German/Irish | Colombian

I identify as mixed heritage. My mum was born in Colombia and my dad was born to a German father, who was a prisoner of the war and an Irish mother. My parents met in London in the 70’s when my mum came over to study/ work. I grew up in South East London

It’s a weird thing, as I don’t feel comfortable calling myself mixed-race. I’m aware I am physically seen as White. Growing up with friends and colleagues who were raised in White/ British households I always felt different to them, even though I looked like them. Even going around to friend’s houses for dinner at a young age I noticed a different culture, from food, traditions, even parenting/ rules etc. I didn’t feel like I was very ‘British’. When I started school I’d always get kids in my class asking why my mum spoke ‘funny’ and pronounced words differently, but I’d never notice it because that’s what I was brought up with, but I think around then was when I noticed I was different, but it wasn’t until I was older that I’d label it as ‘mixed’.

My dad learnt my mum’s first language (Spanish) and they visited Colombia regularly. My parents would have social gatherings in the house and the majority were my mum’s friends who were Colombian, and I think my dad saw it as a good way to practice his Spanish.

I haven’t personally faced any prejudice as people have always seen me as White/ English, although I have seen difficulties my parents have faced. My surname is German, and I remember growing up my dad used to change his name on application forms to traditional English surnames as he knew he would be discriminated against with a ‘foreign’ surname. I also remember my mum going for a job in a local bakery and not getting the job because she was ‘foreign’. So I grew up being aware of discrimination. Although I’ve not experienced prejudice, I have had personal challenges. I very much felt from a young age I didn’t feel like I fit in with friends/ colleagues, just because I didn’t relate to what they were saying or would do. Even down to small things when friends would go around to relative’s house at weekends, but most of mine lived abroad. I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, as I’m not one that likes to fit in but I’m not sure if that comes from being mixed. As I get older, the more I appreciate my mixed heritage and the way I’ve been brought up in different cultures and I see myself as very lucky to have experienced this and don’t see it as a challenge. I also almost appreciate my mixed heritage more when I witness narrow mindness in any form.

I definitely think my social environment plays a part in how I choose friends/partners. I am put off by narrow minded people. My boyfriend has a very traditional British family, although him and my in laws are interested in Colombian culture and my mum in law is even learning Spanish. Weirdly since being with my boyfriend it has opened me up to be more British e.g. drinking tea and going for Sunday roasts, small things like this I never would have done before as it wasn’t something family did. I couldn’t date or be friends with anyone that wasn’t open to different cultures/ environments.

I believe being mixed-race has made me more open minded towards different cultures, whatever they be. I found it’s also made me more aware of ‘casual’ racism, when people don’t see anything wrong with what they’re saying towards a race/ nationality and most of the time I think this is just down to them not being informed enough. I think if you’re born into or near a different race/ nationality it makes you more aware of prejudice whether it be your race/ nationality or another.

I definitely think there is a stereotype towards mixed-race, I think people generally think of mixed-race being people of colour, when this isn’t always the case. I know people that are of colour, but both their parents were born in this country and raised with British traditions and feel more British than myself, who is seen as White but was brought up in more of a cultural mix.

I feel uncomfortable speaking Spanish, I grew up in a predominately White/ English school and would always reply to my mum in English when she spoke to me in Spanish, which I now deeply regret. I feel like I have a foot in the door with both the British and Colombian culture, but don’t feel comfortable fully in either. Unfortunately, I don’t have much contact with my German and Irish half so don’t feel like I’m a part of their cultures/ traditions. So generally its British cultures mixed in with Colombian traditions. E.g. in Colombia they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, so we get together with my Colombian family and celebrate with traditional Colombian Christmas dishes, then we celebrate Christmas Day in a British way. We also keep to Colombian traditions for NYE, which is always amusing to friends, as a big tradition is to eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight.

When asked where I’m from I say I’m from South London, which usually leads to where my parents are from. A negative is almost feeling like you don’t belong to any particular culture, the positive is definitely the open mindness it gives you.

If I had the opportunity to be reborn I would return as I am, but I would make more of an effort to explore my parent’s culture from a younger age.