Aytac, designer, born and raised in Rotterdam West
The problem is that we, being born and raised in Rotterdam West, are the first to see what has disappeared yet we are not being involved in these developments.
Rotterdam West used to be a little more intimate. Rotterdam used to belong to its citizens. The city is getting trendier and the hip and contemporary group of citizens are gaining influence. The problem is that we, being born and raised in Rotterdam West, are the first to see what has disappeared yet we are not being involved in these developments. Of course we are happy the streets are getting safer and nice coffee bars are settling, yet it is pitiful that exactly those who have rebuilt Rotterdam are the ones who need to leave.
At a certain moment you realize you are perceived as ‘the other’ and that certain opportunities do not apply to you
A large group misses a purpose in life: the hope that they can be of meaning. For example, a friend of mine is a good guy but he does not know what to do with his life and is slowly taking a wrong turn in life. The feeling you are always one step behind. The feeling of constantly having to prove you are a good person. At a certain moment you realize you are perceived as ‘the other’ and that certain opportunities do not apply to you. In my neighbourhood I see many boys who are becoming more and more solidified. They end up feeling depressed and are headed the wrong way, away from society. It is certainly not helping when the municipality says to them: you need to leave Rotterdam West because your house has increased in value. To me, this is very hurtful. My sincere goal is to help people and I wish to start an enterprise that can help in creating opportunities for the boys in the neighbourhood. A new perspective is what they need.
People often make a comment on this, saying that I have become (what they call in Dutch) a ‘cheese head’. I experience this as something very negative, since it suggests that you have discarded your own norms and values in order to accept the white norms and values.
I truly feel like a Rotterdam citizen. I most definitely feel like a Dutchman as well as a Turk. I especially feel a strong sense of my Turkish identity within the Dutch context; in Turkey I feel like a tourist. Over here people like to define and categorize you by asking about your descent. Then they get started about Erdogan, or make a joke about Turkish pizza. The fact that nine out of ten people cannot pronounce my name says something about a missing connection. From the teacher who prefers to skip your name because he is afraid to mispronounce to the client who prefers Peter or Sander to do the job.
I can articulate well, am conscious of my identity and the social dynamics, and can move well within this society. People often make a comment on this, saying that I have become (what they call in Dutch) a ‘cheese head’. I experience this as something very negative, since it suggests that you have discarded your own norms and values in order to accept the white norms and values. As if being Dutch is degradable and being the other is the norm. I am a good guy. I try to do my best within society but do not feel the need to constantly prove myself. Being able to speak proper Dutch does not say anything about your intelligence or how well you have integrated in society.
We live in chaotic times. A lot is changing and nobody really gets what these changes involve. I am not only talking about small-scale neighbourhood changes, but also technological change and how social media develops within it and the ways in which people react upon it. Everyone plays along but what we miss is a clear direction. The government should show us the right direction, set clear goals and provide for opportunities, not just for natives but also for immigrants. That is not the case right now. Now that we are losing our grip we tend to blame others for the chaos we created. It is the Moroccans or the Turks that get blamed for it. Slowly but surely everyone is backing off, returning to their own bubble. Now that we are in 2018 and wonder where we’re at I tell you honestly: we are in a very bad place.
What I believe is that everything around us is a part of god: the world and its plants, people, and tiny creatures – all have been thought about.
I believe religion is something complex. You start with a life in which you believe in God because your parents and others in your surroundings do so. Then, at age thirteen, you come to the point where you realize god might be a bit different from what you thought when you were three years old. From age eighteen, nineteen, twenty you start searching for answers. You start wondering how trees make apples, how the planet came into being, that sort of stuff. I have had moments where I believed in something and moments where I believed in nothing. What I believe is that everything around us is a part of god: the world and its plants, people, and tiny creatures – all have been thought about.
Sharif, theatermaker, lives in Rotterdam West
Polarisation has always been present in our society, but I think that nowadays it is more visible
Polarisation has always been present in our society, but I think that nowadays it is more visible. People are brave enough to stand up for themselves and demand for more space and opportunities. This causes for more friction to occur, which I think is very interesting. However, it is a shame that these opposing views can be very radical. They are often anti-white, which is not what I stand for. Of course I do have comments and critique on white and the white image, but I am not against it. I would like to see how we, people of colour, can unite our qualities and characteristics, our roots and our worlds. I would like it when we receive recognition within society and people take the effort to listen to us in order to understand each other.
You are continuously being held aware of your cultural identity, which is why at times I think it perhaps should explode altogether for us to be able to break away from that system.
At the same time I get the radical reactions as well. When you constantly get reprimanded for your cultural identity and your roots, then you will become much more aware of that cultural identity. A simple example is when I arrive late somewhere and someone says: ‘That must be the Surinamese within you’. You are continuously being held aware of your cultural identity, which is why at times I think it perhaps should explode altogether for us to be able to break away from that system. What if my children need to encounter the same problems and struggles as me? I don’t want this to happen.
I think there is no such thing as a standard, a norm. These days, many talk about diversity but what about inclusivity? We represent one country, right? If you keep on labelling people as being ‘different’ then how can you represent a united nation? I want to bring the Dutchman, Turk, Surinamese, Moroccan, and the Antillean together so that we can understand each other’s worlds and create magic together. There is a certain pain within today’s youth that is often misunderstood by organisations, and I view myself as an intermediate link between these two. In my opinion the educational system falls short in preparing certain youngsters for society’s tough reality. Together with my theatre colleague Bjorn Romy I started an educational program for youngsters with ‘emotional luggage’ to help them become more resilient by way of theatre, spoken word and comedy.
I really do love Rotterdam West. Literally everything in this neighbourhood appeals to me. I see Polish people getting along with Chinese people, and Chinese people joking around with Antillean people. What I appreciate so much about Rotterdam West is that everything comes together. On a sunny afternoon it’s chaos. I really do feel at home here.
To Dutch people I am an immigrant; to Surinamese people I am Moroccan. I do not know of the Moroccan culture. So where exactly do I belong?
I made a theatre piece called ‘Surinamese but different’. The play discusses issues such as domestic violence and identity, especially the search for identity. Who am I as Sharif Noel Abdoelhak? I am born in the Netherlands with Surinamese roots, yet I am often not considered Surinamese. To Dutch people I am an immigrant; to Surinamese people I am Moroccan. I do not know of the Moroccan culture. So where exactly do I belong?
I have always felt a responsibility to do something for the better, both for my neighbours and myself. My mother had little money to spend and was surrounded by domestic violence. I wanted to take her out of that situation. To me, she was the most powerful woman in the world and she was the reason for me to focus on my acting career. I developed a deep love for the profession. Within the academy of theatre there is little to no colour. At a certain point I lost myself. There were certain patterns of expectations, a certain way of doing. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. At production company Flow I met like-minded people. We all had experienced a certain pain and shared our love for theatre, writing, and art, which brought us all together. They are my self-chosen family. For them, I would take the bullet.
Original interviews in Dutch – translated to English by Joannette van der Veer