This time I would like to share with you the conclusions of my master thesis, and the research I have been performing for the past few months. As some of you might have read in my first blogs I wrote as an intern in ‘Nieuw Wij’, in the last year I was a Masters Program student in Gender studies in Utrecht University. I decided to conduct a research about second generation migrant women: women who were born here to at least one migrant parent, or migrated to the Netherlands before the age of 6 years old.  As a student for gender studies I was interested to know what the life experiences of these women are, and how they feel in the Netherlands.  I did not focus on a specific religious or ethnic group.

So, there I was, a migrant myself, looking for second generation migrant women to interview. I was quite worried that I could not find the right women to interview, but as it turned out soon enough, almost everybody I know in the Netherlands has a migration background. And so, with the help of my colleagues in ‘Nieuw Wij’, I found six amazing women who were willing to be interviewed and to take part in my research.

The interviews were not very long and the questions were mostly about daily life practices. I was interested in particular to learn how second generation migrant women negotiate between the two cultural worlds they are living in. On the one hand their parents’ culture and traditions and on the other hand the contemporary Dutch culture. I also asked some more personal questions regarded the women’s feelings and opinions about their lives in the Netherlands.

With regard to the cultural aspect, I found out that these women literally live their lives in-between two worlds, and constantly go back and forth between the cultures. Mostly it is about minor life decisions such as: how to choose a name for a new born baby, which language to speak at home, which holidays to celebrate, to what school do we send the children, how to choose a partner, community or a social circle… but as minor these decisions might be at first, they actually shape these women’s identities, and their children’s identities.

I realized that being Dutch nowadays can be many different things. The next generation, the children of these women, will have interesting hybrid identities that are a complex of all the different cultural aspects they been exposed to during their lives. But also their mothers, who developed and are still developing all the time interesting identities, which are might not be ‘real Dutch’, but the ‘new Dutch’. In my opinion, not only migrants develop new forms of European identities. I believe that the native European residents also go through changes all the time, and their identities as well are shaped constantly and influenced by processes of globalization, mobility, and other cultural influences. Are we all becoming  ‘citizens of the world’?

The next part of the research was about the feeling of  ‘home’ and feelings of belonging. This was a very interesting part, mainly because it was incredible to see the gap between how second generation migrant women feel, and how they are perceived in the Dutch eyes, in the political and public debates. One of the first questions I asked the women was whether they feel at home in the Netherlands. Here I must say that I really did not know what to expect. And yet I was quite surprised to learn that all the interviewees said clearly that the Netherlands is their home! I think I was surprised because I didn’t think these women can feel very much at home when public opinion about migration is not so positive and migrant women are perceived as women who need ‘to be saved and rescued’, women who are a burden on Dutch society and government. And yet, when I asked the women to explain why they feel at home in the Netherlands, and what determines their feelings, it all made sense to me.

Second generation migrant women do not have any other home. The Netherlands is the only home they ever knew; moreover they all said that they could never live in their countries of origin. During the interviews as we talked more about this, I eventually understood that these women create their homes in the Netherlands in their own unique way. They choose to use the  ‘best part’ of each cultural world, and they surrounded themselves with the people who fit in their life style. From this fact, I also learnt that second generation migrant women do not always necessarily belong in specific Dutch social circles. In some occasions they also feel different, and that they do not belong in the group, but it does not contradict the fact that the Netherlands is their home, that they feel at home.

So I am asking all the great politicians who think that the Netherlands cannot be a home for non-Dutch people: do you really think you can determine and decide for other people how to feel?  Do you really think that a migrant can feel at home here only if he or she forgets where they come from? Well… I don’t think so. The fact is that Europe no longer belongs only to the European people. Whether we like it or not, this is a fact that we have to deal with.

To conclude this blog, I would like to emphasize that not all migrant women need ‘saving’, not all of them are miserable, without financial means, education or anything else. Although I cannot make a general statement about all migrant women in the Netherlands, I do want to offer a wider view on migrant women, and to show that there are different women with different stories, and successful ones. I met six beautiful, brave women (and many others in my life here), who acquired education, have a career, they work full time and raise their children at the same time. Without a doubt, they are an integral part of the Dutch society. There are also ‘good’ stories about migrant women, who don’t let their migration background hold them back from succeeding in Dutch society and in the Netherlands, and in my opinion this is admirable.

P.S This was a very brief summary of only a few issues in my thesis. If you are interested in reading it, I can send it to you.


Ronie Barel

verhuisde van Israël naar Nederland, activist, blogger

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