Eddie Van Halen endured a 'horrifying racist environment' before becoming a rock legend
Music fans around the world mourn the legendary Van Halen rock star Eddie Van Halen. And while many today honor his legacy as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, fans also highlight previous interviews describing his encounters with painful racism and mixed race discrimination in his early years.
Van Halen, who died of throat cancer on Tuesday at 65, was the son of Dutch and Indonesian immigrants and spent his childhood in the Netherlands. His former bandmate David Lee Roth, a rock superstar, once revealed on the podcast "WTF with Marc Maron" how painful the experience was for the young Van Halen and his brother, the drummer Alex Van Halen.
In the 2019 interview, Roth described how badly Van Halens' parents were treated due to their mixed relationship in the 1950s.
"It was a big deal. These homeboys grew up in a terrible racist environment where they actually had to leave the country," Roth said on the podcast.
He added that the brothers, often referred to as "mixed race" in the Netherlands, still faced difficult circumstances after immigrating to the US.
"Then they came to America and didn't speak English as their mother tongue in the early 1960s. Wow," Roth said to Marron. "So that kind of spark, that kind of stuff that goes deep."
The brothers' mother, Eugenia, met her father, Jan, a traveling musician, in Indonesia when it was under Dutch rule. Shortly after World War II, the couple decided to move to the Netherlands, where the rock stars were born.
Eugenia was treated as a "second-class citizen," Van Halen said in a 2017 interview with music journalist Denise Quan for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The family packed up and traveled to the United States in 1962 for nine days of boat hike before settling in the Pasadena, California area.
Your early days in the United States were difficult, Van Halen told Quan. The family lived in a house that was shared with two other families. While his mother was a maid, his father took a job as a janitor and also had a music career. The environment at the time was not particularly welcoming to the young immigrants, and Van Halen described his first day of school as "absolutely scary".
"We went through that in Holland, you know, first day, first grade. Now you are in a completely different country where you can't speak the language and you know absolutely nothing about anything and it was more than scary. " he said. "I don't even know how to explain, but I think it made us stronger because it had to be you."
He told Quan that the school he was attending at the time was still separate and that he was considered a "minority" student because he could not speak the language.
"My first friends in America were black," Eddie told the journalist. "Actually, it was the whites who were the bullies. They tore up my homework and papers, made me eat playground sand, all those things, and the black kids stood up for me."
Despite the racism and discrimination he faced, Van Halen told Quan that looking back on his life, he was grateful for his experience as an immigrant.
"I come here with about $ 50 and a piano, can't speak the language and go through everything to get where we are. If that's not the American dream, I don't know what it is," he said in the interview.
Indonesian social media users have paid tribute to Van Halen, who is considered a source of pride for many in the community.
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