The daunting theme of ‘Fitting in’ has featured heavily throughout my life whether I chose to admit it at the time, or not.
When an infant and although of a pale complexion, in a sea of Gaelic faces, while my face was pleasing, it didn’t quite fit. Growing up a dark-haired avocado eater in the midst of blonde and ginger crisp-munchers was no easy feat. Then again, justifying my Englishness at home wasn’t much fun either. As I drifted into adolescent years my contempt for Chile was big. It was a place to be dragged to, away from cosmopolitan London where finally, save for a Birmingham accent that wouldn’t budge, I was learning to find my niche.
Alas, as I turned 16 I found myself a ‘retornee’ in Chile where I was constantly hounded by my relatives and anyone I came into contact with, about whether I liked the UK or Chile most. Deeply nationalistic were the Chileans, so despite their admiration for the UK, could not feign their disgust at my rejection of the homeland. It seemed to me that the very things I loved about the UK, were the things that conservative Chileans abhorred about England; Diversity, tolerance and sexual freedom; particularly female or gay sexual freedom.
After six fruitless years in Chile I returned to the UK aged 22, trying to escape the impending identity crisis looming before me but I was back in a quagmire; My time in Chile had led me to acquire unforgettable friendships and new knowledge about my racial origins and in a sense, converted me into a hybrid.
I threw myself back into British life by embarking on a degree in a faceless university in a new town (Bristol) and upon graduation, various jobs in the stiff black and white corporate world but my existence seemed shallow. Not even achieving many of my career milestones made me feel whole. At the time I also became engaged to an English builder becoming the ‘foreign chick’ in a family so blonde, they were extras for a BBC drama about the Nazis. I endured eight awkward years of pubs, nightclubs & Sunday roasts.
While in that life, Pinochet was arrested in London and I became politically active for the first time. Those eighteen solid months of political awakening and grief at discovering the horrors mine and so many families went through, brought with them a new conscience which was at odds with my life. I became distant from my English boyfriend, a feeling stemming from a huge sense of alienation and displacement. Finally I got sick and moved away to London.
The capital offered a Latin experience unavailable in the rest of Britain. I spent a time among the Colombians, Ecuadorians and Chileans on the south side of the river. It was an attempt to ‘ Be Latin’. This phase was quite possibly the most ridiculous in my identity quest. Try as I might to emulate Latin-ness I was always approached in English and considered ‘gringa’ by any fleeting boyfriend or friend. My pale face and inability to understand Colombian Spanish also worked against any attempt to fit in. My ‘English’ ways aroused suspicion & misunderstandings with potential partners. Soon I stopped trying, stayed North of the river, got some tattoos and a fringe and set about discovering who I really am.
Despite completing many other life cycles including motherhood, the feeling of being an actor within my own life has never left me. An ‘Imposter’ even within my personal narrative I have never shaken off the feeling that my interactions with others is a construct merely to fit in to that particular situation at that particular time. This, I have discovered, is called Imposter Syndrome. I have spent so much of my life changing colours like a chameleon, that I no longer know what my true hue is.
Fitting in is all about denial. In this case denying my own identity, not just that of being Chilean but also my political history, that of being a genocide survivor. In order to live in this life knowing what I know, there has to be constant repression; a denial of my past, in order to be functional.
The shoes don’t fit but somehow I choose to keep walking.