Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“Quite simply, I no longer want to be associated with the USA“
“Politics in the USA is becoming more aggressive, grimmer.” Especially in Oklahoma, which Laurel Cunningham (26) left behind. She looked on from Utrecht as Trump seized power: a man who doesn’t ‘give a fuck’ about poor people, and who harbours idiotic notions about people who are different. It makes Laurel feel despondent, yet assertive at the same time. “Quite simply, I no longer want to be associated with the USA. I hope that Trump has to resign early. That would be fun to watch.” However, that would present a major disadvantage. “Then Mike Pence, a conservative Christian, would become president. That would be a disaster for the LGBTQ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer), which includes many of my Oklahoman friends. I would hate to see their rights be restricted, and for them to become unhappy.”
Laurel is much engaged with politics, gender issues and feminism in Utrecht. She moved here in 2013 to escape the conservative political climate at home, and to enrol in the gender studies bachelor programme. She’s part of the ‘leftists scene’, consisting of left-wing Utrechters. Anarchists, for example, and LGBTQ people. Every Sunday, she presides over Book Café The Barricade in squatter’s café ACU, where they discuss various social issues, from housing prices in Utrecht to the French elections. Laurel is also part of feminist groups. “Let me know if you’re part of a club that I could join, or if you want to start a new one!”
The Netherlands is a free country because it allows political debate, Laurel says, but there’s much room for improvement. According to her, transgender people and people of colour still struggle here. “They’re not entirely safe. However, I do feel safe on the streets at night; I look like a Dutch person.”
A recent development in Utrecht that worries Laurel is gentrification, a phenomenon she sees in Lombok. “I live in a student apartment on the Leidsekade and my neighbours drive BMWs and Mercedes. The Kanaalstraat just around the corner is an entirely different world.” Laurel hopes that people from different social classes will start mingling more.
“This is why we don’t hike our prices at ACU.” It would be easy, she explains, because the Voorstraat is becoming trendier: new places are popping up everywhere. And admittedly, it’s tempting, because the squatter’s café is in dire financial straits. But you don’t compromise on ideals. “It’s important to us that everyone who comes here now, can keep coming, including those with little spare cash. We’ll try to stay afloat in different ways.”
American Laurel doesn’t earn any money from working for the ACU, or from her feminist endeavours. She waits tables and pulls beers at Oproer, a vegan restaurant in Zuilen where her international colleagues are like friends to her. She’s also an enthusiastic English teacher at language school Kookoovaja, near the Wilhelmina Park. She hopes to start her master’s degree programme next year, get a PhD and start working at her beloved Utrecht University. And if she can’t find work here, she’ll try elsewhere in Europe. Return to the USA? Never.
Name: Laurel Cunningham
Date of birth: 13 December 1990
Place of birth: Oklahoma, United States of America
Motto: “If you’re struggling with something, always consider this: will it still be important next week, next month, or next year?”
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.