NETHERLANDS. Driven by romantic incentives like “love is blind” or “love is worth everything we pay”, soul mates from different cultures and religions cross all boundaries for a brand new start, full of challenges.
These challenges become unavoidable when their children come to light since they are expected to be the ‘happy aftermath’. The reality is that they have difficulties in coping with their surroundings.
Finding a compromise between couples who belong to different societies is a strong challenge for their children because Easterners are known for their adherence to traditions which often contradict Western standards. Yet, the environment in which children of mixed background grow up also contributes to their character formation – those who are raised in two different cultures are different than those raised in one.
Born to an Algerian father and a Dutch mother, Momo Zarroue, a producer for Dutch public broadcaster NPS, thinks that his mixed background has given him the chance to celebrate every kind of festivity that exists in the Christian and Muslim worlds. “I think I’ve absorbed the merits of both cultures. Regardless of the fact that I’ve lived in Amsterdam all my life, I’m capable of fully understanding Moroccan and Dutch mentalities and to cope with them.”
Nonetheless, coping with the environment is not as easy as it seems. The first confrontation with the reality of ‘we are different’ begins when children are born and when parents have to make decisions related to their lives, halfway between both backgrounds. The clash also extends to the surrounding society that abides by the West or the East.
“I lived in Lebanon until the age of sixteen”, says Nada Mounzer, a music researcher at NPS. “Born to a Lebanese father and a Dutch mother, we had an intimate atmosphere at home where I enjoyed my family life with parents, two sisters and two brothers. My elder sister, however, was unable to become integrated into Lebanese society as far as traditions are concerned. When we moved to Amsterdam we couldn’t accept certain values as well, as they were contradictory to our upbringing”, she adds.
A drama or a trauma?
For Momo, who has curly black hair, and Nada, a typical Lebanese brunette, physical appearance has never caused them dramatic or traumatic problems. “I’ve attended both white and black schools and I’ve always received criticism for my hair. I was never bothered by those comments”, Momo says.
Nada thinks that people are influenced by the large disputes in the media concerning race and immigration and by the way in which these are transmitted to mass audiences. “I’m not pre-occupied with the fear of how people look at me. Without the media, people wouldn’t have such attitudes about race”, she comments.
But still: who am I?
In an attempt to achieve harmony between one’s inner and outer self, the question of belonging arises originally from the child’s name. “I was raised in Lebanon and that’s why my parents chose Nada, an Arabic name, to match the society. When I think about who I am, I sympathize with Lebanon when I hear about disputes of the Middle East and the pace towards the peace process, and I also side with everything in the Netherlands”, she explains.
On the other hand, for Momo the definition of identity has no existence. “When I am asked about nationality, I say that my father is Algerian and my mother is Dutch. However, I don’t think that such mixed marriages are successful. In our house, there are fifty quarrels a day when my parents try to impose their contradictory mentalities on each other”, Zarroue adds.
Annette van der Linden, one of the authors of the book ‘De Steniging’, Dutch for ‘The Stoning’, thinks that the search for identity is based on the concept of loyalty to one society. “At school, and at an earlier stage of character formation, such kids receive the comment: “He is not one of us”, be it for his name, colour, or whatever. However, children of mixed background are versatile in finding a way out of the problems facing them in life.”