Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

– article by Annabel van Heesbeen

A Dutch merchant navy officer rescued my mother and me from El Salvador

Foto: Robert Oosterbroek


“I came to the Netherlands from El Salvador by ship. The captain saw my mother and me in Acajutla and couldn’t leave without taking us too. He’s been like a father to me ever since.” Tony Perez is sitting on the terrace of Kimmade on Oudegracht as he recounts his tale. In 1990, a civil war was raging in El Salvador. A Dutch merchant navy officer was docked in the coastal town on the Pacific Ocean delivering goods. He met Tony’s mother, but Tony isn´t quite sure how. “It’s not important. He’s a kind man and he didn’t feel he could leave without doing a good deed.”

Tony’s mother was seventeen when she gave birth to him; his father was ‘out of the picture’. Due to the civil war, the future was anything but bright. So Tony’s mother couldn’t believe her luck when she met a Dutchman who offered to help her get out of El Salvador and start a new life in Holland. At the age of two, Tony boarded a ship bound for the Netherlands and he’s never been back since. He’d like to visit his family in El Salvador, but his grandmother has advised against going. “There are too many gangs and I’d stand out as a foreigner. She’s scared something would happen to me. I’m in two minds about going.”

Utrecht and Tony developed together
Tony’s mother and the Dutch captain didn’t form a couple, but they did raise Tony together. “At first, we all lived in his house in Bergen op Zoom. He bought a bar so that my mother would have a regular job and could apply for residency. As soon as she was given a residence permit, he sold the bar, and my mother and I moved into a flat.” (Foto: Robert Oostenbroek)

Tony moved to Utrecht to study. He chose Utrecht because it was far enough away to start living by himself. And because this ‘big’ city had a lot going on without being alien and anonymous. The other attraction was the number of women studying in Utrecht. ‘Let’s be honest…’, he says. He’s now happily engaged and has been with his fiancée for nine years. He began studying law but quickly realised that it wasn’t really his thing. He got into photography on his nights on the town, publishing a weekly album of a club evening on tillate. His ‘hobby’ soon took over and these days, Tony is a professional photographer and filmmaker.

Tony has lived in the Noorderlicht, the high tower block on Oudenoord, for several years now. Every morning, he watches the spectacular sunrise from his apartment on the ninth floor. He can’t get enough of the photos he takes of this stunning view with the windmill on Merelstraat. Utrecht has become ‘his city’. He and the city he loved as a student have developed together. “More and more speciality restaurants have popped up and there’s so much going on. I might have to spend some time abroad for my job, but I know I’ll return to Utrecht eventually. No two ways about it!”

Name: Tony Perez
Place of birth: Acajutla
Motto: ‘A day without laughing is a day not having to think about a cheesy motto’

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.

Click here to view the other articles.