What’s your full name?
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. But I used to live in Ecuador for half the year until I started school.
What do you do for a living?
Bar work, but I quit my job last week, I needed The Fear. Wish me luck!
What’s your ethnicity?
Mixed White British and Afro-Colombian
How did your mum and dad meet?
My mami and dad met at a party on my dad’s ship (he’s a retired sea captain) as it was based in Ecuador and that’s where mami was living. I was named Daniela because it's the fake name my mami gave my dad when he asked what her name was.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. It made me feel lonely as a child because I didn’t know anyone with my ethnic mix so there wasn’t anyone to discuss that feeling with. My brother is my half-brother, and he’s black so even within the family there wasn’t anyone having the same experience as me. My family in Colombia used to say that my mami treated me differently to my brother because I look white. That hurt.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
In Year 2 we made masks of our own faces and I remember the white kids had pink and white paint for the skin and me and the other ethnic minority children used tea and coffee and I remember feeling as though it wasn’t right that we didn’t have paint for our skin tones. I felt abnormal and saw myself as weird.
When I was eleven or twelve my mami used to organise Black History Month where I grew up. She wanted someone to read ‘And You Call Me Coloured?’ by Agra Ra at an event and I volunteered. Despite not being a ‘woke’ woman she had to explain why this was inappropriate. That she is black and I am not, I am mixed race. I would grow up to learn that this experience was highlighting my privilege as a result of my proximity to whiteness.
Mami was part of the Norfolk and Norwich Racial Equality Council and I remember a South East Asian lady who also volunteered there explaining the different terms for mixed race to me, and why half-caste is a term that is outdated and offensive.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
I don’t think they knew how to prepare me. They both come from worlds so different from my own –my dad being the same age as most of my friends’ grandparents and mami being Colombian, where racism and particularly colourism is rife, but different from what it’s like in England. I don’t think they knew what to expect or even thought about it being something they should consider.
Mami was more concerned with me having a Latinx identity than anything else. She didn’t want me to be too English, I think she saw that as me rejecting her, or being embarrassed of her. I grew into my Afro-Latinx identity as I grew into womanhood. I was blessed in terms of growing up bilingual – So I’ve always had that tangible connection to my heritage. I write poetry in English and Spanish. I mostly swear in Spanish, the words have more feeling.
I don’t know that my parents prepared me for life as a mixed race person, but they definitely imbued me with a sense of pride by not being obsessed with my mami’s assimilation. And made sure that I knew that I was richer for not being like everybody else. We mostly ate Colombian food at home and would visit there every year or two. My last two visits I went on my own. I see it as my pilgrimage.
I think the best way to prepare a mixed race kid for their life is just celebrating their culture, but I speak from a privileged white passing position. My parent’s didn't have to have a conversation with me about police bias and racism, for instance. I know my mother and brother’s experience of life is very different from my own and I witnessed my mami face a lot of racism, discrimination and micro-aggressions in all aspects of her life.
There was never a conversation about how neither culture would claim me, but both would fetishize and exoticize me. So I guess I learnt on my own that the only person I have to be enough of anything for is myself.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
I HATE the term half-caste. The idea that mixed-race people are impure in some way. It’s disgusting.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
I wish people understood that whilst being mixed-race can have its privileges due to exoticization of the racially ambiguous, exoticization is a form of objectification and it isn’t a compliment. It can be an incredibly lonely place. I don’t know anyone with the same white British, Afro-Latinx mix, let alone Afro-Colombian. It’s difficult to find a community to fit into. People don’t have a right to know what your mix is. And they don’t understand that diaspora and displacement hurt, but beauty has come of it. Not to mention the erasure of the Afro-Latinx experience. I read somewhere that that’s like being a double minority, because even your own Latinx culture deems you less-than.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
There isn’t enough representation of mixed race people or families in the media. But it’s the same for all POC. It tends to seem forced, particularly in advertising. You notice it because there isn’t enough of it. One of my pet hates is ethnic minorities always being paired up with each other in rom-coms, that kinda thing. I think it’s lazy. It’s really great that strides are being made in Hollywood though, with films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians (I know that’s POC in general, but it matters.)
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?
I think it’s easier in a lot of ways. But racism has evolved. It’s not just blatant now, it’s also micro-aggressions. We’ve all seen the emboldening and legitimizing that racists have felt post Trump and Brexit omnishambles. The rise in Islamophobia after Boris Johnson’s vile, racist comments. There is definitely a hatred out there for anyone perceived as ‘other;’ I get more disgruntled looks if I’m on the bus speaking Spanish on the phone to my mum. Your experience is a hundred percent dependent on one’s ethnic mix though, as well as proximity to whiteness.
I think a lot of the stigma about mixed race relationships now comes from couples’ families themselves, as the general public are too busy fetishizing mixed race babies (But I won’t go into why that’s problematic right now.) I also often think about how I would feel having a child with a white man –odds are my child would look completely white. That makes me feel weird – I'm not sure I know why, I think I would worry about not being able to relate to my child on some level as a result of their white privilege. But I would pass down my language and my culture and take them to Colombia as much as possible.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
A blessing all day every day, forever and always. There is a dynamism in my life as a result, a duality. I get to process life in two languages. I think I’m a more open and understanding person as a result of navigating two cultures. It’s made me really keen to share it with others, particularly music and food which brings people together and breaks down barriers. Our senses are our way in to everything, if that makes sense.
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?
I never felt like I had to choose a side. I’m lucky in that I’m an Aries, too strong willed to be forced into that. But I am still the latina in England and the gringa in Colombia. That hurts because I feel latinx in my bones and my heart and so very English in my head. Humans are complicated and multi-faceted, it astounds me how little people comprehend this. The older I get the more I know my identity can’t be taken away from me or decided by others. So I’ve claimed it through celebration. I’ll always get down to reggaeton and fumble though salsa; I’ll play out cumbia and bachata whenever I get the chance to DJ just to watch the white folks struggle to find the rhythm. I’ll write poetry in English and Spanish; I’ll cure my boyfriend with abuela’s remedy and I’ll call my mami asking her how to make the dish, even though I know it by heart.
I found acceptance in feeling seen and understood by the black and latinx women in my life – other children of the diaspora saying my experiences are valid. I had already found myself through reaching womanhood and pilgrimage, but this feeling of community and sisterhood makes me feel strong and a part of something, after growing up in such a small, white town. That feeling of belonging is different to how I connected with my mami, because I think they fixate on skin tone in Colombia above all, because there is so much racism and denial of blackness, and as a result she sees my pale skin, and can’t see that it’s deeper than skin colour, and that white people aren’t my people like that. It’s a very specific intersection of race and culture and I guess she just focused on passing down her latinx culture, because I’m so light skinned. We never got to that woke point together where we spoke about how in reality what she was passing down is Afro-latinx. There’s time.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would advise my younger self to not be too embarrassed to let my cousins teach me how to dance to Latinx music. I’ll always wish my dancing was better. I’d tell her to embrace the conflict in the two parts of herself; that what makes it hard is suppression and feeling like there is a ‘normal’ way anyone should be. That foreign doesn’t mean weird and never to stop correcting people when they spell her name wrong.
Is there anything more you would like to say?
I’d like to say that community is a beautiful thing and that we have a duty to use any privilege afforded to us to fight for what is right and pass the mic and amplify the voices of those who are the most discriminated against and marginalized in society. Silence in the face of racism makes you complicit.