I used to be English. It was my identity and I had the right to it. It didn’t have to be more complicated than that.
I was born in London’s St Thomas’ Hospital, right across the river from the Houses of Parliament. On weekends, as a family, we would take the 88 bus to the Tate Britain. I used to climb and sit on the lions at Trafalgar Square. My friends were English, and so was I, but not to them.
As the daughter of two EU citizens, who was born and raised in London, I don’t feel the need to justify why I felt English. Nothing should burden your right to be from where you were born, whether that is the languages you speak at home or the passports you hold.
“Where are you really from?” Unfailingly the question I have been met with every time I have tried to say I am English. Either that or a blatant, “No, you’re not.” As soon as I mention that my dad is Italian and my mum Finnish, I’m immediately met with “Oh… so you’re Italian.” Though there’s no harm in people’s intentions, I always wished they would accept my initial answer as it was. Though it may not be as interesting as the one they had hoped for, it was my truth. After a while of attempted negotiations, their reply was just met with a reluctant nod from my part.
More importantly than small interactions with acquaintances, it hurts me that my closest friends didn’t accept me as English. Whether it was my “Italian accent”, which I don’t have, the lack of a nationality that would cost £1,012 or, at the end of the day, purely the fact that my parents didn’t happen to be born on this particular piece of land, there was always a reason why I didn’t make the cut.
One of my friends once told me, “You should be proud to be Italian.” She didn’t understand that I am proud of my cultures. I love and value being a part of them, but again, why does that cancel out any other identities that I have?
I’m sure my friends admired my multiculturalism, but I don’t think they ever understood that all I really wanted was to be accepted into the society I was born in as one of their own. As a local.
I started to wish away opportunities and experiences I was blessed to have, all to be accepted as what I was. I avoided speaking Italian or Finnish in public, tried to minimize that part of me as much as possible, but knew it would do nothing other than make me more miserable. I was tired of having to fight for something that for most people was a given. I was tired of having to try to convince people on things they didn’t have the right to doubt in the first place. I started to associate my identity with pain and hurt, and it wasn’t worth it anymore.
The shift in my identity came as a relief, but it also felt like a betrayal from my own part. Years of efforts had resulted in nothing but my own mind changing.
The Brexit referendum results struck a chord with me, no matter how much I didn’t want it to. Whether because of the rise in xenophobia and hate crime or for another reason entirely, all of a sudden, there was nothing I wanted less than to be English.
I’ve felt like I’m from nowhere, I’ve felt like I’m from everywhere. I’ve weighed out my identities into fractions, percentages and decimals pertaining to different countries, but identity cannot be measured or confined to a number.
Though I have resolved to maintain a certain fluidity, I am now Finnish and Italian, but I’m most of all from London. In a city this multicultural, though some may not understand much about it, you don’t have to be English to be a Londoner.
Venla Deluca © all rights reserved.
Venla Deluca is a 14-year-old student. Her article is published here with parental consent. Photo via Pixabay.