Danny Lam’s story about being mixed Chinese-Vietnamese growing up in Sweden

Danny Lam’s Vietnamese mother and Chinese father immigrated to Sweden in the 1980s. He spent most of his childhood escaping from his Chinese origins to try and fit in and only after he founded the Instagram account TNKVRA (pronounced Tänkvärt) everything changed for him.

One in ten Swedes has a mixed background. They either have parents from different countries or they have grown up with two or more cultures. Swedish media Aftonposten is in the series MIX, shining a light on this particular group by featuring their stories of who they are and what their experiences are like.

Today Danny Lam is proud to be one hundred percent Vietnamese, one hundred percent Chinese, and one hundred percent Swedish, but it was not always the case for him. 

Growing up in a small town in Skåne, he often identified himself more as Vietnamese than Chinese or Swedish. He felt a stronger connection to the Vietnamese culture, he spoke the language better and he felt as if he did not belong in Sweden because he was always seen as an immigrant.

He explains that the first thing people always see is that he does not look as “Swedish” as others. He is often asked why he speaks Swedish so well and if he is adopted. “And then you always have to explain. I kind of have to defend myself – why I’m here and look like I do” he says.

Being treated like a “non-Swede” affected Danny a lot when he was a teenager and all he wanted to be was Swedish. He was interested in photography but he did not want to appear as the stereotypical Asian. Eventually he did everything in his power to distance himself from both China and Vietnam and if his mother called while he was with his friends he would speak Swedish to her although she spoke Vietnamese to him. “Almost everyone was white where I grew up and in school. I only hung out with Swedes, and if there were a bunch of East Asians, I would have joked about them with my friends. A form of internalized racism to make myself appear as all-Swedish,” he says.

Danny says he had a lot of self-hatred as a teenager and he joked at the expense of others because he wanted to be seen as the one who just happened to look Asian but who was in fact Swedish. Later on in life however he learned many concepts and expressions such as everyday racism and middle class, he became more self-aware and started his Instagram account TNKVRT (pronounced Tänkvärt) which is an interactive platform aimed at exposing injustices and everyday racism through personal stories, testimonials, news, and other thoughtful things. 

The platform has forced Danny to be honest with himself and think about what he has been through. He can relate to other people’s stories about their cultures and ethnicity and draw parallels to his own experiences. He says that thanks to the account and everyone who has shared their story he is proud of his culture today.

“Now I say that I am one hundred percent Vietnamese, one hundred percent Chinese, and one hundred percent Swedish. Now I try to embrace my cultures instead. And catch up on what I missed when I was younger, like the Vietnamese and Chinese I tried to repress”, he says.

About Mette Larsen

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