Richard & Jacqueline Esono

What’s your full name?

[RE]: Richard Esono.

[JE]: Jacqueline Esono.

How old are you?

[RE]: 31.

[JE]: 24.

Where were you born/brought up?

[RE]: Born in Madrid, Spain. Brought up in Nairobi, Kenya.

[JE]: Born in Kenya.

What do you do for a living?

[RE]: I’m an architect.

[JE]: I’ve just finished my Masters in Transnational Law and currently studying the Legal Practice Course in London.

What’s your ethnicity?

Blasian - Black and East Asian (Equatorial Guinean and Filipino).

How did your mum and dad meet?

Dad was studying in Madrid Spain, and taught Spanish part time. Mum just so happened to be one of his students-the rest is history.

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How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?

[RE]: I was conscious that people saw me differently when I started my university studies in the UK—so age 17. Before that, growing up in Kenya in an international school, I never really questioned my ethnicity as there were many other ‘mixed race’ children at school. I remember having countless conversations when meeting other local UK students on nights out at university and would mention I’m Spanish by nationality. But then the response that would follow was - ‘but you don’t look Spanish’, or ‘you speak English very well’. Then I had to explain my whole essay long explanation of my mixed background. It think the impact these scenarios had on me was one of indifference— neither positive or negative. Yes, I would question my distinct background, but I never really read too much into it.


[JE]: When I was 10ish (maybe younger). It’s that age when I started to understand things a little bit more and when we went on family vacation to the Philippines/Spain/Equatorial Guinea, my brothers and I didn’t quite look like our cousins on either side. I wouldn’t say it had an impact on me because we were always treated normally within the family (and that’s all that counts). I think I found it pretty cool (I still do). One thing that has stuck with me, though, a few years down the line, a couple of Christmases ago in Canada, my dad was giving me one of his serious talks on working hard etc. and he said something that surprised me because I didn’t think that he would understand this but he did. He said to me ‘Jackie, I have no doubt you will be successful but you’re going to have to push a little bit harder because you are a woman of colour.’ It kinda gave me another layer of confidence and drive.

Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.

[RE]: In high school a girl pointed out that I had these small ‘webs’ in my eyes towards my nose, which apparently exists in Asians. I noticed other black kids at school never really had these ‘webs’, and when I looked at my mother she had the same features too.There were also some comments when I was in primary school in conversations whereby I mentioned I was black, but people corrected me and said things like ‘you don’t look 100% black’.

The Asian side was never even mentioned in the conversation.

When we went to the Philippines on family holidays to my mum’s home town, there were people who would look at my siblings and myself with curiosity. I liked to think I was Filipino as well, but local Filipinos also pointed out that I wasn’t.

Another scenario was whenever I went to the barbershop in Nairobi, Kenya, the hairdresser would always point out that my hair was extremely soft, unlike African hair — This still happens today whenever I go visit the Eritrean barber in London! Then this has to go back to my essay long explanation of why my hair is the way it is.

[JE]: When I started living in Tanzania and there was this weird and horrible conception going around school by a group of certain individuals saying, ‘mixed race people were ‘better’ and wanted to include me in that ‘group’. It made me feel sick.

Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?

[RE]: My parents prepared me well for life as a mixed race person. They taught me to be open-minded, accepting, cautious, respectful and empathetic towards other people who are different like me. As a result of growing up in an international school, in an multicultural household, my parents presented me with many opportunities to grow and be accepting and curious about other cultures because you could learn a thing or two from others.

[JE]: Yes and No. They are/were aware of certain obstacles, but they are also strong believers in meritocracy (which to a certain, extent plays its part). They always say if you work hard, there’s no reason why anyone should deny you anything.

What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?

[RE]: Comments that I have heard about being mixed race that really annoys me are those regarding celebrities, and how various ethnic groups want to claim them for their own ethnic group because they are considered extremely attractive. I don’t know why communities do this but my guess is they do so because they believe that if they can associate that star to their ethnic group this would instill confidence or aesthetic/beauty validation in their own ethnic group— This should not be the case, as every ethnicity has their own beauty, yet it happens all the time.

A very good example was when Meghan Markle, was propelled into greater prominence by marrying into the UK Royal Family. African Americans in particular on social media or the news, would make comments that were along the lines about her (Meghan) ‘it’s about time that a black African Queen takes over the throne (???)—don’t quote me on this but I’m sure I read it somewhere. In my opinion, she does not belong exclusively to the black ethnic group as these communities in social media would suggest—it irritated me so much, because they are implying that a person of mixed race has to ‘choose’ a side, which should never be the case. At the end of the day, not only does she belong to the African ethnicity, but she also belongs to the white ethnic group 50-50 – Simple maths applies here.

[JE]: 1) You’re not black, black.

2) You’re not Asian, Asian

3) Being mixed race is ‘better’

4) Referring to my hair * ‘how do you wash it?’ Or ‘I didn’t think you could wash it.’ (I think this applies to people with mixed to Afro hair)

What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?

[RE]: That being mixed race isn’t always easy, especially when you’re a child.

[JE]: That it’s not a trend or fashion statement (this applies to people who are mixed race too) .

Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?

[RE]: Yes I think so — to an extent. But sometimes, especially in some movies or sitcoms I get a bit itchy when they put a mixed race child as the child of two black people in families for example - just weird. Examples include Hilary (played by the actress Karyn Parsons) and Ashley (played by the actress Tatyana Ali) in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

[JE]: Not really, but then again, it’s hard to represent a good majority because being mixed race entails so many different combinations.

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Back in the late 19th century/early 20th century being mixed race held a stigma, as it was clear proof of interracial relations which was seen as an affront to society’s morals. Do you think it’s easier nowadays to be mixed race or is it more that racism has become subtler?

[RE]: Yes, because people are becoming more accepting, and aware of diversity. Many mixed race couples are becoming notable. I have loads of friends who are also in mixed race relationships.

[JE]: I think it’s easier nowadays because society, in general, has become more accepting – this of course depends on where you live, work, which crowds you chose to interact with. However, a huge issue that still exists is unconscious bias – I dunno how to get rid of that.

Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?

[RE]: A blessing 100%. Its’ nice to be the result of two very different cultures.

[JE]: ‘Burden’ implies that it has been an issue and it never really has been. I would say that it has been a ‘blessing’ because I’ve been able to experience both my mum and dad’s cultures. Not saying that only mixed race people can do this, anyone can. But you know, brought up in it, up close and personal.  

This question links to the previous one. It really depends on the environment you were brought up in, what kind of groups you hung out in, what kind of lifestyle you lead and whether you chose to internalize experiences.

I think my brothers and I have been very lucky to have met the groups of people that we hang out with because they are very open-minded, understanding and welcoming. We are third culture kids who have met other third culture kids and ‘non third cultures’, so to me it’s all about who you chose to interact with and how you chose to respond to negative/ignorant situations.

Have you felt a struggle with your identity? If so, how did you deal with it and if you are now at peace with who you are, how did you come to a place of self-acceptance?

[RE]: I had a teacher who was impatient with me when it came to identifying ‘my origins’ as part of my school assignment. So I did struggle a bit when I was younger. It was better during high school and easier to accept I was a combination of both and happy with it.

[JE]: Not that it’s been a struggle because I think my parents did a good job exposing us to both sides of the family. It’s always cool to be able to switch from one side to the other. Some people would say conflicted, I say adaptable.  

What advice would you give to your younger self?

[RE]: No advice. I was happy growing up with a mixed culture and be accepting of others’ differences at a young age anyway.

[JE]: Be even more kind, stay true and honest.

Is there anything more you would like to say?

[RE]: Everyone is unique, mixed race or not. We should be accepting of people’s differences regardless of our heritage.

[JE]: Excel in whatever field you’re in so no one has a reason to deny you.
 

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