I was born in Surinam, but most of my life I have lived in the Netherlands.
My parents had a strong sense of culture and raised me accordingly.
We lived in a small town in the northern part of Holland that did not have many people of color.
Needless to say, things outside of my home were very different to things inside.
In my home there were loud voices and singing, dancing and vibrant music.
Outside of the home it felt like I needed to be ashamed of my mother’s loud voice,and I tried my best not to speak too loud.
Around my family I felt at home and liked my braids and dark skin.
Outside home, old ladies would sometimes come up to me and touch my ‘strange’ hair, and make me wish my skin wasn’t making it impossible to blend in or disappear.
There was lots of loud laughter in our home. My mother would read Anansi stories and we would laugh hysterically.
Outside of the home, I could not explain to people why any story that starts with: “Dear God, can you make everyone that laughs at someone else drop dead instantly…” is going to be a really funny one.
In Surinam culture it’s very important that children learn to respect their parents and older people. You never talk back, you never raise your voice and you always look down when you are spoken to by an adult.
At school the teacher would say: Look at me when I talk to you!
At home my parents would speak to each other and family members in Sranang tongo, their native tongue. They would speak to us in a mixture of Dutch and Surinamese, we spoke to them in Dutch. With my sisters I spoke in a mixture of Dutch and Surinamese.
At school I spoke Dutch and there were so many things I could not talk about or explain because there was no word for it in Dutch.
At birthdays, we had parties with lots of family and friends coming in from everywhere, staying for dinner and sleeping over. My mother would cook lots of food, aunts would help in the kitchen and the house was filled with all of these wonderful festive smells, and we would eat until we could eat no more.
When I was invited to a party of one of my friends, we sat in a quiet circle with mostly old family members having a polite conversation and we were given a piece of cheese with a little vlag stick (it’s a Dutch thing), everyone left before dinner and there was absolutely no music.
Growing up in these two cultures thought me how to adapt. I learned how to behave and what was expected of me in each situation. And because I was such a people pleaser, by the time I was in my teens, I could blend in anywhere and everywhere. and I knew what was expected of me. I also had lots of interest in different people.
The people I called my friends were a variety of ages, colors, cultures and mixtures and I loved every one of them.
Still, I always felt different.
Where did I fit in?
I’m an adult now. I married a man whose skin color is the exact opposite of mine (no matter how much sun he gets). My children are of mixed culture. Their skin color is a mixture of ours, their hair is mixed, curly but not as curly as mine, dark but not as dark as mine.
My husband sometimes plays his (terrible) Dutch songs and I sing and dance with my children to old Surinam children’s songs. When we celebrate there’s lots of family and lots of food but no music, because my husband says he can’t have a conversation with music in the background. I teach my children to respect their parents and older people, but I also teach them that it’s okay to speak up and look people in the eye.
I mostly speak Dutch, but when emotional I turn to my native tongue, although my kids hardly understand what it is that I’m talking about.
So where do I fit in?
I think here. With my own family a perfect mixture of black and white, Dutch and Surinam, east and west, I fit here.
Do you have a mixture of cultures in your family? How do you adapt?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mirjam of The Netherlands.
Photo credit to the author.