Young and successful ethnic professionals in the Netherlands should play a more prominent role in Dutch society to disprove theories that they’re doomed to fail. This is one of the messages in a new book written about ‘Yeppies’ – Young Ethnic Professionals. “Dutch universities are full of young Dutch immigrants, but nobody seems to realise that”, says its author, Arjan Erkel.
Listen to a Newsline interview with Arjan Erkel:
Mr Erkel – best known in the Netherlands as a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) employee who was taken hostage for months while working in Dagestan a few years ago – interviewed thirty Dutch immigrants who all have several things in common. They are between 25 and 40, have a successful career, are ambitious and feel it’s time Dutch society changed its perception of immigrants.
“That perception is not in line with how society is developing”, he told Radio Netherlands Worldwide. “There are tens of thousands of young immigrants in Dutch universities and we see more and more immigrants in key business positions. So they’re more ambitious than some of us may think”.
Mr Erkel coined the ‘yeppie’ label for his book Generatie YEP (Generation YEP). “Yes, it’s hip, but it’s more than just a label,” he smiles. “Just as ‘yuppie’ in the 1980s was a label for a large group in society which made it easy to identify them, so is this.”
“Show who you are”
But even though these ‘yeppies’ may be very successful, we don’t get to see much of them in the Dutch media. The only well-known yeppie in the book is former deputy minister Nebahat Albayrak, while the others are rarely seen on TV or in newspapers. They could do a better job at ‘marketing’ themselves, says Mr Erkel. “Show others who you are and what you’ve achieved. Tell them that you’ve outgrown those clichés about immigrants, that’s my message. Be a role model for others”.
Another interesting aspect of the yeppie generation, according to Mr Erkel, is that they don’t have a conflict of loyalty – a yeppie feels s/he’s as much Dutch as Moroccan, Surinam or Chinese. “This is what I call psychological integration,” Mr Erkel says. “They've made a clear choice for the Netherlands. They won’t let go of their own identity, because they don’t want to lose that. But foremost, they feel Dutch. They feel that their future lies here in the Netherlands. This is a new development; until a few years ago, immigrants used to say that they would eventually go back to their country of origin.”
One of the yeppies portrayed in “Generatie YEP” is Souad el Hamdaoui (31) (pictured above), who can rightfully claim to be in a top job – she’s the director of the Euromast, one of Rotterdam’s main tourist attractions and one of the port city's tallest buildings. The romantic version of her career lets us believe that she worked her way up from being an employee in the Euromast restaurant to become the boss, but in reality, she joined the company with a healthy dose of ambition and business knowledge.
Listen to a Newsline interview with Ms el Hamdaoui:
“It’s a bit sad that in 2010 it’s still important to label us, even though it’s a positive label this time,” she says. “I live in Rotterdam, which is a multicultural city where many foreigners have simply become part of this society. We should take that for granted. I was born and bred in a small village in the east of the Netherlands, but to the outside world, I’ll always be an immigrant.”
“I’m afraid we will have to make more of an effort to highlight the positive side of immigration,” she continues. “What you see in the papers is very often the negative, while most of us are simply doing well. Perhaps it’s my personal responsibility to contribute to that positive image.”
With one week to go before the Dutch general election, it’s clearly no coincidence that 'Generatie YEP' is seeing the light of day now. “Immigration is one of the hot topics during the election campaign,” says Mr Erkel. “First, you have Geert Wilders who is downright negative about immigrants, while on the other hand there’s [Labour candidate] Job Cohen who may be patting the immigrants’ backs a bit too much. We simply present the reality and we’re not afraid to say that many immigrants are just doing fine in today’s society.”