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“What we appreciate most about living here is that we are surrounded by forest, our children play a lot outside in the mud and run around barefoot.”

I am Claudia, I was born in Moscow in 1980. In 2020 I came to Almere. I live in Almere Oosterwold. This is my story.

My mother is Colombian and my father is Chilean, who came to Moscow, Russia, at the age of 18 to study music. My sister Laura and I were born in that city. For work reasons, the whole family moved to France, near Paris, when I was 9 months old. 

My life in France was steeped in Latin American culture thanks to my parents, my uncles and aunts, and the Latin American friends of the family. My French friends always valued and appreciated my Latin origins such as Latin gatherings, barbecues and dance parties. My friends appreciated the atmosphere that existed in my home and lovingly imitated my parents' accent. I always felt part of the French society; although sometimes also outside of it.

From Russia, I have no memory. My only link with Russia is that I studied Russian for 7 years in school thanks to my parents. I did not manage to learn the language because of its difficulty. However, the emotional bond does exist.  When I hear Russian spoken, I get a peculiar feeling of nostalgia. I guess the reason is because when I was a baby I had a nanny who was Russian.

At the age of 18 I emigrated to the Netherlands where I studied violin and classical music at the conservatory. I lived 8 years in Rotterdam surrounded by international students. During my studies I developed a taste for Latin music. At the end of my studies I found my passion and my own way. I gained confidence in myself and listened to my heart. That's how I accepted to be part of several projects of charanga, salsa, Mexican music (Los Mezcales since 2011) and the tango string quartet Pavadita (since 2008).

When I was 27 years old, I moved to Amsterdam where I started giving violin lessons. It was there that I decided to learn to speak Dutch. My students taught me and corrected me with love. 

Learning to speak this language was decisive to start my integration process in the Netherlands. I was able to see more details and subtleties of the Dutch culture. I also came to understand some of the social codes of this culture. 

I often have the feeling of feeling outside of this society. My partner is also not of Dutch origin, so our feelings of belonging in the Netherlands are quite fluctuating. There is nothing really anchoring us to being here. The birth of our children was key to take another step back into integration and try to become part of the Dutch system. 

At the end of 2018 some neighbor friends told us about the possibility of buying a piece of land in Almere Oosterwold. At first it sounded like an impossible project. But little by little we got it organized and built. Since July 2020 we have been living on our land in a caravan with our children, waiting for our house to be finished. It has been quite an adventure, between minimalism and lack of space. It's nice to discover how flexible we can be and how much we can adapt. 

What we value most about living here is that we are surrounded by forest, that our children play a lot outside in the mud and walk around barefoot. I have a small patch of vegetable garden and am starting to develop more of a connection with the land, plants and trees.

What anchors us now in the Netherlands is the project of building our house. The pillars of our future have been a beautiful metaphor to help us form roots in these grounds. 

After almost 23 years of living in the Netherlands we are still in our integration process. Sometimes I like to be able to observe and have a perspective on the society around me. Other times I feel alone, without a strong place of belonging. It is like learning to flow from one feeling to the other and to accept the ups and downs. My friends are the ones who provide me with support and a sense of belonging.

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Photos, Interview and Text: Lyla Carrillo Quan - van der Kaaden
Text Revision: Babette Rondón
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