Dual Heritage: Between Identity Crises & Self-Realization

As a kid, I was struggling with being mixed a lot - now I embrace my dual heritage with a lot of gratitude. Now it's time to share my story with you. This blog post is a translation of the interview I gave on Indojunkie (in German).


To what extent did you identify with your German and Indonesian roots as a child?

As a child, I always wanted to belong and rejected everything that had to do with Indonesia.I didn't want to learn how to speak Bahasa Indonesia and liked typical German food such as Schnitzel or Spätzle the most.


I remember being particularly confused and hurt when other children called me "Chinese" on the school bus.


In my teens, I began to feel ashamed of my eyes. I even remember a time when I preferred to sit in the shade in the summer so I wouldn't get a tan so quickly.  



The identity crisis of "Where do I belong?" is something I still know. It feels a bit like my heart is pulling in two different directions.


In the meantime, however, I appreciate carrying and living both parts within me. Not having to choose or wanting to choose. Unfortunately, that was not always the case as a child.


It feels a bit like my heart is pulling in two different directions

Lara as a child in Indonesia
Lara as a child in Indonesia

Can you explain how you feel about the question: Where are you really from?

I was confronted with the recurring question of where I ORIGINALLY came from later, when I left school, traveled and began to study. Constantly meeting new people also meant having to explain my origins over and over again.


At some point my tolerance level became lower and lower and I got angry very often when I was asked for the 1,000th time the question "No, where are you REALLY from - meaning your parents?".


In the meantime, the question still annoys me, but I can find more peace in it, because I feel much more connected to Indonesia than I did at the beginning of my studies.


Lara with her friend on Bali, Indonesia
Lara with her friend on Bali, Indonesia

How do you feel when you're in Indonesia?

In Indonesia, I can blend in well with the crowd. However, as soon as I start speaking, people hear that my Bahasa is not fluent and immediately approach me about it ("eh, darimana mbak?"). 

When I say that I am from Germany, it is rarely accepted and I often have to listen to things like "But your face like China...". However, when I tell them that my father is from Bandung, everyone is very happy and finds it extremely exciting!


When I travel to Indonesia, it usually goes like this: Shortly after I arrive, I am incredibly happy. I enjoy the atmosphere, the landscape and the food, but still feel like a tourist.


After about one to two weeks I experience a total crash and get annoyed about "jam karet" (the sense of time of many Indonesians), the many plastics and the traffic.


When I get over this point, it relaxes in me and I feel free to express the Indonesian part in me more. I then slip into a different role and my gestures and facial expressions change.  


Lara with her host family in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Lara with her host family in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Did you experience racism in your German family?

Because my family on my mother's side was anything but pleased that my mother married an Indonesian, racism was unfortunately always a big issue in my family.


My German grandmother struggled with it particularly hard. Although she loved me dearly, it was sometimes hard for her to accept that I looked the way I did.

This topic is very relevant as there are more and more intercultural relationships


For me, a mix between setting boundaries and showing compassion was healing. Setting clear boundaries, for example, when she complained that I looked "too Asian" in a photo and at the same moment being understanding of her and her story. 


I think this topic is very relevant as there are more and more intercultural partnerships and depending on how the families react to it, it can be a real challenge. 


Lara as a child
Lara as a child

Have you met men who prefer the Asian type of women and approached you because of that?

Yes. However, as a teenager, it was a positive experience for me. By always wanting to look different - preferably blonde and blue-eyed - it was surprising and nice for me to get recognition for the very thing I always rejected. 


As I got older, it started to bug me.


There is probably a desire of wanting to be found beautiful for who I am and not for the scheme I fit into. 


Lara in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Lara in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Do you think it used to be "harder" growing up as a kid with Asian roots in the past than it is now?

Definitely. The more people exist with parents of different backgrounds, the more normal it becomes.


I wish that we would eventually reach a point where we no longer mention skin color or origin as the first characteristic when describing a person.


I can imagine that it is also easier to deal with people in the city, where there is generally more anonymity than in the countryside. I can only speculate on that, though....


Lara dancing the Javanese dance "Nawung Sekar" at a temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Lara dancing the Javanese dance "Nawung Sekar" at a temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

What behavior would you have liked to see more often from other people regarding your dual heritage?

In some encounters with strangers, I would have wished for more sensitivity. For example, when I'm asked why I can speak German so well, I take it as an insult.


For me, the question always implies that I am not allowed to declare Germany as my home, no matter how perfect my German is, no matter what my passport says and no matter where I was born and grew up. 


I also would like me to show my counterpart my limits more clearly and to express what such questions trigger in me. I often still find this difficult with strangers. 


If you find yourself in this dilemma, having great curiosity about the family tree of your "exotic" counterpart, but also not wanting to put your foot in your mouth, you might first ask yourself what need you hope to satisfy by answering the question of origin.


I guess that this often hides a desire to minimize an insecurity, to pigeonhole, to confirm clichés, or to find common ground ("I've been to Thailand, too!"). This is totally human, too. However, you might also internally consider whether your satisfaction of needs is so important that you're rubbing salt into the wound with your counterpart.  


It is important to me to mention here to respect the answer of your counterpart. I find further inquiries about parents or grandparents extremely inappropriate. Because in my opinion, each person can introduce themselves how they want to and identify with what they desire. With a "white" person, one would not doubt the answer, even though one does not know the entire family tree.

Every person can identify with what they desire.



For me, it then feels as if they want to deny my identity. This has often been very hurtful to me in the past.


Furthermore, I think it's important to consider the context. If you've already been talking for a while, know each other a bit better and have learned a lot about each other, the question about the origin of my ancestors no longer feels quite so inappropriate. Or if the person can't speak German, I guess assume they're not from a German speaking country makes more sense.


Lara in a Javanese dance class in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Lara in a Javanese dance class in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Today, one gets the feeling that you are proud of your Indonesian roots. Is that true?

I find the term "proud" somewhat misleading in relation to origin. I'm not proud of where I was born or where my parents were born - because I didn't contribute to that.


I would rather say I am proud of having found a beautiful way to live and express both parts of myself


To live my "dual heritage" means for me on the one hand to allow myself to spend at least a few months a year in Indonesia and on the other hand to create something that connects both parts in me.


Being creative with my label "DEWI" for accessories made of traditional Indonesian fabrics represents the connection of both worlds for me.


In the meantime I am grateful to be mixed and see it as a great gift ☺.


Lara during her exhibition in Vienna, Austria.
Lara during her exhibition in Vienna, Austria.

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