Jamaican | Dominican
I prefer to call myself ‘Dual Heritage’ rather than mixed-race, however I am happy to be identified as mixed-race. I am an SGI Buddhist. I am a lesbian (gay). My Mother was born here in the UK, but to Jamaican parents who came over to England during the Windrush era. She grew up in Crawley, West Sussex most of her life and moved to South London during her teens. My Father is half-White and half-Black, he was born in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. My father’s mother was a White Hispanic and his Father was a Black Hispanic. My parents met at an acting class in Earls Court in the late 1970’s. My father was over in the UK on a full scholarship to King’s College University to study Philosophy. I grew up in Wandsworth (Battersea) and lived there until my early 20’s.
I recognised I was mixed-race when I started nursery, at about 5 years old I think. Children would point out that my hair was different. My surname was also Spanish - ‘Tangui-Sanchez’ (pre-first marriage) and so I would always be asked about that when the register was called. Children would call me ‘half-caste’ when they saw my father pick me up from school.
Interestingly my parents didn’t combine their cultures in my upbringing. I did not live with my Father growing up, so the main influence was that of my Mother, who has a strong Black identity. She would always tell me ‘you are Black’ although I did not ever fully feel that way because I was always told I look so different to my Mother and rest of the family in the UK. At the time, having a parent from the Dominican Republic was very rare. I never met anyone in the UK growing up that had the same ethnic background as me. I had a very segregated/one sided culture, despite being of mixed-race. My Mother would take me to see my Dominican family very often in America where they all live, and it was my Dad’s sister who told me all about my culture.
Despite trying to identify as Black, I was never accepted at school. During primary school I would be bullied about my hair because it was of a different texture to everyone else. I would always be picked on because of my surname. In secondary school it was very difficult. Again, I tried to fit in with the Black girls, but was not accepted by any due to my mixed identity and lighter skin colour. I didn’t really understand it at the time but have grown to understand it much more now. As an adult I have often had comments about ‘light-skin privilege’ or mixed-race people having it easier in life. I haven’t had as many issues in college or University thankfully but establishing friendships has always been difficult because of the perception of mixed-race people and superiority (which I do not believe in, we are all the same).
I have been very, very strategic in where I live, where I work, who I socialize with and in my choice of partner. I moved out of London in my 20’s but chose to move back to a specific area because of the positive impact it had on myself and my children in terms of the diversity. I wanted them to experience what I didn’t have as a child so that they can be open and accepting of all. I have wonderful friends who are all from very diverse backgrounds, sexual orientation, race, age etc.
I purposely chose a job (Social Work) where I knew that I could meet and support diverse communities. Most of my career, I have been the only person of colour, or the only mixed-race person, but this has changed recently, and I am in a very diverse workplace currently. My personal life for sure. I have often felt that I could not fit inside a box, that I was not accepted anywhere, and have for many years been trying to figure out just who I am in terms of ethnic background. I am on a constant journey of self-discovery.
I can understand Spanish very well but speak it conversationally. I also lack confidence because I have no-one else to speak it to. I have recently started taking Spanish lessons with my partner so that I can be fluent in my Father’s language. I feel that it has affected me, because I could not speak to my Abuela (Grandmother) because she did not speak English. I feel a little bit outside of my father’s culture because I cannot speak the language fully and when I visit my family I don’t feel as fully integrated if they speak Spanish (they speak English too).
My Father has always been passionate about the arts and so from a very young age, he would teach me about Dominican writers, singers etc. The music too, both my parents are passionate about music in all forms. There is something that lights a fire inside me when I hear merengue, or even reggaeton because it makes me feel proud of my heritage. Food is also very important. I make sure my own children have a Dominican dish as often as I can.
Being asked where I’m from has had a varied over the years. Usually I say planet earth, or South London. There is so much richness on both sides of my heritage. I love that I can identify with more than one culture and share this with my children. It enables me to meet so many different and amazing people.
Being mixed in today’s society is much easier than it was growing up. I have noticed the increasing trend for ‘Latina women’ in British culture, especially music. I notice songs, lyrics, that refer to Latina’s where you never would before. There is a lot of influence from America, with TV shows that always feature a ‘Latina’ or mixed-race woman. I do feel that we are viewed a little bit as a commodity sometimes and have been approached in the past by suitors simply because they wanted ‘a mixed-race or Latina girlfriend’. I certainly have been referred to as ‘exotic’ in the past, which I don’t like. There are so many mixed-race people now, that I think it has become much more accepted. There is still some way to go, in breaking down prejudice, misconceptions, and incorrect terms for mixed-race people such as ‘half-caste’. There is also still a lack of representation in certain areas of society. I see this largely at work. I am training to be a Psychotherapist, which has a real lack of diversity. I would like to see more mixed-race people in parliament, public figures, senior positions such as CEO’s and Head Teachers for example.
If I had the opportunity to be reborn I would want to return exactly as I am. Although my journey has been challenging at times, I have learned to love who I am and use my experiences to support others. The only thing I would change, is the confidence I lacked as a child and young woman in being proud of being mixed-race.