“Peanut!” That’s what children – especially boys – my age called me sometimes. As an adult, I can’t think of a sweeter nickname. But as a child it could hurt me tremendously. It felt like a dirty word. A curse. It meant that I was different. That I came from another country. I had a different skin color. A different history. Being different is lonely at that age.
I grew up in Zeeland. As one of the few colored children in the small town where I lived. But I got used to it. Didn’t know better than I didn’t recognize myself in the people around me. My friends had the same eyes as their parents, same hair color as their brothers and sisters, I only looked like… myself. Sometimes I compared myself with others. And I concluded in silence that I ‘d rather had been white.
– Excerpt from my manuscript “Sayap Sayap (the book which I have yet to find a publisher)
As a child you don’t want to stand out. At least, let me speak for myself. I wasn’t happy at all about those black hairs on my arms, which were a lot less subtle than those of my classmates. The fact that I had a different look, I could only accept as I got older. As a teenager I came to realize that it just didn’t matter to others that I had a dark skin. My friends told me they were actually a little bit jealous. “I would kill for it not to have to lie out for weeks in the sun.” Well, there they had a point of course.
Since recently I live in a city where I’m (again) one of the very few colored people. Quite a strange sensation. After having lived in the Amsterdam region for years, I need to get used to that again. Not that I’m bothered by the way. Even when people spontaneously start to speak English to me, because they don’t assume I’m a native Dutch speaker. Even when a woman in line at the grocery store says to me: “Yes, those colors look good on you people.” Pointing at my brightly colored summer dress. ‘You people’, haha! Well, I find it all quite amusing. Now I’m definitely not in favor of discrimination, but I’m not a big fan of adults playing the discrimination card. It gets on my nerves. I see it as a pure projection of their own insecurity. If you’re proud of who you are – in whatever shape or color whatsoever – you just don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough.
Adoptees like me who were brought to the Netherlands from another country, another culture, have to deal with this distinctive feature. It’s impossible to ignore. It’s visible. You can’t deny your skin tone. Invisible however are the pieces that were already rooted into your DNA before you were born. The smells, tastes and sounds you soaked up when you were still in mother’s womb. Already in my childhood I seemed to have typically Asian habits (I obviously didn’t get them from my Dutch parents). The way I crouched on the ground, the way I liked to ‘pick’ my food with my fingers. It made me different. As a child I was often commented on those habits. Yes, even the gym teacher told me it was weird to sit like that. It made me feel that what I did was wrong.
I’m just not a kid anymore. Fortunately. Because nowadays I feel nothing but pride. I’m proud of who I was, who I’ve become and where I come from. And that’s what I now try to teach my own children too. When someone laughs at a ‘strange’ habit of mine, I smile. “Yeah, I’m an Asian!” I walk barefoot as often as I can. I think that’s something Asian (?). At home you’ll never, ever see me with shoes on. Last Friday I had to draw another fine splinter out of my foot during a performance with my band. And my colored skin? Even in winter, and even when I’m sick or tired, I have a healthy tan. And hey, I can wear just about any color I like. Everything matches with this skin color. The perks of being a peanut.