Global Conversation with Daisy van den Hooff-Mertens, Flemish in the World

Philadelphia is a diverse city full of many different cultures that continually grow larger. Among them is the distinct culture of Belgium through immigrants from Flanders. To help with the growing Flemish population in Philadelphia, Daisy van den Hooff-Mertens has opened a branch of Flemish in the World in the city and helps new immigrants adjust to life in the States.

What is Flemish in the World?

Belgium actually has three language groups, the Flemish in the North of the country, and then the Walloon in the South, and a little portion of the country is also German-speaking. I would say that the Flemish-speaking population is about 6.5 million people out of the 11 million people in the country. Out of the 6.5 million Flemish people, about 300,000 live abroad, over the years there was a need, apart from the official institutions like the consulates and embassies, for representation abroad also.

What is the mission of Flemish in the World?

It actually assists people who are considering immigration. It also assists people who are re-entering Belgium from abroad. They offer a whole network of assistance be it about health care, social security, taxes, and also, just plainly, cultural know-how that is best provided by fellow compatriots who are living in the countries where the people are thinking of immigrating to.

As an immigrant I think it’s important when you arrive in a country that you’re willing and you’re open to embrace everything that is new. That actually means that you don’t efficate your values. You don’t stop using the same value system that you’re used to, but it’s your subcultural value system. You cannot come in and impose what you’re used to moving into the country. So, you adapt, you integrate and, slowly, you try to bring in whatever you still have as your own cultural values from your old country, you bring them into your new country and work toward the perfect osmosis of the two. Meeting someone from your own language and culture creates and makes for a connection.  But, I think you cannot just dwell on that and that has never been my mission with the group. It’s merely helping people understand.

How did the organization Flemish in the World emerge in Philadelphia?

Since there was no representation in Pennsylvania here, I thought to myself, “I can be relevant. I can be a source of knowledge to other people coming from my birth country and help them understand how to integrate.” I do believe that immigration, for me, is about really loving the country that you’re moving to, and being willing to understand the history of the country.

What kind of events or activities does Flemish in the World hold?

We try to accentuate and incorporate our profile within the international community. Every year around the national holiday of the Flanders region we have a potluck and we really celebrate. Ever since we moved here we have also become very involved with the Multiple Sclerosis Society. As you know Flanders is a nation of bikers. One of the most famous pro bikers was from Belgium. We have our Tour of Flanders for which Flanders is really known. In an attempt to combine the culture of charity and compassion that’s really specific to the United States, we have our passion for biking and use that to help out the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Flemish Lions biking at the MS150. Photo courtesy of Daisy van den Hooff-Mertens.

Every year, we have a team of Flemish Lions participate in the City to Shore two day bike race. We bike 150 miles from Philly to Ocean City and back. This year will be our eighth time participating and, over the years, we have raised $100K for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Every time the logo of the Flemish government changes, we adapt our outfits. So we’ve had two outfits with different outfits.

In addition to this bike race, each year students from Flemish universities come to our city for a semester at the local universities, specifically Wharton Business School. Each year, I welcome those students and introduce them to both Philly and the events that we are organizing with Flemish in the World in order for them to meet the local Flemish community. As we all know, networking is of key importance and, with Flemish in the World, we are happy to provide those links.

University of Leuven students who are attending the Wharton Business School. Photo courtesy of Daisy van den Hooff-Mertens.


What is one of your biggest accomplishments so far?

One of the most significant events we’ve held was back in 2015 during the Global Philly Festival, where we held a Flemish Heritage event in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At the time there was an exhibition called “Wrath of the Gods”. This exhibition was centralized around the museum’s biggest painting, Peter Paul Rubens’s “Prometheus,“ who was one of the Flemish Masters from Antwerp in Flanders.


Members of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia standing in front of Ruben’s “Prometheus”. Photo courtesy of Daisy van den Hooff-Mertens.


I, then, commissioned Maestro Brossé to find Flemish 16st century music and he discovered the “Antwerp Dance Book,” a collection of musical dances. A quintet of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia performed six of those original dances and Maestro Brossé’s  recomposed, contemporary versions of these dances. All of this in the gallery, in front of the Rubens painting with 200 people in the hall, both Flemish and Americans.

How do people get involved with Flemish in the World?

Most people found out about Flemish in the World in Belgium and then, once they come here, we really work through mouth-to-mouth. For the moment, we receive information on who is immigrating to the US from the Flemish in the World headquarters in Belgium. We get regular updated lists of people who are living in our respective states. I am also on Facebook so everyone can find me there.


If you would like to learn more about this organization, visit


Article by Will Becker, Global Philadelphia Association