“I came to the Netherlands when I was eighteen to work with my sister as an au pair. She and her Dutch husband lived in Oegstgeest, but I used to spend every weekend in Amsterdam. I’d go to the Leidseplein, or to the Last Waterhole at the Wallen to see concerts. After a year I returned to Columbia, but I would have preferred to stay here. It was so much fun. In Columbia there’s a lot of social pressure. People watch what you do, where you go, and who you’re with. There’s so much more freedom here. Everyone does what they want. When I was twenty one I returned. I was then the second daughter who had packed her bags and moved to the Netherlands. My parents found this quite hard to accept.
And I’m still here. I married an Amsterdammer and we have two children. There were plenty of things I had to get used to. Naturally, the planning and being punctual, but also the fact that if I forgot my dentist’s appointment I’d still get billed for it. I thought, “I shouldn’t pay if I haven’t been?” But after the third reminder I paid and learned my lesson.
We baptized our daughter when she was two years old and I have taught her about God. But she tells me, “Mum, I don’t want to choose a religion now, I want to choose one later”. Try to say that to your parents in Columbia. Children are also educated about homosexuality here at a very early age; they are told that it’s possible for two men or two women to live together. Recently we saw two women French kissing and my daughter said, “See mum, two women can do that too”. I think it’s great that you can say that here. I’m happy there are no big taboos here. She’s growing up with the idea that everything is possible.
I think, as a foreigner, that I need to adjust. You need to learn the language and the local traditions. We celebrate Saint Nicholas at home. I knew nothing of this holiday in Columbia, but we make a big thing of it here. As regards the arguments about black Pete, I think it would be a shame to cancel a source of entertainment because it offends a handful of people. Why not carry on with tradition, with different coloured Piet’s?
I’m not easily offended, and I don’t feel discriminated against. Although I was a bit upset by what recently happened in the park. My son ran after two dogs and I shouted to him, “Don’t touch the dogs!” The owner then said to me, “Why not? If you don’t like it here, go back to your own country you damn foreigner”. I had to reply, “I might be a foreigner, but I’m as Dutch as you are”. I wasn’t going to stand up for that. I did cry afterwards. I hardly ever feel that way and I have realised that discrimination actually exists. But I can honestly say that if you say things like that, it’s really your problem. It’s like being given a present, you can take it or leave it.”
1.227 people in Amsterdam have the Colombian nationality