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Naming Amsterdam’s Immigrants

Amsterdam’s Dappermarkt, image by Flickr user Kurt Rogers II

The Netherlands has a strange way of naming immigrants, using the word “allochtonous” for them as opposed to “autochtonous”, which indicates that both of a person’s parents were born in the Netherlands.

This is slightly strange because when, for example, your father was born abroad while your grand parents were living there for a while, you are officially “allochtoneous”. It also means that only the third generation of immigrants can be regarded as “autochtoon”, which implicitly means “actually Dutch”.

But that’s not the point here. Using the terms has turned out to be rather exclusive, having the connotation that a person is “either one of us or not”. This is where the city of Amsterdam now tries to lead the way, away from the Netherlands’ problematic labeling.

The city’s socialdemocratic party PvdA, part of the current government, proposed  to drop these dichotomic characterization, and replacing them by using their country of origin in relation to the city where they live now. Instead of calling them “allochtonous”, they will now be regarded as “Moroccan Amsterdammers”, “Ghanese Amsterdammers”, “Surinamese Amsterdammers”, “English Amsterdammers”, et cetera. All the civil servants are now obliged to use these terms.

By changing this, I think the emphasis is put on the diversity of Amsterdam’s population, rather than on an implicit contrast between Amsterdammers and the city’s “allochtones”. I  I remember having lengthy discussions about this topic at University, with everyone agreeing that the old way of naming the immigrants was not right. Renaming them to foreign Amsterdammers is a good move, I believe. It will of course not simply solve the existing problems of poverty, segregation and crime, but it is the least that could be done.

Filed under urbanism

  1. citybreaths posted this