English/Irish | Chinese/Italian
I am Irish/Chinese/Italian/English (Mixed or White Asian on the dreaded tickbox), Agnostic (raised Catholic) & heterosexual. I am second generation mixed, so the most interesting part of my racial history comes in the form of my grandparents (paternal). My Chinese Grandfather and Italian Grandmother met when my Grandfather moved to a small rural village in Italy. My Grandmother’s staunchly Catholic family disapproved of their desire to get married so they emigrated to London to be able to live freely, happily and, most importantly, in love. Overcoming the difficulties of prejudice in order to be together has definitely taught me a huge lesson in love & self-preservation.
My Father looks Chinese but has the mannerisms of any Italian man (with the gesticulations to match). My Mother is half English and Irish but identifies strongest with her Father’s Irish heritage. I was always met with bemused facial expressions, which passed from my Asian father, to my blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mother, and then onto me, trying to figure out where I fitted in the puzzle.
I have always been aware of the importance of my varied heritage, but it only became something that I claimed and felt proud of when it was contested or when I came up against racist adversity. It was in sixth form and at university that I first experienced ‘casual racism’ and the fetishisation of mixed-race women. Hearing stock-phrases like ‘I’ve never got with an Asian girl before’ shocked me; my race wasn’t something that I ever took into account when thinking about my identity. I was always ‘myself,’ enough of an entity without those labels. It was only when they began to be imposed onto me, verbally branded onto my identity, that I began to attempt to claim it and embrace a new aspect of how I was perceived. I hate that it took a couple White men to help me realise who I am, but I think challenging other people’s perceptions of you is an important step in the journey of your identity.
Due to my Father’s job, we moved around a lot when I was younger, which seemed to complicate things hugely in terms of my heritage. Culturally, I didn’t really feel like I belonged to one place; the same could easily be said in terms of my heritage. The moment I began to settle into one place and become more comfortable with the idea of my identity within it, the bags were packed, and we were off on a new adventure. I grew up defined by being in-between; liminality punctured what was my very primitive understanding of who I was, and probably still does to some extent. My identity will always be a juggling act, a precarious, shifting prioritisation of the various factors contending with each other.
My parents enjoy their differing cultures, shown in microcosmic form by the enormous Irish flag that gets aggressively pinned up across the kitchen every Six Nations season while my Father weakly cheers for either England or Italy from the corner chair. My Father identifies predominantly as British, which means that we never had any particular influence from my Chinese and Italian heritage at home growing up. My Mother and my paternal Grandfather were incredibly close, and she is the one out of my parents who wants me and my siblings to try and become more connected with our Chinese heritage. Due to moving around a lot, we are already quite a multicultural household, whether that be the music that we play or the food that is on the table.
I like to think the variety of my cultures has made me more open to exploring other ones. I have found it difficult reckoning with cultural appropriation, having been questioned on my use of my different cultures, particularly my Chinese heritage. Because I am White-passing, I often feel that I cannot fully embrace Chinese fashion for fear of being reprimanded for it, my desire to share in my heritage being branded ‘cultural appropriation.’
I was fortunate and privileged enough that my heritage played no part in my decision to attend Oxford, the barrier for me seemed to be an intellectual one rather than anything else. I saw, rather optimistically and naively, that Oxford was a place where if you had a passion to learn about your subject, you could make it, irrespective of your background. I only realised once I got here how many factors are in play; Oxford has a long way to go in regard to putting the brilliant and widening discourse surrounding admissions into action. There are students doing dazzling work to show that there is a place for everyone at Oxford, demystifying the applications process and providing mentor schemes for under-privileged and BAME students. While the large majority of the student body are united in a message of equality, this enthusiasm needs to be picked up by the University in a more action-driven way. Oxford is getting better every day with how it approaches prospective students, particularly those who may find the concept of Oxford elitist and daunting. However, it has a long way to go. As students who have both the experience of facing some kind of adversity and the privilege of being at this kind of institution, we have a duty to change things for the better for young people who have dreams of flourishing academically, but currently not the means.
My experiences at Oxford have made me vastly more aware of my mixed identity. I grew up very content not to really think about it, I thought of myself as White as any of the other girls I went to school with. The power of the discourse in Oxford, and the sheer importance of people speaking their experiences and trying to make a difference has been enough for me to be able to claim my own identity. Before our creation of the Mixed Heritage Society, I experienced a sense of displacement. I didn’t fully belong in any of the societies for specific nationalities, because I didn’t feel like I was ‘enough’ of a singular one. It has been unbelievably rewarding bringing this society to fruition; meeting people who are so excited and relieved to have found a space in the bustling identity discourse at Oxford that they can call their own has been the most rewarding part. To generalise, I have found what mixed-race people feel they lack is a real sense of belonging, we aim to provide this for them.
In the context of the University of Oxford, we hope our names; faces and stories will emphasise 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