According to the 2011 Census, 2.2 million people in the UK have mixed ethnicity – and that is a figure that will likely keep rising, year-on-year.
Mixed-race is the fastest-growing ethnicity in the country and despite the widely varied stories of the people in this group, there are also commonalities that tie their narratives together.
Being mixed-race brings the unique perspective of straddling two or more cultures – but it can also cause conflict and innate contradictions. And everybody’s experience is completely individual.
Mixed Up is a weekly series that aims to elevate under-heard voices, go beyond stereotypes and get to the heart of what it means to be mixed-race in the UK today.
Cate Sevilla is an American-born journalist and editor. She is now a UK citizen and is working to find a deeper connection with the Filipino side of her heritage.
‘I was born and raised in California,’ Cate tells Metro.co.uk.
‘My paternal grandparents are from the Philippines and moved to San Francisco after WWII, where they had my dad and his four other siblings.
‘My dad is Filipino, but he’s actually also mixed, as his mom was half Filipino and half white – her dad was from North Carolina, but based at a military base in the Philippines when he met her mother.
‘My mother is of a mixed European heritage – mainly Scottish, German and Hungarian.’
The concept of being mixed-race is not something that has always been on Cate’s radar, and her early memories of connecting with her Filipino family are pretty sparse.
‘I only recently started really appreciating and understanding that I’m mixed-race,’ she explains.
‘Growing up, I didn’t spend a lot of time with my dad’s family. We would have Filipino food at Christmas (lumpia) and occasionally my dad would make pancit and tapa, but it was a special treat, not an everyday occurrence.
‘I didn’t really have much of a relationship with my paternal grandparents. I remember being nervous about their accents and because they were so different to my white, American grandparents.’
Cate was brought up in suburban America, now living in the UK, she has a uniquely transatlantic perspective on race, and how she is perceived depending on where she is in the world.
Growing up, Cate’s racial ambiguity allowed her to see her heritage as something that wasn’t necessarily that important to her – the world saw her as white and it was easy for her to feel the same.
‘I have light skin and blue eyes, and have been dying my hair lighter since I was 14. The only clue to me being mixed-race is my surname, or if you saw my dad or my sister – she’s always looked more obviously mixed-race than I do.
‘I grew up mispronouncing my own surname. I pronounced it phonetically (se-vill-ah) rather than the Spanish way (se-ve-yah).
‘I also didn’t really understand why I had a Spanish surname until I Googled it and found out about the Spanish colonisation of the Philippines.
‘When I was younger, it was more of a “interesting fact” about me that my dad was Filipino, rather than being part of my identity, as it is now.
‘I believe the world sees me and treats me as “white” – so I believe I’ve gone through this world with the privilege that that brings.
‘Sure, people have struggled to pronounce my name my entire life, but that’s because my first name is Celtic, not because people were being lazy or racist. (And I also was pronouncing my own surname wrong for more 25 years, so, there’s that!)
‘If anyone has ever been racist towards me or my dad, I didn’t even register it. People have made stupid comments about “my eyes looking Asian” when they find out I’m mixed-race, but I’ve never experienced any kind of racial abuse.’
As a child, Cate was lucky to grow up in a multicultural, ethnically diverse environment – interracial families where the norm for her peers and classmates – and that made it seem like a complete non-issue.
‘The fact that I was mixed-race wasn’t really a huge talking point for me growing up, it didn’t feel like a big deal,’ she says.
‘The schools I went to were really diverse, and despite being a suburban area – the neighbourhood I grew up in was also really diverse. My best friends growing up both had Mexican moms and white dads, so it was more-or-less pretty normal for me for there to be mixed families.’
As she’s grown older, being mixed-race has come to form a much more prominent part of Cate’s identity. She says part of that is due to becoming a citizen of a country that she wasn’t born in.
‘I have lived in the UK for 13 years, my entire adult life, so I feel neither American nor British,’ Cate tells us.
‘Society has always treated me as though I am white, but I’m not. I sound American, but I’m not exactly that either. I’m used to the true complex nature of my identity not being immediately obvious.
‘And the truth is I’m proud of the complexity of who I am and where I am from, and I’m tired of shying away from it.’
Cate has dealt with some confusing elements of her identity over the years and she has distinct memories of certain cultural clashes affecting her family life.
‘As a child I knew there were aspects of being in a mixed-race family that were difficult because I could feel the tension that parts of it – like religion – raised between my parents,’ says Cate.
‘My parents divorced when I was 12, but I don’t know what role, if any, race and culture had to do with it.
‘In school I remember there was a “Pacific Islander” club at school that a lot of the Filipino kids I knew joined, but because I didn’t look Filipino enough or know what it even meant to be Filipino, I never felt comfortable enough to join.
‘As an adult I’ve struggled with realising that there was this whole other element to my heritage, my identity, and my DNA that I knew nothing really about.
‘It used to be embarrassing to say that I’m mixed-race because I looked so white, and because I didn’t know much of anything about the thing that made me mixed. I used to feel that I didn’t really have a right to call myself mixed.’
Familial displacement can disrupt the natural connection between a child and their family history – and this can cause a deep sense of loss. But Cate’s approach is a proactive one – she’s researching her ancestry and doing everything she can to look for answers.
Rather than see it as a negative, she relishes the journey of discovery.
‘There are still so many questions I have about my dad’s side of the family – I only recently started to learn more about them by doing my own research through Ancestry.com using information from my paternal grandmother’s death certificate.
‘I found pictures of my great-grandmother Juanita online, and other distant cousins I’ve never met. I still have so much research to do, and one day I’d love to go to the Philippines.
‘At this stage in my life, I love that there is this whole other part of me and my dad that I still get to learn about.
‘It’s a strange thing to get to your late twenties and suddenly realise that the way you’ve previously thought about your identity has only been partially correct.’
As a child it’s natural to connect to what you know, what’s familiar, what you see every day – sometimes it’s only years later that you realise what you might have missed out on.
‘I grew up around my mom’s family and visiting my maternal grandparents. They were my family – and it’s heartbreaking to me that there is this whole other side of me and my wider family that I don’t know,’ says Cate.
‘I suppose I unconsciously connected more with my white, American side of the family because they were who I was around all of the time.
‘I would have loved to have had more of a connection with the Sevilla family, but it just didn’t happen, for whatever reason. It would be nice if that could still happen.’
Cate is tired of having to justify who she is and tired of the assumptions. She wants people to understand that being mixed-race is so much more than skin-deep.
‘Just because “you don’t look it” doesn’t mean that you’re lying,’ explains Cate.
‘You can have cultural ties to a place or culture without having a certain colour skin or a certain amount of knowledge. I want people to understand that being mixed-race is more complicated than it sometimes first appears.’
Cate knows there are still gaps in her knowledge, gaps that she is working hard to fill. But she’s no longer embarrased or ashamed of not knowing everything there is to know about Filipino culture.
She is on her own path to understanding, and it is an entirely individual journey.
‘It’s never too late to learn more about your own identify,’ says Cate.
‘It can be hard to relate to a certain part of your heritage if it’s connected to a parent or a side of a family you’ve struggled with or maybe don’t even know. But it’s part of you, it’s in your blood, and it’s worth understanding and integrating it into your identity. It’s the story of who you are.
‘The more of us that talk about it and identify as being mixed-race, especially if we “don’t look like it”, the more we normalise it and make it easier for other people.
‘Representation and visibility are so important, and that’s part of the reason I am trying to talk about it more, even if I am nervous because I’m still at the early stages of learning about my Filipino heritage.’
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