Since I can remember, I’ve always been asked the same question. And each time it is asked it feels like a short sharp slap. Despite having grappled with the question since my tweens, I still don’t have the answer. Although the question is simple, for someone like me, it’s heaped with contentious trip-ups that could come back to haunt me when I ponder on it alone.
¿Do I feel more Chilean or English? should be easy enough to answer but it never is. Even when I’ve been able to answer with full conviction. The sources of this question are many; when younger it was my peer group, then it was the folks I reconnected with when I returned to Chile in 1990 with my father.
As a child I was aware of my otherness but not to the point of akwardness and in my teens when I began to develop my persona I became totally submerged in my environment. So much so, that I rejected my Chilean-ness by refusing to speak Spanish and avoided contact with my ethnic group at all costs. Occasionally my father would drag me to ‘La Cancha’ on a Sunday and I’d sit sullenly until home time. Then I was 100% English. I was also pretty English when I first arrived in Chile as part of the influx of returning exiles in the early 90s. When I left Chile in 1997 and found myself in a changed Britain I became Chilean. And every time I felt a little on the outside at university or the workplace, I was Chilean. This was also true of each Christmas, birthday and funeral I missed with my family back in Chile.
Now however, after my last trip to Chile, where I saw things through the eyes of a mother and older person I finally made up my mind. I returned to the UK triumphant in my decision to finally become English. The decision hasn’t enabled me to shake off the disconnection I feel in the wider context of my daily life but I have come to accept that the biological doesn’t necessarily translate to the social experience. This country, it’s values and ways of doing things is not only what I have become accustomed to but it provides a healthy antidote to the injustices and cruelty I have witnessed in my homeland.