the asian banana generation


Lately, I’m getting very nostalgic. I am going through old pictures of mine and realize how far I have come.

I am soon going to share a series of personal stories in a few articles, because I know that a lot of (Asian) people can relate to my experiences.

To sketch a background story: I was born in a very fortunate environment. My ethnicity is Chinese, born in The Netherlands, also known as the banana generation: yellow on the outside, white on the inside. So, as my appearance is Chinese, I have a strong western mentality.
Growing up, I was surrounded with lots of love from my family with very traditional Chinese values.

Family background

My mother’s side:

My mother is born in Hong Kong. She moved to The Netherlands at the age of 13, because my grandpa opened a restaurant in Rosmalen, in The Netherlands. She had to work very hard from a very young age in the restaurant, even during her Fashion Design studies.

My father’s side:

Because my grandparents moved from Hong Kong to Suriname, my father was born and raised there. Sometimes it’s so funny to hear my Chinese grandparents speak Surinamese. My father moved to The Netherlands at the age of 16. My grandpa sent him to The Netherlands to earn money so he could take care of his brothers (4 younger brothers).

My parents lived in the same city and got introduced to each other by mutual friends. Soon after, they got married and opened their own toko (small Asian supermarket) in Eindhoven – at a very young age (my mother was 19). My mother got pregnant with me at the age of 20.

Both my parents are the most hard working people I know. They rarely take a day off. My mother worked in the toko until she was in labor. And as soon as I was born, she was standing behind the counter within a week already, with me in a buggy next to it.

Because my parents were working all the time, I often stayed with my grandparents and relatives. Although they worked so much, I never felt that I was missing love or attention. When they found time, we went on vacations, to the Efteling (a themepark in The Netherlands) or we did little trips together. Because my parents worked so hard, we never had money issues which made me a very fortunate kid, because they could provide me with anything.

Little Lily


At the age of 10, I had a fully booked schedule every week; swimming lessons, piano lessons, art lessons, Chinese school and some English courses.

Already as a young girl I was very independent. For instance, when I was nine I often had to babysit my little brother and make him breakfast. At the age of 12, I  started helping out in my parent’s toko.
I always have been really curious  and liked to experiment, for example with make-up or wearing heels. But my mother never approved of things like this and so she tried to keep me away of all the “bad” influences.

At that point, our relationship started to change. I don’t want to say that I was a ‘girl gone bad’ teenager. I like to think about my teenage self as an average one. Especially if you compared me to my Dutch friends, I really was a ‘goody goody’. But when you compared me to my commendable cousins, I felt the pressure.  So, while my parents were still holding on to their cultural values and were very strict, I did everything to go against it.

Eventually, their over-protective behavior made me keep a lot of secrets – especially during my streetdance time when I was exposed to all these other influences. You know, sleeping over at my girlfriend’s places (that took a while too) or secretly going out with them, sipping on a beer (but never really liked it) while being under-aged. And don’t get me started on boyfriends..

Of course I understand their behavior and strictness now that I’m older – I know where they are coming from – but like most of the teenagers, I hated it. I was longing for freedom. I thought I was so wise and mature.

Other “bananas” might recognize this in our culture:

  • We never say “I love you” out loud.
  • We never share deep emotions. (It’s something that I had to develop when I started dating Nigel.)
  • Very conservative
  • Money is a big drive in life
  • Superficial, we care a whole lot what other people think of us and about what brands we are wearing.  

Generation gap

I grew up with all the traditional values that were passed on for generations. I was too stubborn to listen and value them. The worst part was that I had cousins who, to my family, were the perfect examples of the ‘ideal daughter’:  always getting the highest grades at school and not caring about the “bad things”.
I have always done things my way though, which led to a lot of fights at home. I felt misunderstood. Yet it was a big drive for me to prove myself even more, that it was also possible if I do it my own way.

I never really made other Chinese friends on purpose. Too be honest, I don’t like the small-mindedness of our roots. Therefore, I always wanted to have multi-cultural friends. For so long, I kind of refused to be proud of being a Chinese. I am a very stubborn person  who follows my own path, disregarding all the other opinions.

I think generation banana feels very disconnected to their roots at some times. We grow up with a western mentality. In my case, I never saw myself as a real Dutch person, but I definitely didn’t feel at home in Hong Kong either. So in the end, where do we belong?

It’s not that dramatic as you might think now, but sometimes it was very confusing while growing up. You can’t blame your parents, because they don’t know any better. They just want the best for their kids, but don’t necessarily know how to translate their love in this mixed culture. It’s a brand new generation!

Fast forward to the present time; after heavy family drama about my love life that I am going to save for the next article, I am now at a point that I am super proud of my roots. I guess it comes with age.

I want to dig deeper to experience all the beautiful things that our culture has to offer. I want to travel to China next year. In my opinion, every Chinese should have been on the great wall in China at least once in their life.

In the end, I think we all end up pretty good. All the bananas I know have found a place to be themselves. You don’t have to choose sides right? I think it’s pretty amazing to be in this position where I can find the best of both worlds and be proud to be Dutch AND Chinese!