LIFE IN SWITZERLAND
A couple of years ago, I was verbally and physically attacked because of the color of my skin. I had never ever felt this kind of betrayal in my life. This incident changed my whole perspective on “not fitting in”.
Hi, my name is Darja Walser, and the country I call home is Switzerland. My parents moved to Switzerland in the early 80’s after falling in love in Liberia and getting married in New York. My father is half Swiss and half Liberian, and grew up in both countries. My mother is Haitian and mainly grew up in New York, but also partly in Liberia, Brazil and other African Countries. My grandmother on my father’s side Emma Shannon Walser is a Liberian lawyer and jurist who became the country's first woman judge in 1971. My grandfather Jean Coradinn was the Haitian Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1971.
Me and my 2 sisters grew up in a strict household. I guess it was all about reputation and making sure we wouldn’t try to deny our heritage and culture. (Let’s be honest, there wasn’t any way, we could have denied our roots.)
I never appreciated the different aspects of my mother’s and father’s cultures. Of course, I wanted to fit in and be like my Swiss friends and eat the same food, act the same way, and look the same way. My friends always used to talk back to their parents or were able to stay out all night long or have their boyfriend/girlfriend stay at their house, etc. Me and my sister’s talking back? Not a chance. I was the only person I knew who was still being grounded in her early 20s. I just thought my parents were over the top and doing too much.
When I was 17 years old, I was in my first serious relationship, meaning I had to meet the parents. They were a very simple and open-minded Swiss family. They welcomed me with open arms. The first time we realized that this “interracial-thing” might be an issue, was when I met more family members. I got the “Do you speak African”, “Can I touch your hair”, “Do you get a sunburn” questions. I tried to not get offended, but you’re never able to tell if they really don’t know any better or are just being sarcastic. We started to get the looks on the street, my presence not being acknowledged next to him and what not.
My next relationship was with this Dominican guy. I thought him being Dominican and me being partly Haitian would make it easier – hell no. We ran into similar issues but just in the Dominican community. He was a very dark skinned Dominican, yet called himself “un moreno” and denied his African heritage. I started to realize, that I mainly was trying to fit in somewhere. I was too dark for White people and too light for Black people.
My identity crisis started to impact my social life and life in general. I started to hate the color of my skin, my curly hair, my full lips – my Blackness. I always had to let people know about the ¼ Swiss blood running through my veins. So, of course, perms were bought for my hair, sun was avoided. I felt like those are the things I had to do, in order to fit in and be accepted.
In September, there’s this farmer festival in my city. The farmers come from all over Switzerland to basically get drunk, look at cows, eat meat and have little affairs. During this time, you’ll see the farmers in the city. It’s pretty much led by the SVP (The party of the middle class – right movement) meaning they have never had any interaction with foreign people.
My friend actually forced me to go into the city that night and just grab some food and drinks. After we were done, we left our spot and were deep in conversation. A group of six, drunk, loud and obnoxious women, were walking towards us. I was focused on my friend but also told her to switch to the other side walk, so we wouldn’t cross them. As we switched the sidewalk, they switched as well. So when they passed us, I continued to walk and didn’t move out of their way.
“Go back to Africa, you fucking ni**er”.
I tried not to react and continued to walk. Unfortunately, they continued to yell racist slurs, which made me react instead of leaving the situation. I walked towards them while talking back. My friend tried to call me back. As I turned around to let my friend know, not to come, this one chick punched me in my face with her phone in her hand. All I remember was being pushed to the floor right away and my friend coming to my rescue. While punches and kicks were being thrown, some bouncers noticed the situation and came to end it. They actually made me and my friend lay on the floor, while their knees were on our spine and arms pulled up.
Police entered the situation and straight away went and spoke to the Swiss women first. After finally letting us get up, they resisted any kind of interaction. Meanwhile my nose was bleeding. the side of my face was changing colors. I wasn’t able to stand up straight. They told us they won’t press any charges, even though “we were the aggressor in the situation”. That’s what they’ve been told by the bouncers and the women, and that’s what they believed. They didn’t want to hear our side of the story... We’re the foreigners in their country.
After this incident, I was not able to leave my house other than for work. I was mentally and emotionally distressed, I felt like I couldn’t handle life anymore. All of these years of trying to fit in, of denying my heritage, only embracing the Swiss culture, letting people step all over me, as long as I didn’t react, it didn’t happen. – I felt like I was robbed of my truth and beliefs. The people I tried to satisfy were the ones attacking me.
It was one of the worst and best experiences. The worst: I had to re-identify and build myself. Taking baby steps trusting people again and socialize. The best: It made me appreciate my upbringing. The value of different cultures my parents added to it. The fact of knowing my grandfather represented Haiti – the first independent Black country. And my grandmother represented Liberia – the first independent black country in Africa and a part of a feminist-movement in Africa. I wanted to feed my brain with knowledge and facts.
Today I can say, I am a proud Black woman. I wouldn’t change a thing about myself. Switzerland is a great country, and I am grateful for mostly growing up in a safe environment with access to clean water, food on a daily basis, all in all just a freaking great country. I won’t let my past block the love for my home, country and their people – But I’ll continue to love, appreciate and embrace myself.