I was born in Kenya and grew up there until I was 14, when I moved to Ireland with my parents and siblings. My ethnicity is made up of Irish, Creole (Seychelles and the Reunion Islands) and Kenyan. I am married to a Kenyan and we are raising our beautiful mixed ethnic daughter in Dublin. Growing up in Ireland as a mixed race Irish person or person of mixed ethnicity and woman of colour has for the most part been a lesson in resilience, strength and bravery. When I was younger, it was a series of firsts, in that I was in most cases the first or only mixed race person or person of colour occupying that space. These spaces ranged from jobs, social groups, relationships, classrooms, stage and on and on. I felt a mixture of fear and excitement about this. Fear and hope that I’d be accepted and people would be kind, and excitement that I get to forge a path and make things a little easier for those to follow me. Being the first or only person though came with a big responsibility, I often felt if I messed up anywhere, I was responsible for creating the perception in that space that, “that’s how THEY are.” They- being everything from foreigners to mixed people to women of colour.
This has pretty much carried with me and is how I still live my life now, claiming my position in all spaces and ensuring I am being authentic enough that hopefully my colour won’t be noticed anymore, subsequently making it easier for those to follow me into those spaces. Naive? Maybe. But will stop? Probably not. The fear has led to anxiety, especially when going into pubs or attending weddings, where I know older Irish people will also be in attendance. It doesn’t stop me, not every time anyway. I only knew one other mixed person outside of my family, who left Ireland and has settled in America where she feel she “finally fitted in.”
The most important part of being of mixed ethnicity for me is owning all of my ethnicities, from both my parents. As a lover of history and stories, I feel lucky that I come from such a diverse family and have such a wonderful heritage and history that I am connected to. It is in this spirit of owning of ethnicities that I reject the notion of being half of or a quarter of anything, and I began to be highly irritated by modern society’s obsession with breaking everyone down into exactly what percentage of ethnicity you are made up of. Having said that, I now appreciate that this breakdown of people into percentages is now being used to challenge racism. What is happening is America in particular since Trump taking power, makes me more nervous than ever, especially since becoming a mother. As for me, I am fully everything that I am. Fully African, fully Irish, fully Creole, all of it and this is how I’ll be raising my children. I feel strongly about this because I am sometimes made to feel only partly entitled to claim my roots as Irish or African and in most cases, not entitled at all. Being only part Irish just doesn’t make me Irish enough it seems. I’m not white enough, not black enough and a really confusing brown girl cause my accent, my complexion and most confusingly my HAIR just don’t quite fit into any neat and tidy boxes. Even being mixed has an ideal that I’m supposed to fit into that I don’t. My hair is too straight and fine but my skin isn’t quite light enough for me to “pass for” Irish.
The other ideas that I wholeheartedly disagree with that are often associated with being mixed and integration and interculturalism, that of being “mixed just right” as I feel it implies that someone else could be mixed wrong or not quite right, and the idea that we should aim to become a melting pot of cultures. This is feel does not allow for a person to fully own all of their cultures, but just assimilate and melt down to fit into the mould. I think we should aim to become a salad bowl of cultures, with each ingredient bringing something colourful and different and all existing beautifully together.
I am going to keep to trying to normalise my “otherness” so that my daughter, niece, future children and nieces and nephews, and all the other children of mixed ethnicity now growing up in Ireland don’t have to be othered quite as much, or at all. I am doing this by continuing to occupy all spaces as a woman of colour and mixed race Irish person. I have also written a series of children’s books with brown Irish characters as well as a cook book with my take on a fusion of Irish, African and Creole recipes. And I hope to pursue further study into the impact of being mixed race on children and their parents in relation to mental health, social life and general life. A lack of visible role models impacted me as a mixed child growing up in Ireland and is something I hope will continue to change as people of colour refuse to live on the peripheral in Ireland and claim their space in society.