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Curaçao and the Folding Diaspora: Contesting the Party Tambú in the Netherlands
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General diasporic discourse informs the definition of immigrant minority groups as “residing and acting in host countries but maintaining strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin—their home-lands” (Sheffer 1986, 3). Yet for Curaçaoans living in the Netherlands, the distinction between the ideas of “host country” and “homeland” becomes hazy at best.

Curaçao, the largest of the Dutch-speaking Caribbean islands, boasts strong social and political ties with the Netherlands. The Dutch language, for example, is the official language of Curaçao, and on the island, the Dutch educational system reigns supreme. Curaçaoans hold Dutch passports and are legally Dutch citizens; therefore, there is a tendency to gravitate to the Netherlands, and Curaçaoans who do emigrate typically expect their integration into Dutch society to be problem free. The reality, however, is decidedly different. Curaçaoans who make the move are likely to find themselves treated as “ethnic migrants” in the Netherlands and considered “foreigners with a Dutch passport” by the general Dutch public (Sharpe 2005, 292).

“I always thought of myself as Dutch,” said one Curaçaoan gentleman in 2009, a man who migrated to Amsterdam nearly twelve years ago. “That is until I came to Holland.” His Curaçaoan friend, living in the Netherlands for over seven years, said the same year that “growing up on Curaçao, you are told you have two homes: here and there. And you believe your destiny is to move to Holland. . . . It was very traumatic for me when I got here and I discovered [that] none of this was true.”1

For Curaçaoans living in the Netherlands, the notions of “home” and “homeland” quickly lose their former meaning. Concepts of “self” dissolve into experiences of “otherness” as feelings of belonging are replaced with uneasiness. A simultaneous feeling of disconnect to Curaçao inevitably accompanies the Curaçaoans trying to make their way in the Netherlands, and they become folded into and hidden within the larger, culturally diverse immigrant society surrounding them, composed of Moroccans, Congolese and Turks, to name a few. As their histories and experiences connect, a “folded diaspora” emerges. Born of disjunction and struggle, the folded diaspora represents a venue for global and local coexistence: a place where a multitudinous terrain of belonging and unbelonging, sameness and difference, converge. For displaced Curaçaoans specifically, entrance into the folded diaspora is less the result of their leaving home than it is the result of being cast as a stranger within what had heretofore been considered home territory. And yet the folded diaspora affords Curaçaoans a place of perceived safety and strength—an arena in which (borrowing from James Clifford) to construct “alternative public spheres, forms of community consciousness and solidarity that maintain identifications outside the national time/space [of the Netherlands] in order to live inside, with a difference” (Clifford 1994, 308). At the center of the folded diaspora, a new, alternative consciousness begins to emerge.

Tambú parties—the commercialized ritual music popular on Curaçao’s mainland—helps many Curaçaoans living in the Netherlands resolve feelings of contradiction and conflict and creates within the folded diaspora a creative means of control. Tambú parties transcend ambiguity and ambivalence and offer meaningfulness in their place; and as the “self” becomes reestablished, new identities emerge. Tambú parties in the Netherlands have widened in scope in recent years, with the result that numerous other displaced genealogies have joined Curaçaoans in enjoying a renewed sense of belonging. Put another way, Tambú parties provide the folded diaspora a means of “living inside, with a difference.”

At Dutch Tambú parties, youths join with elders, and Afro-Curaçaoans dance alongside African and other Afro-Caribbean migrants. In this way, strong transgenerational and transcultural bonds are forged as solidarity emerges out of difference, and a new sense of belonging is born. By means of Tambú parties, displaced Curaçaoans and others within the folded diaspora derive new ways to relate to one another and to the rest of Dutch society. Transgenerational and transcultural understandings are born out of difference, affording the means by which identity is rebuilt and a sense of community within the larger social...


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