British | Mongolian
I am of mixed Mongolian and British heritage. I am heterosexual, and although I don’t practice any religion, I believe that many of my spiritual beliefs derive from those of my Buddhist ancestors on my mum’s side of the family. My Mum was born in Leeds to Mongolian parents, who were among the first Mongols to emigrate to the West, having left initially for the USA in the 1950s. My Dad was born in Newcastle to a Scottish Mother and a Scottish/English Father. My parents met at university in Manchester, where my brother and I grew up.
I think my parents educated us to be aware of our ethnicity right from the start. It amuses me to remember that my response to the other children in soft play areas who used to ask, ‘are you Chinese?’ would always be to shoot them a glare and scoff, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. ‘Err no, I’m half Mongolian.’ Of course, as a five-year-old, I had no conception of how tiny the minority of mixed-race Mongols in the UK is. Had I known, maybe I would have been somewhat less derisive.
I’m so lucky to have grown up in Manchester, a big, liberal city with a great industrial history, now enriched by magnificent cultural and ethnic variety. However, in the suburbs where my childhood home is, the population is predominantly White, and my parents often used to get strange looks when out in public with me and my brother. Once, when my Dad was sitting in the park with my brother in his pushchair, a passer-by looked at him and remarked, ‘So he’s adopted then?’. My parents are very patient and would always take this sort of comment well, but I am sure it must have bothered them a little. My two sets of extended family have always seemed vastly different to me. I remember an anecdote about my paternal Great-Grandmother warning my young Dad not to marry a Frenchwoman, which he evidently didn’t, he married a Mongolian instead. Apart from this, each of my parents was accepted by the other’s family without much outward objection. However, it is true that my Mum’s passionate familial values, head-on approach to confronting problems and attitude of ‘tough love’ deviated drastically from the phlegmatic home life my Dad was used to.
Being mixed-race, you undoubtedly find yourself caught between two cultures and can feel a bit out of place at family gatherings. I love my Grandparents, but when we were small, my brother and I used to feel that we were the least favourite of the grandchildren on my Dad’s side. I’m not sure why, but I have always felt more like I ‘belong’ with my Mongol family than with my British relatives. I say to people that I often feel more Mongolian than I do British, even though I have lived here all my life.
It is becoming increasingly common to see interracial marriages and friendship groups, and that brings me so much joy. I think that, as far as our generation is concerned, differences in skin colour and cultural background are not the slightest issue if you find someone whose company you enjoy.
I study Modern Languages, and I honestly believe that one of the reasons I love languages and learning about different cultures is thanks to my mixed heritage. One of my life goals is to be a polyglot, so that I can travel, experience different ways of living and communicate with people all over the world. I listen to a lot of foreign music and will never turn down the opportunity to engulf a platter of ethnic foods. I find everything about world cultures; food, language, music, clothing. Beautiful and enchanting, and I don’t think I would feel so strongly if I weren’t mixed-race.
Perhaps in contrast to most mixed-race people, I love it when someone asks about my heritage: nothing gives me greater pleasure than speaking about the Mongol culture I feel such an affinity for. I remember saying, when I was about eleven, that being mixed-race was my favourite thing about myself. I still agree, I think being mixed-race gives you two sets of lenses through which to see the world. You can choose and change which pair you want to look through, and which pair you want to be seen wearing. Or, best of all, you can wear one of each. I think that’s a real privilege, and I will forever be grateful for my mixed-race identity.
I expected Oxford to be mostly White. I came from a fantastically diverse secondary school, and I think that, by comparison, Oxford does have a smaller percentage of students from ethnic minorities. However, I did not consider my heritage a factor in my decision to apply, because I do not believe that the university seeks to uphold, nor is proud of, its ‘White’ reputation. The students I have met at Oxford are bright, friendly and accepting, and as far as I can remember, I have not personally been the victim of casual racism. I certainly think that the college system in Oxford helps with regard to making the university welcoming and inclusive, since it is easy to meet a range of people and find personalities you get on with. However, it’s true that a very large proportion of the student body is White, and I can understand that being off-putting or intimidating to people of mixed or full minority backgrounds. Interestingly, I think Oxford has made me become even more aware of my presence as a mixed-race person. I’ve always had something of a soft spot for those with a similar mixture of races to me, White and oriental Asian, and I have noticed a lot more people of this combination in Oxford than I was used to seeing at home. I think that being mixed-race is a radically different category when it comes to debate on issues surrounding race, because it is much more difficult to align yourself with a single perspective when, throughout your whole life, you’ve had to amalgamate at least two. In all honesty, I am not sure of my opinions when it comes to Oxford’s racial discourse, but I would certainly feel supported if I were to make a stand as a mixed-race student. As soon as I saw the Oxford Mixed Heritage Society stall at the Freshers’ Fair, I was looking forward to being part of a community of people who, like me, are lucky enough to be able to see the world through multiple sets of lenses.
If I could be born again, after this life, I’d love to return as a little Mongolian girl and live with my family in the Mongol steppes, learning to shoot arrows whilst riding on horseback.
In the context of the University of Oxford, we hope our names; faces and stories will emphasis that there is a place for everyone at Oxford. According to last year’s admissions data, 700 Oxford undergraduates identify as mixed. In 2016, BAME students accounted for 15.9% of the undergraduate intake. Oxford is diversifying, albeit slowly. We hope to empower mixed heritage students at Oxford and foster a community where they can safely share their own opinions, experiences and stories.