and all the more beautifully mixed United Colours of Benetton Children. Borders these days are useless and in my eyes create more problems than solve them. I am extremely grateful and glad the Swedes have taken me in. Given my tax payments, I think they’re pretty happy too.

I am not fully Dutch, nor Swedish. Nor Latin-American or from the Caribbean. I am everything and nothing. I once dated a guy who would always pick up saying ‘hi Norwegian , Dutch, Spanish, Latin-American crazy mixed person’ It was all the same. It either didn’t interest him or it didn’t matter to him. I was just ‘exotic’. After all, in this day in age, aren’t we all?

Being multicultural is FAT COOL

And to any girls reading this having just as crazy a hairdo as I – you don’t have to allow people to touch you, call you an amazon or point at you or anyone else for that matter. It is discriminating! Just as inappropriate it is if you were to point out any short, blond, bald, rigid people or check to see if hair is really thinning and whether those lipfillers will burst or not.

One Comment

  1. Karlijn van der Wijk

    Zo mooi beschreven Ellen! ”I am everything and nothing.” Ik ben het helemaal met je eens en meer kan ik er eignelijk ook niet over zeggen. Ik kan eigenlijk alleen maar zeggen ‘hear hear’ (hoewel ik dat echt verschrillelijk vind, net als yolo) maar goed. En het is toch super mooi dat je ‘zoveel’ bent, ik vind dat juist prachtig. Al die verschillende culturen met hun tradities, gerechten, kleuren en ga zo maar door, kom maar door. X

Leave a Reply