Feeling At Home Among Unfamiliar Faces

My decision to move from Curacao to the Netherlands was simply because I fell in love with a Dutch man and wanted nothing more than to be with him. You know, you’re 17, having your first real crush and the minute he leaves for Amsterdam, the most logical thing you can think of is to go after him. Your mom tries to stop you for a while, but a few months later, there you are in Amsterdam. An island girl in the harsh, often judgemental Dutch society.

For many new high school graduates in Curacao, a move to the Netherlands is an undeniable reality. Where my reason to move was rather personal and perhaps a bit impulsive, most teenagers move to the Netherlands with the aim of continuing their studies. Dutch universities have a lot more to offer, the country is better organized and well, it’s good for one’s personal perspective to travel. But the relationship between Curacao and the Netherlands is a complicated one. A history of slavery and colonialism seems to have ruined the possibility of a friendly bond between the two nations and what could have been a beautiful friendship is now a forced relationship full of hostility and distrust from both sides.

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I first heard the term ‘multicultural society’ in the Netherlands. During my time there, I quickly realized how obsessed the Netherlands was with its multicultural agenda. What was it with this word? In Curacao, Blacks, Jews, Arabs, Portuguese and even the Dutch had been living together for years and despite the presence of discrimination, it was quite normal to live amongst people of differing cultural backgrounds. Clearly not for the Dutch. Here the term ‘multicultural society’ felt like a newly invented trend and the Dutch seemed to praise themselves for being tolerant towards other cultures. Since when was being tolerant of other cultures a thing to be praised? Wasn’t that supposed to be normal human behaviour? I was confused.

I also realized how easily you were put into a “box” as an outsider. The stereotypical Curacaoan in the Netherlands was basically someone engaged in criminal activity and locals seemed to stick to this belief. “Oh you’re from that island? You must be lazy and a criminal”. They never directly said this to me, but apparently talking bad about my culture in my presence was normal. “Oh, but you’re one of the good ones,” was the response. Wait, what? And then there were those who knew absolutely nothing about the tiny island the Dutch had colonized and ruled for so many years. Sigh.. really?

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Dutch society seemed torn between whites and non whites and it was always us against them. The media and politics played a big role in this dissension and I often noticed how non whites were almost always portrayed in a negative light in the media. A Dutch man on a killing spree wasn’t that big of a deal, almost ignored often, but an immigrant killing someone? That became headline news for weeks. It seemed all people could see was the color of someone’s skin. Unity between all cultures was hard to find.

Despite these difficulties, I actively tried to engage with Dutch culture. I settled in, made friends and Amsterdam quickly began to feel like a second home. Many Curacaoans stick to their own culture when residing in the Netherlands and hardly engage with the Dutch because of distrust. I didn’t want my years in the Netherlands to be defined by my cultural background or skin color. I was a born traveler for crying out loud. Besides, hostility and mistrust don’t make good travelling partners.

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Stephany Daal is a freelance writer born and raised on the southern Caribbean island of Curacao. Having lived in Amsterdam for seven years she recently moved back to Curacao in June 2015. Daal has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia and Central America, and her expertise lies mainly in solo traveling and backpacking. Stay tuned for more of Stephany’s insights on travel and culture. In the meantime, check out her personal blog Biahando (www.biahando.com).  Love you Stephany, so glad to have you on the team! #islandmuseapproved

All images courtesy of the author and Fascinating Places

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