As someone who was born and raised in the Netherlands, from Caribbean descent, I grew up being quite proud of my love for cheese, milk, and detailed monetary budgeting. My mother, on the other hand, is a colorful Caribbean queen, born and raised on the Dutch Antilles. This always resulted in interesting conversations at the dinner table. One day, after observing my behavior and reasoning (with statements like ‘please don’t call me at 6 o’clock we’re eating dinner’ – A phrase that is often uttered in Dutch households), my mother raised the question if I know who I am. To which I promptly responded with a defensive tone “Of course I do”. Because who is she to question me? I surely know that I am a strong woman with high values, who’s perfectly comfortable in her own skin.
My mother didn’t share the same opinion of my self-knowledge. With the sole purpose of confronting me with another side of my being, we moved to Curaçao one year later. Relocating to Curaçao was a huge adjustment for a person that was raised by a Dutch family in a small Dutch town. However, day-by-day, I understood and recognized where I inherited my warmth, strength, and mannerisms from. I started to embrace the Caribbean side in me. There is such a beauty in the way our culture brings forth strong, black women that take care of their families and teach their children great values. And strong, black men, who will protect their family at all cost. I was intrigued to know more about this strength and started to educate myself about our cultural heritage. My mom and I visited preserved slave houses on the island and learned about the challenges the African slaves faced. With that, the memorial also documented the creativity and willpower of the slaves when it came to the tools and houses that they built – Inspirational to say the least.
The longer I lived in Curaçao the more I pondered about the exact question that my mother asked me two years before. Do I even know who I am? Does my environment make me who I am, or was I formed by the African blood coursing through my veins? I never put much emphasis on my heritage, but there is a power and strength that runs through my veins that did not awaken while living in Holland. I discovered the beauty of ‘black girl magic’.
After three years in Curaçao, I returned to the Netherlands. This time I saw my native country in a different light. The same Dutch mannerisms and traditions I grew up with were no longer my sole identity, but now were a part of my identity. For example; I used to laugh at slightly racist jokes at my own expense as if that was the norm of living harmoniously. But now there was a new side of me that refused to diminish the fight that my ancestors fought for me. If one year of living in the Caribbean could add so much value to my self-journey, how much else is there to discover?
Now, I feel more empowered than ever with my bond with my heritage. It’s a constant journey of self-understanding, self-reflection, and self-love. I wonder if embracing my homeland and visiting Africa will have a similar effect on me. Will I find answers to questions I haven’t even asked?
What exactly is my homeland? I am still discovering this on a daily basis. At the moment I would describe myself as a beautiful dress made of African cloth that has been stitched together with a Dutch needle and Caribbean thread. I am African, I am Curaçaoan and I am Dutch. But I do wonder, would I be happier in a place where the natural hair journey is a standard and not a controversial statement? Will visiting Africa feel like a vacation or will it finally complete me as a person? I look forward to finding the answers to that question in the near future.