Catalonian-Spanish | Pakistani

Mixedracefaces has collaborated with The Institute of Cancer Research, London to profile some of the incredible staff members behind this world-leading cancer research organisation.

I identify as mixed-White and Asian. My Mom is from Barcelona (Catalunya, Spain) and my Dad is from Lahore (Pakistan). They met in Barcelona, which is where I was born and raised. They met when they were in their late 20s-early 30s through my Mom’s cousin and my Dad’s brother, who also ended up together and with 2 kids!

I realised I was mixed-race when I started secondary school. There weren’t many kids in my primary school, and I started there when I was 4, so we all knew each other since we were very little. However, when I started secondary school, just a few of us were new in that big school, and the kids picked up on my ‘weird’ name and started making comments. I also had darker skin than most people there which prompted lots of questions too. I don’t think there were many people in my year group or close to my age group that were mixed-race/from another country in my school, so it was fairly obvious ‘I was different’. Times change, and by the time my sister was my age, there was more diversity in the school, so she didn’t have to go through that as much.

I am sure if I had grown up in Pakistan I would now be a very different person. I identify as Spanish, not only because I was born there but because of how I was raised. When people ask me where I am from, I always say Spain. No doubt. It’s the easiest answer and it is where I am originally from! Sometimes I say Catalunya, if I think the people I am talking to know about it. I don’t usually mention that my Dad is from Pakistan unless someone specifically asks about my name. People always think I look Spanish, which I find funny because my Mom is blonde, with blue eyes, pale skin and freckles, so I definitely don’t look like my Spanish side of the family!

I think it was a bit difficult for my Dad to have two daughters in a very open-minded society like we have in Spain, especially when you compare it to Pakistan. My Mom had to help us in our ‘fights’ with my Dad, explaining to him how here things are different than there. My sister and I struggled a little bit with freedom, but we always accepted his asks and he got more reasonable as we got older. We were good girls and always behaved well. My parents also knew all our friends, so he had no reason to be scared and got used to us wearing shorts or skirts and going out for dinner and stuff like that.

I wouldn’t say I faced challenges. I guess we all face different situations in life, and mine was around the topic of ‘being different’. I am sure some people has had it worse though! I did have to listen to some comments that I don’t think they were appropriate. Unfortunately, lots of kids do that, and it was about a subject that was not up to me, so I tried to not care much or let those people affect me. However, I have to say I did hate the fact I had darker skin than all the other girls in my school, and for most of secondary school I wore dark clothes, so it was less obvious. I used to complain about me having dark hair and skin when my mom had blue eyes, blond hair and freckles. I got over it eventually when I realised actually only a few people had bad things to say, but most of the people around me had nice things to say about it! Sometimes I had to stand some people making racist comments towards my Dad/people from Pakistan, but that just helped me decided who I wanted to be friends with, and also understand how people can be different and can have different opinions. I guess this is not a direct challenge, but something else I had to deal with was my parents not understanding each other sometimes and trying to help them see they were raised different and have different opinions and priorities.

I think the fact I am mixed-race makes me more tolerant and helps me understand different views and perspectives. I think I don’t get on well with people who are not open minded or that are, even if just slightly, racist. I don’t know if I would think the same if I had been 100% Spanish. I want to think so, but who knows.

I was raised eating Catalan food at home, but my Dad always brought me some Pakistani dishes from his restaurant and I do enjoy a lot exotic food. The more different the better. I do like trying different cuisines, while some other people don’t. I think it is a good way of getting to know other cultures. I don’t think music has had any effect. I do however enjoy Indian music for example because it reminds me of sunny Sunday mornings in our flat when I was 5 years old. I do speak three languages but none of them includes my dad’s (Punjabi) which I am learning at the moment. My Dad has always been concerned about us wearing short skirts or sleeveless t-shirts because he is ‘scared of the world outside’ as he says. Because of that, I have always been very aware of what I wear and what other people wear. I think I might be less tolerant in that respect, and I do share a bit of his opinion in the sense I think we need to be careful. We should not have to, but still we do. I have always envied my Mom with her blond hair and freckles. I have very thick and dark hair, annoyingly. I don’t really like it, but what can you do? I guess no one is absolutely happy with what they’ve got. When I got older enough I decided to start dying my hair a bit lighter, and when I was at university I decided to go for it and died it ginger! I’ve had it ginger-ish for 5-6 years, but now I am starting to bring it back to my natural dark colour. Not because I like it now but because it is easier, and I don’t really care much about looks anymore!

I like it when people are curious about my ethnicity. When they ask me how my parents met, if I speak the language, how was it living in a house with two different cultures. It shows interest and I feel appreciated. Other positive experiences include, listening to my Dad’s favourite music some Sundays when I was a child, or having my Mom read me a story in Catalan before bed and then my Dad singing me a song in Punjabi. I think those are my two favourite childhood memories.

Maybe as a child it was a bit different, but now it is not! Yes, sometime people call my name and when I show up they are surprised of how I look or about my accent, but I don’t think I am not being treated differently.

I don’t think being mixed-race has affected me in my workplace in any way. I am aware I would probably not be here if I had been raised in Pakistan instead of in Spain. But I don’t think being mixed-race has ever had any impact in me finding a job or how I am treated at my workplace. It might be because of the nature of my work, with science being a very diverse field where international collaborations are encouraged. However, I might see how in other jobs it may have an effect! I also think England is quite good with it, as there is a lot of people from everywhere, which I love! The fact that English is ‘the international language’ also makes it easier though. I don’t think Spain employs as many people from abroad, since some companies might be reluctant to hire someone that does not speak the native language.

If I were to be born again I would not change a thing! I am very happy of who I am and how I turned out to be. I think my parents did a very good job with my sister and I, and raised us to be very open minded, tolerant and curious. Said that, I wouldn’t have minded getting my Mom’s blue eyes! I think I would probably go for that if I was given the option!