Navigating Multiple Worlds: The Identity of a Bi-Cultural Individual

As a proud bi-cultural individual, being born and grown up in a city that embodies diversity, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the power of embracing differences. In this blog I will shed light on my personal experience of living in one of the most diverse cities.


I remember my childhood visits to local markets, such as the Dapper Market in Amsterdam East or the Albert Cuyp Market in Amsterdam South, with my mom. As a young kid, I was fascinated by the myriad of skin colors, the multitude of languages, the women and men draped in different outfits. I distinctly recall one day asking my mother an unusual question. I inquired if others might perceive her as some sort of enchantress. My mom looked puzzled by this question until I explained further, sharing my conviction that the other women at the market were witches from (secret) different places, with their unique spices, clothing, and languages. But if they were witches, then the others must think that my mother was a witch as well, because my mother also cooks with different spices, and is dressed in a ‘shalwar kameez’ (a knee-length dress with loose trousers, commonly worn by women in Pakistan and India). My mother burst into laughter, clearly surprised and amused by my vivid imagination. This anecdote is to depict the potential impact of growing up in a multi-cultural environment on the word view of children. I realised from a young age that what’s normal to one can be alien-like to another, depending on the lens through which we view it.


Sometimes I find myself wondering how I would have been as an individual if I wasn’t born as a bi-cultural individual in Amsterdam. When we learn in school about the history of ‘our grandparents’, for example, I feel a peculiar sensation. A feeling of being ‘different’ because my family’s history doesn’t neatly fit into the broader historical context I’m taught. And then there are those questions, those well-intentioned but sometimes awkward inquiries: “Is that allowed in your culture?” or, more unsettling, “Your parents wouldn’t allow that, would they?” At the same time, people from the culture where I supposedly belong to, share comments like: “these children are born in the Netherlands, they will not understand”. In these moments, a strange sense of not completely belonging to any world washes over me. It’s a reminder that, while embracing diversity and cultures is vital, there can still be moments when you feel like you straddle multiple worlds, each with its unique set of expectations and understandings.


Because of my childhood experience, as an adult, I always perceive people as citizens of the same shared city (and planet), rather than ‘the others’. It’s a lens that always reminds me that beneath the surface of diversity, there are profound commonalities that connect us all. Our cultures might take different forms, but each one of us holds a culture close to our hearts. While our languages may sound different, we all communicate using words, expressions, and gestures. Our traditions may vary, but the universal love for our families and friends binds us together. Our histories may have taken different paths, but our present finds us all residing within the embrace of the same city, our shared home. In celebrating our differences and embracing our commonalities, we illustrate an inclusive portrait of our shared human experience. It’s a perspective that continually inspires me to cherish the rich and colourful stories of every individual who calls Amsterdam home. And I recognise the beauty of diversity in vibrant cities, like Amsterdam.


So, am I happy to be born as a bi-cultural citizen of Amsterdam? Absolutely! Does it mean that nobody can inquire about cultures? Of course, you can. However, instead of framing questions with a “you” or “your culture” perspective, it’s more enriching to approach inquiries as if you are genuinely interested in the person as an individual, rather than as a representative of a particular group. You see, “we” don’t belong to a single group, which can sometimes make it awkward to respond to questions accurately.

Through childhood visits to bustling markets, my curiosity as a young child, and moments of introspection, I’ve come to realise that being different isn’t a hindrance, but a gift. It’s a gift that allows me to enhance the understanding of those with good intentions who sincerely seek to learn and comprehend. So, let’s continue to celebrate diversity and embrace the world in all its vibrant colors and varying shapes, all the while fostering an atmosphere of respect and genuine curiosity.

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