Italian | Moroccan
I identify myself as a straight, non-religious individual of ‘other’ mixed background. My parents hail from opposing sides of the Mediterranean. Although born in Blighty, my mother is Italian, particularly of Southern Italian stock. Half Calabrese and half Sicilian. My father is Moroccan, half Arab and half Berber.
Picture the scene, a dingy café in Leicester Square. A young, shy girl working with her strict parents on the weekend (more compulsion that choice) is approached by a dashing foreigner who barely speaks English. He orders and lingers, striking up conversation in a patchwork of broken English, French and Italian. Returning on subsequent weekends he begins to understand the inner workings on the family and identifies the traditional set-up before asking the patriarch to begin courting. The recounting of the story seemed romantic. My mum was 17 at the time so nothing seedy.
I was labelled a townie by family friends who lived beyond the reach of London’s bright lights. I was born in East London before moving to Saaf. In short, the multicultural streets of South London.
Whilst I can’t pinpoint an exact date or age, there was a definitive moment at about 6 or 7 when I began to understand my mixed heritage. I grew up with my Italian family (knew little of the Moroccan side until much later in life) and we would have annual trips to Sicily, often with the extended clan. For the kiddies from the big city, the highlight was inevitably the seaside. It had everything a child could wish for; the sea, brightly coloured inflatable items, sand (including poorly made castles) and ice cream. However, there was always something that made me uncomfortable in this setting. Seemingly for years, one man patrolled the specific Sicilian beach front we frequented, selling all manner of items from towels to trinkets. He spoke Italian well but was distinguished from the local population by his distinctly foreign features. He was Moroccan. Described as a looky-looky man by my family and beyond. He was an illegal, grinding to make a better life for himself.
Whilst the older folks in the family would often peruse his mobile shop, discussion about the man was exclusively negative; his skin colour (it was darker), his Italian (was rough around the edges), his native tongue (primitive and vulgar), speculation about his culture (they are dirty people). At this point, I’d had little to no contact with my dad so my ‘Moroccanness’ wasn’t apparent in my mind. Yet, as part of one of these verbal dissections of the beach vendor, an aunty of mine asked my grandmother if she sure that her grandson wasn’t the offspring of this particular looky-looky man. Was it a joke? Yes. Did it make me acutely aware of my difference? Yes. Did I develop an inferiority complex about my Moroccan heritage? Yes.
My friends and I are a snapshot of London. A group as ethnically diverse as its possible to be. We’ve joked that we are the United Nations, or 10 years ago the go to reference was the United Colors of Benetton. It’s a very open group wherein the only real exclusionary factor is genuine bigotry.
There are two things that are important to me when I meet someone. The first is common ground, usually in the form of cultural references such as growing up in and around London. The second is cultural variety, coming from or having roots / connections somewhere else.
From my first until my current (and hopefully last!) girlfriend, I’ve always been attracted to people that are culturally different. Whether that means they are themselves mixed or they either hail from / are intimately linked to another culture entirely different to either my own or the land in which I call home.
Of course, there is still bias attitudes towards mixed-race people. Bias attitudes prevail across all forms of society, being of mixed heritage can’t be immune to that, especially when it’s such a diverse area that is rarely discussed in the public domain.
It strangely seems to allow people a right to comment or interact with your experience in a way that they wouldn’t with people from a more direct heritage. Whilst questions can be naturally inquisitive, i.e. ‘do you feel more of one than the other?’, they are usually negatively charged and ultimately expect you to pick a side. Questions like ‘what side do you prefer’ or ‘if they played a football game against each other which would you support’. These all point to the notion that being mixed isn’t seen as being balanced, rather, it’s a decision to be made.
If I was to be born again I would want to return as myself but knowing everything I know now, for a cheeky head start.
The future of mixed-race for me is Beige, BEIGE. All I see is beige. Considering people of mixed-heritage are the fastest growing minority in the UK, its inevitably going to become incredibly important as a topic of discussion in the public domain. Personally, I would hope that the mixed category will open up too.