Thoughts on...

Being a Bit of Both

“Where are you from?”

“Here.”

“Where?”

“Here. Dublin.”

“No, but where are you really from?”

“Dublin. I’m Irish.”

“But where were you born?”

“The Coombe. In Dublin.”

“Okay but where are your parents from?”

“My father’s Irish and my mother’s Spanish.”

“I KNEW it!”

I’ve had this conversation a truly astonishing number of times.

Most of the time I save time and energy by answering the first “Where are you from?” with the answer to the question I know they will get to eventually. I know why they’re asking, and I know how to stem the conversational tide. A simple “My mother is Spanish” tends to trim the conversation nice and short.

On other days though, I drag it out as long as possible, intrigued by how determined people are to dig through my life and find out exactly why my skin is a little bit more sallow, or why my hair is as dark as it is, or why my face is so angular, or whatever it is they’ve picked up on that has marked me as “other.” Half the time, the person asking is completely oblivious to my resigned amusement. They grow more and more frustrated as I refuse to give them the answer they don’t even know they’re looking for, stumbling through a list of questions that really boil down to, “But WHY? Why are you different to me??” Drunk people in particular can get extremely agitated. As I answer their questions on autopilot I watch them struggle to verbalise their curiosity, and I wonder what it is that gives me away. Is it my facial features? Is it my skin tone? My eyes? My hair? My build? The way I speak? The things I say?

Something about me is clearly “off” from an Irish perspective, and it’s something so obvious that people often use the “Where are you from?” line as an ice-breaker… and yet, despite how apparently obvious it is, I can’t see it. If I at least looked 100% Spanish, it might not feel so awkward, but the truth is I answer the same sort of questions in Madrid.

I am a halfling.

I have lived in Ireland all my life. I am comfortable here. I have a stereotypically Irish laid-back personality, along with an Irish sense of timing (every party starts at least two hours after the stated time) and a habit for pulling Irish farewells. I love the Irish respect for mythology, history and tradition (up to a point), and the way the younger generations are pulling the country in a more liberal direction without letting go of our past. I love the string of muttered “Thanks,” “Thanks,” “Thanks,” “Thanks,” you hear every time the bus stops, as every Irish person thanks the driver. I love good-natured banter*, and my travels have taught me that Irish people do banter like nobody else. I can’t roll my r’s, I love to eat, and I can’t take a compliment to save my life. These are all common Irish traits, and although I’ve tried my best to change some of them, it appears that I’m stuck with them.

On the other hand, I visit Spain about three times a year. I love it there. Madrid is my soul city. Right now as I type, I’m listening to my usual morning playlist of Spanish pop. I prefer hip-swaying to head-nodding, and there are definitely more passionate parts of my personality that are straight Spanish. I love to cook (preferably with wine… and the wine doesn’t have to be in the food…), I prefer churros to donuts, and tortilla de patata to roast potatoes. I have a very real suspicion that I may be solar-powered, and after five months of charcoal clouds and misty drizzle my energy is at an all-time low.

Some people feel that it’s difficult to be a halfling; that being a bit of both means they don’t really belong in either culture. I’ve spoken to people who feel like perpetual outsiders because of their dual nationality. In my experience,ย the advantages far outweigh any of the negatives, but I can understand that feeling. For me, the amount of freedom my bilingualism affords me hugely eclipses the annoyance of tediously repetitive conversations about my background, and I feel lucky to have been brought up with both cultures and languages and traditions and foods and lifestyles.

I am not neither; I am both.

I am Irish and Spanish. I root for Spain in the football, and Ireland in the rugby. I am laid-back and passionate. I am hot and cold.

There are worse things to be than a little bit of both.

 

*Banter is a sort of verbal sparring that from an outside perspective might sound a bit abusive, but it’s all in good fun. It’s a bit like sharp teasing. It’s not negging or derision, it’s fundamentally friendly… A little hard to explain, actually, but maybe think of it as rough ribbing.

0 thoughts on “Being a Bit of Both

  1. Iโ€™m half Portuguese (currently living in Portugal), half German, born and raised in Canada. I look white as snow, but my siblings are tan and dark year round. I know this struggle.
    Great post, I love reading your work.

      1. I spoke German a bit as a kid, long forgot now. I understand Portuguese but physically have trouble speaking it. So much rolling of the tongue and mouth movements, where English and German are more guttural and from the throat.

    1. My siblings and I are 3 completely different shades and people are always confused. I think it’s kind of fun. You on the other hand may begrudge your lack of a tan in the summertime?

      1. I don’t feel lucky or unlucky. I feel out of place. I’m never going to be Indian enough and I’m never going to be American enough. But maybe that’s OK. People aren’t monoliths.

  2. I’m an American. So, by its very nature, I’m a percentage of many different things. It doesn’t matter. I’m the same race as everyone else on the planet: the human race.

  3. I didn’t know that not being able to roll my ‘R’s was an Irish thing! Guess I may as well give up trying then!

    1. I’ve been trying for years and I haven’t got any closer…. although I can SORT OF roll them if I’m “singing” Spanish songs.

      ….And I’ve put “singing” in inverted commas because I’m using it very loosely; I put crows out of business with my voice!

  4. Society can’t handle it when you don’t fit in a particular box, God forbid you need a little bit of two boxes or more! We had this discussion at work today and this post just reminded me of Seamus in Harry Potter ‘I’m half an half, me mam’s a witch and me da’s a muggle..’ if you haven’t seen it just ignore me haha!!
    Two gorgeous countries, two incredible cultures and both have natives with beautiful physical appearances, lucky you!

        1. That sounds so great. Every time I hear an ad for that before the podcasts I listen to I always think that would be interesting!

          1. Me too!
            Last time I went to give blood there was nurse that was telling me how different blood groups originated from different areas of the world and some people think blood types can determine a persons personality etc! I found it fascinating!

  5. Actually, I think “Where are you from?” can be one of the most difficult social questions, depending on how seriously it’s asked.
    With regard to dual/multiple national identities, there’s a narrow scope of thinking with many that believes “you have to be one or the other” — but personally I think that’s just silly.
    You sound like you encompass the best of both worlds, anyway!

    I’m an Anglo-Scot with a strong Irish heritage and a hint of Sicilian… and am able to emphasise one or more of the different aspects depending on where I am/who I’m talking to. (Though I can only speak English… and sometimes only barely.)

    Sorry for the ramble. Glad I found your blog… keep at it (!)

  6. Usually people here see someone from two places as someone cool, and don’t ask the question ‘where are you from?’ in an offensive manner. And most of the Scotts also after asking me where I were from, end with ‘I’m just from here and I know that’s so boring’. Probably some people are just more open-minded than others, I don’t know…

    1. I think so! I like to think it’s never meant in an offensive manner, I think people are just curious and don’t stop to think where the question is coming from or why it matters to them!

  7. How did you find having both languages growing up? As I’m terrified that if we ever manage to actually reproduce said kids will rebel and refuse to speak Welsh. I don’t remember not speaking both but it would be a completely different kettle of fish being in England and surrounded by only English speaking people and one lone Welsh voice, well constant Welsh voice as my family all speak Welsh and would speak when there were visits. But it’s not the same I would imagine. Does this make sense or am I just rambling?

    1. My mother spoke ONLY Spanish in our house, with the rule that whenever we visited Spain we had to speak Spanish. I think it worked quite well. Spanish was definitely my mother tongue until I started going to school, and I never rebelled against Spanish, it was just something I was used to. Spanish at home and English elsewhere. And Spanish when visiting relatives in Spain.

      One thing I would say is that if your children show any propensity for reading, definitely get them reading in Welsh. I was a big reader in both English and Spanish, and now my brother finds it harder than I do to write in Spanish because he’s never really had to do it.

  8. Quinn, did you know that all of humanity has less-than a 0.01% or 1/100th genetic difference between each of us!? So miniscule that it doesn’t even matter one bit! ๐Ÿ™‚ And what’s even BETTER is that we ALL come from one continent: Africa! We are ALL Africanus-Humans! WOOOHOOOO!!!! It is a Family Renunion that is long, LONG overdue… wouldn’t you say? ๐Ÿ˜‰ <3

    When people ask me where I'm from, my pat (precise) answer is simply "Earth!" Yes, I am an Earthling just like you! Now, how can we both/all make this a better place!? ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. When I say it, some of the expressions I get — then some that are just BLANK! ๐Ÿ˜› — are quite entertaining. It is also a great way to segway into comical relaxed conversation! Use it Quinn…

        …when you want to converse beyond typical pleasantries with someone/others that is. LOL ๐Ÿ˜‰ <3

  9. I hope your life in Ireland is as cool as the facts. videos make it seem to be. Hahah. You’re there, so be there, be from there, and be wherever you’re supposed to be.

  10. That is such an odd question. Being a white, American woman โ€“ Iโ€™ve never once been asked โ€œWhere are you fromโ€ unless itโ€™s locally (small town). I find it odd that they ask the question simply because you look a certain way.

  11. The struggle is real! I’m Mexican and American Irish, and I’ve had that identical conversation too many times. Although sometimes it’s been much more rude, like “What ARE you?” I am a human being, from Earth. Sheesh.

    1. Hahaha “what are you?”? I’ve never had that. I’d definitely reply with “chronically late for everything” or “bilingual” or “5 ft 1. You?”

      1. Granted, it’s less frequent now that I’m a working professional but my current reply for random “concerned citizens” is, “I’m awesome all day. How about you?”

  12. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
    While this has never been a question directed at me (though I am an amalgamation of many different races), I have watched many people get badgered by this kind of thing.
    Luckily, lately it seems, I have seen much less of this. When I have seen it, most people were just so interested in the blending that it became more of a jealousy thing than a nagging thing.

    1. I think it’s never intended with malice, it’s just curiosity. What’s amusing is that people don’t stop to think about where that curiosity is coming from!

  13. I feel the same way. Even though i am 100% Pakistani. There is so much Canadian in me that I belong to two places. My heart knows the nuances of two kinds of people. I can sing and curse in two different languages. It’s a curse and a blessing to belong to two different places. A curse because of those “where are you from” conversations and the fact that you stand out clearly in any crowd. A blessing because you have a broadened view of the world. I really loved the way you wrote this one ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I’m Viet but I look Chinese so all my life when I go out the Viet don’t speak Viet to me and the Chinese always claim me as their own. And when I married hubby it’s even more funny as no one claim him either and they all think he’s from the Phillipines or Cambodian as he’s dark.
    I’ve learnt to just speak in English and they can just all think oh she’s forgotten her Mother’s tongue. Can’t be bothered explaining anymore.

      1. Yes that’s how I feel too. It just takes so long for them to go through the list of Asian countries . So are you Chinese? Thai? Japanese ? Korean? Laotian? Some have no idea. Though I’ve had 1-2 that hit the jackpot first time round.

  15. I tend to go through a similar thing, although not because my skin or hair is a different color than most, but because of the way I act and speak – especially when my whole family is together. My parents immigrated from Sweden to America before having kids and now we’re in this odd in-between. The accents are there, we’re all freakishly tall with fair hair, and we sing before we drink (a thing no one does here, sadly). We adhere to lagom and hygge and fika, while we also… ugh, what’s an American trait that doesn’t suck right now? Anyway, I love it. I love what makes me different and that I was raised in a country different from my heritage. I love that I can infuse the two with one another and make myself a fun blend of both.

  16. Your experience is at once beautiful, intriguing, and enlightening. As an American who has only left the country to visit Canada, I forget that not every part of the world is as racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse as here. Like many people born and raised in North America, I am of such a mixed background that even the genealogists in the family have lost count of the roots. I do know that I’m of mixed European and Native American descent, but I’ll need a DNA test to know what’s in the mix. I also know that my European ancestors have been in the New World for a few centuries. I have the history of this continent in my blood. So I’m baffled by how often people ask me, “Are you Russian?” Some people from Russia cut straight to the chase and ask, “What part of Russia are you from?” Should I suspect I was switched at birth? In short, I can relate to you, in my own awkward way. Why should we have to explain and justify our roots? Why can’t we just be people living in a place we love?

    1. I loe this! Do you think you’ll ever do a DNA test? I think that’s so fascinating to not even really know! I guess in the end we’re all from the same place if you go back far enough!

      1. Yes! I would love to do a DNA test. I looked into it a few months ago, but decided to wait. That field of science is advancing so rapidly that I feared I would be disappointed if I did it now because the data would be too coarse. I don’t want vague generalizations and guestimations. I already have that. I want refined, definitive information. Researchers are collecting more samples from all over the world. As they build their database and improve their abilities to trace genetic markers, people who take the tests will be able to see their genetic history in higher definition. To look at that in human terms, the peoples and cultures indigenous to North America are as varied as the peoples and cultures of Europe, but the DNA tests I looked into have trouble identifying them as anything other than the overgeneralized “Native American” because more samples need to be collected and analyzed. I’m told that my great grandmother is Cherokee, but the test might not be able to confirm or correct that, yet. Ultimately, I would like a comprehensive test that is able to trace markers to anywhere on Earth that my ancestors have been, and if it isn’t asking too much, I would like to know when they were there. I dream of correlating that data with historical records, or even archeological evidence, to try to understand what they experienced, what stories were lived and interwoven to become mine. Perhaps only a thousand years ago, one distant grandparent was a Viking raider, while another was a merchant on the Mediterranean coast, and yet another was a farmer in a land that invaders would eventually call the New World. How the descendents of those three people met and combined is a story I want to ponder, if it is, in fact, mine. In truth, everyone is far more varied than our recent family histories can tell us. Human history itself is about branching, exploring, migrating, invading, and blending again. If we look back far enough, we all have a common ancestor, a common beginning to billions of stories.

  17. Yes. “I am neither. I am both.” I’m half Colombian, half American and that is the perfect way to describe it!

  18. I am part spanish, italian, german and cherokee indian. When I meet people, I always get the “what are you?” question. I don’t mind the mysteriousness. I do like that I part take in many different cultures. I definitely embrace it. This was a great read, thank you Quinn!

  19. ‘Some people feel that itโ€™s difficult to be a halfling; that being a bit of both means they donโ€™t really belong in either culture. Iโ€™ve spoken to people who feel like perpetual outsiders because of their dual nationality’ <– i have to admit I am one of those people. I grew up in France but I am both French and American. It's not really in terms of appearance as I look like I could be either, but it's having people from each culture emphasize on how you differ from them. Supposedly I have a french accent in english and an American accent in french. Fancy that haha?!! I think it can be a challenge when you are growing up and there is this urge to belong. But today I am so grateful to have grown up with two cultures. You get exposed to more behaviors, customs, politics – it's enriching!! And I am totally guilty of selective identification when it suits me ๐Ÿ™‚
    Great post!

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