Czech | Syrian

I identify as a Czech-Syrian raised in Jamaican household. My mother’s family is Catholic & my father is Muslim, I’m religious but not a strict Catholic or Muslim. I simply believe in God from a Christian/Islamic perspective. I am heterosexual.

My step-dad is Jamaican, and my biological dad is Syrian. My mum is Czech. My parents met in Czech Republic at University in the 80s. I was born in Brno, Czech Republic and was raised in Jamaica. My family and I moved to London in 2004.

I always felt a bit different from the age of about 5 or 6 when I started primary school. My best friend then was half Czech and half Iraqi, we looked very similar. Somehow, we ended up sitting together in class. At first, she and the other kids were afraid to talk to me because they thought I was Romany Gypsy (at the time there was a lot of discrimination against gypsies and anyone else who looked different.) It didn’t help that I have an Arab name. My mom often told me about my biological dad and where he came from and I was fascinated by the Syrian culture, something very exotic that was a part of me but at the same time I was not part of it. In a way I always felt that a part of me was missing in that respect and I spent a lot of time wondering how different my life would have been, but I wouldn’t change anything about my life or my childhood, as I was lucky to have a father figure who cared for me and took up a responsibility that wasn’t his to begin with.

In Jamaica I felt more like I belonged because it’s a very mixed nation, after all the national motto is ‘Out of many, One people.’, and it is true. The only time I felt excluded was one time when at school a teacher made an unkind comment towards me about race/colour in the run-up preparations for Black History month celebrations at school.

My biological dad left when I was 3 years old, so when I speak of my parents I often mean my mum and my step-dad. My parents simply embraced each other’s cultures, learned each other’s language. When we moved to Jamaica my mum embraced everything with enthusiasm. It was more difficult for society around them to accept their relationship; in Czech Republic at the time (under communism) foreigners were still viewed suspiciously. In Jamaica, it was more accepted but occasionally people would make remarks and insinuate that my mother (a White woman) took one of the few ‘good Black men’ (because my Dad is educated and had a good job), which was offensive not only to her but also to my Dad.

In terms of my mom’s relationship with my biological Dad, it was even more frowned upon due to not only his ethnicity but religion as well. His family didn’t approve of my mom as they thought she was Jewish and would only allow them to marry if she converted to Islam. I think it was one of the many reasons why it didn’t work out for them.

I have occasionally been on the receiving end of nasty comments from various people, but I don’t believe I have ever been held back by my mixed identity. At the same time, I’ve never felt truly and fully accepted by either side. I’m often told I look Turkish.

In the past I have been influenced by my social environment, but later on as my social circle expanded and I matured I realized I identify with everyone around me and I choose people based more on personality rather than culture/ethnicity/looks.

My partner is a second-generation Viet/Chinese and we have a little boy together; we have embraced each other’s cultures and it feels simply right, like we were just meant to be. Our families get along really well so it’s all good.

All things considered, I don’t think being mixed-race has had an effect on my work or personal life. I’ve been lucky to have been exposed to many cultures and traditions and I feel it has made my life rich and varied, and so I am able to be understanding and tolerant towards others. I feel very connected to people from all walks of life. I embrace everything about all my cultures, food, literature, arts etc.

I think there is still bias towards mixed-race people because we get the best of both worlds, but we are also caught in the middle and sometimes get blamed for the shortcomings of both cultures.

I speak Czech and I also speak Patois (Jamaican dialect), which takes a lot of people by surprise. I don’t speak Arabic, but I aim to rectify that soon, especially as my biological dad made contact with me last summer after 30 years. When asked where I’m from I jokingly identify as a ‘citizen of Earth’.

I sometimes get upset when people blame me and ‘my people’ for the enslavement of Africans because I appear White, and my response usually is ‘Czechs and Syrians never enslaved anyone’. Being mixed-race in today’s society does present its challenges, but it also allows me to blend in wherever I like.

I believe that I am exactly where I am meant to be in my life at this point; I think everything in my life has come full circle, especially since my biological dad made contact with me after 30 years of silence. I have my partner and my son, and I feel complete. My life is full, I wouldn’t change a thing.