Immigrating to America: Half-Asian Eddie Van Halen

April 30, 2020

According to the Center of Public Integrity, more than 30% of Americans have witnessed Covid-19 racism against Asians. Stop AAPI Hate reported 1,500 cases of harassment against Asian-Americans in a one month period.

Numbers like these were once commonplace in Holland for rock legends Eddie Van Halen and his brother, Alex Van Halen, founding members of the late 70s-80s rock band, Van Halen. They were the children of a Dutch father and Indonesian mother, born during the Dutch occupation of Indonesia.

Quick History. The Dutch hold on Indonesia was severely weakened when Nazi SS-trained Imperial Japanese Marines invaded the islands after Pearl Harbor and controlled it until September 1945. Once Holland retook possession of Indonesia, many Japanese commandos volunteered to join Indonesian freedom fighters, as well as many British Indians who were unhappy India, was not yet given its freedom after WWII.

The Indonesians suffered over 97,000 casualties (both military and civilian) against Dutch and British forces before winning their independence on December 27, 1949. The Van Halens were given a choice, either stay in Indonesia under Indonesian rule or move to Holland. Eddie Van Halen’s father chose Holland.

In an interview with Alternative Nation, David Lee Roth, former lead singer of Van Halen from 1974 to 1985 explained the Van Halens suffered disgusting racism and insults when they were children in Holland because they were half-Asian. Eugenia Van Halen (Eddie and Alex’s mom) bore the brunt of the racism. She was refused service in stores and restaurants, she was spat on and food was thrown at her while holding her children. Eddie and Alex were beaten in school for being “half-breeds.”

David Lee Roth explained to Alternative Nation the Van Halens being married in Holland was like a black man marrying a white sorority girl in Tennessee or Mississippi in 1958. The situation got so bad, the Van Halens decided to move to America and make a new life for themselves. They settled in Pasadena, California, which was right next to the San Gabriel Valley—known for having a huge Asian immigrant population.

In America, the Van Halens didn’t speak a word of English and the parents had to work odd jobs to make a living. The racism they faced in America was far less than what they experienced in Holland. Eugenia Van Halen being Asian, tiger momed Eddie and Alex to learn to play their instruments and to learn English. The reasons why the Van Halens moved to America to escape racism in Europe is now becoming the reason why many Asian-Americans are re-thinking what it is to be an American in 2020. Did Covid-19 increase the racism Asians face today or was the racism already there? Racists and bigots just needed an excuse?

Feature Image via Alan Light

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