Multiculturalism as a way of life: Bijlmer

Photograph of “I love Iran” sticker in the center of Bijlmer, by Salvador Nito
Salvador Nito and Sebastian Aceves

Far away from the bustling and iconic Amsterdam city center, a neighborhood located in Zuidoost thrives in multiculturality and breaths an air of its own. This is Bijlmermeer, also known as the shortened ‘Bijlmer’, an area that for long time has been associated with crime and danger; but for the local community, their home is a meeting place representing different nationalities, tolerance and effort.

One of the many things that visitors will notice is the Bijlmer Arena Station, located in front of the Johan Cruyff Arena. This is the main destination for many, but a few minutes away from the station, a rich and complex community resides. The department buildings, inspired by famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier, are inhabited by people who share over 130 nationalities.

A tailor shop on Bijlmerdreef street displays colorful Pakistani dresses. Inside, owner Bazaad Ali works on a pair of jeans. “I have people from all parts of the world come into my shop. From Africa, India, mainly from Suriname”, he says. Bazaad, called Azaad by his customers, is an immigrant himself. He arrived from Pakistan 24 years ago and opened his own shop in 2015.Bijlmer is not a dangerous place, people are really friendly”, he adds with a smile. He interacts with his customers a lot since he spends most of his time in the shop.

On the other side of the street, an Indian shop has its doors open. People from countries with hostile relations between them, like India and Pakistan, are neighbors in Bijlmer. Here, they share the experience of being foreigners in a different country. “Everything comes directly from India”, store worker Brinola Baldew says proudly. The store is a three in one, offering products from Asian nations, cell phone sim cards and flights. People from Pakistan, India, even Spain come here”, she states.

The multiculturality can also be appreciated in the advertising and store offers in the neighborhood. Inside Brinola’s store a sign says Call to Nigeria 1ct/min. Just outside, a money exchange establishment offers money transfers to Gambia, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Suriname. In a mailbox outside a printing center, a sticker reads “I love Iran. Inside, Dwight works with the printing machines. We’re the only printing center in this part of town. The next one is in the center of Amsterdam”, he declares. Bijlmer It’s really multicultural, which is nice. There is always something to do”, Dwight states. He was born in the Netherlands, but his parents come from Suriname.

Bijlmermeer is now facing transformations. New buildings are being constructed around the area. Gentrification of the neighborhood is underway. However, it is currently a place where people from all around the world live together and call home.