My internship at SZOIL dominated my stay in China. The shifts were Monday to Friday, from 9:30 to 17:30, with some voluntary extra time and a couple of weekend activities. I had very nice colleagues, not just my fellow CRCC interns, but the whole team working at SZOIL, from the regular Chinese staff members, to three other student interns from China, Nepal and Sri Lanka. While each of us worked on our own projects, we often lent a hand to each other, or had a break from one and did something different for a while (which is how I ended doing the variety of tasks mentioned below). Moreover, one of SZOIL’s regular workers, whom supervised my work for the GHL, taught us how to use some of the machines in the lab. I only used the laser engraver and cutter, as 3D printing required designing and that’s something I’m awful at.
(If you haven’t, check the first part of my latest blog series ‘CRCC Asia Internship in China’ before reading this one: https://findingmyselfinsideme.com/2017/09/25/crcc-asia-internship-in-shenzhen-preparation-arrival-and-induction/)
After a long three-day weekend of being ill and trying to recover, my first day of work as an intern in China came. I had to wake-up early and meet the rest of CRCC Asia interns in the lobby of Apartment One, to take a group picture before heading to our internships. Most, if not all, interns worked for companies which weren’t near our accommodation. Fortunately, for the first day of work, CRCC staff members took us by minivan to our workplaces. I was not the only CRCC intern working in SZOIL, my assigned company, there were three others CRCC participants coming with me: a student from a university in Northern England, a student from an American university, and a fellow Sussex student. I had only spoken briefly to two of them before the start of the internship, so I didn’t know much about any of them, but hoped for the best, as they would be my co-workers for a month.
The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
2017 is being an intense year for the Western world, marked by the rise of nationalist movements. Anyone with a basic understanding of fascism, xenophobia and white supremacy would have probably seen this coming in the last few years.
When politicians across the spectrum use migrants as a basketball ball to score points, when challenging racism becomes a bore-some activity for so called progressive/liberals, when dealing with inequality and xenophobia is seen as a matter of “overrated identity politics, when people pretend only white people are working class and suffering since the financial crisis of 2008, when the media is still unable to check their biased language, and when all of the sudden everyone wants to pretend we are all equal as if a few decades of brown and black people seen as human (debatable) erases the effects of centuries of genocide, slavery and colonisation, well…. You get this. A region in which racial supremacy and discrimination are okayed again (to be honest, were they ever not okayed?) in the name of freedom of speech.
At the same time, everyone willing to challenge this bigotry is called a “regressive leftist” by people who genuinely believe they are progressive leftists, while being moderate centrists, if anything. Neo-Nazis and conservatives might refer to them as “easily triggered snowflakes”, which is ironic since they turn purple and angry whenever you call their statements ‘racist’. “Clueless social justice warriors” is another label used often by people who still don’t know their right to freedom of speech can only be violated by governments and their agencies/bodies, not by fellow citizens counterarguing what they say.
And lastly, my personal favourite one: “entitled millennials”, a tone-deaf term used by adults who believe young people under 30 years old are all middle-class babies who had everything handed to them (working/lower class young people don’t exist anymore), were rewarded for mediocrity (seriously, where are all these awards? I didn’t get mine) and can’t live outside safe spaces (apparently young people live in protective bubbles away from the cruel real world, I can’t believe I didn’t get one!).
I’m not going to go any deeper into the political situation in the West, I’m still on an indefinite break from writing about social issues at a non-personal level. I just wanted to give a brief look at the context in which this personal article is set. The ongoing discussions about nationalism, patriotism, culture and ethnicity have made me think deeply about my own identity. How I identify and how I am identified. I struggle to determine to where I belong and to which countries/regions I should be loyal too. My national, ethnic and cultural identities are complicated to the point in which I’m uncertain I have any of these.
I was born in the Basque Country, an autonomous region in Spain. I lived there till 2012, the year I moved to England, where I currently reside. My nationality is Spanish and despite living in Britain for over four years, I still have a strong (Northern) Spanish accent. At the same time, I have adopted various British customs, such as saying “sorry” non-stop without an actual reason, eating roast on Sundays, being passive aggressive and drinking a lot of tea throughout the day (just joking!). Despite all this, I was born (and I live) in a different place to where my parents and grandparents were born. Hence, my nationality and place of residence say little to nothing about my ethnicity and heritage.
My mother was born in Equatorial Guinea, located in Central/Middle Africa. Her mother (my grandmother) is from there too, while her father (my grandfather) was originally from a West African country, either Cape Verde or São Tomé and Príncipe (I can’t confirm which one it is since I have been told different things). As you can see, simply in my mother’s side there is already a mixture of ethnicities, which would be even bigger if specific ethnic groups/tribes would be considered (which I won’t do because I don’t want to overcomplicate this article).
Although it might seem confusing, describing my maternal heritage is easy compared to my paternal heritage: my biological father (from whom I inherited my genetic traits) differs from my legal father (who legally recognises me as his daughter). I have never met my biological father and I know little about him. Meanwhile, I was raised by my legal father and he is the only person I consider a “father” in my life. I was told that my biological father is Senegalese and Bissau-Guinean (both West African countries). My legal father is from DR Congo and his parents (my grandparents) migrated there from Angola. Both countries are in Central/Middle Africa.
I learnt most of this information about my family during the last couple of years. Growing up, I was never curious about my ethnicity and heritage. I never even tried to define them. The only things I was sure about were my race (black) and my nationality (Spanish). While I grew up immersed in Spanish culture, I never felt part of it: it wasn’t something I could claim as my heritage. While Spain is a “colourblind” country in many aspects (when I lived there, race and ethnicity were not officially recorded as in UK), racism and xenophobia are common. People always give you subtle and not-so-subtle reminders about you not being “originally” from Spain.
It was also hard for me to feel attached to my African background because I didn’t grow up with my family (except my siblings). Now and then, I did have access to my parents’ cultures, mainly during family celebrations and spiritual rituals, but these were limited. I can name some basic Congolese food dishes, some basic Equatorial Guinean food dishes. I can understand some words of Lingala (Congolese language) and Pichinglish (Creole language in Equatorial Guinea). I’m aware of some rituals and customs. But my position regarding these cultures is the one of an outsider, rather than someone actively involved in them. In addition, till no long ago, I silently rejected my African background because of the gender roles that were being forced on me in the name of it.
Moving to England and becoming a young adult triggered in me an interest to know more about my roots to define my ethnicity better. In England I saw how most black people, even if British, embraced their ethnicity a lot, not just as “African”, but as Nigerian, Ghanaian, Jamaican… Or even specific subgroups, such as Yoruba. I felt a lot of envy about this, I wished that was me. Meanwhile I realised that I would never be considered Spanish and I wondered if I wanted to live in this continent forever. In addition, when deciding what to study at university, I remember how my dad pushed me to go for something that could help people “back at home”, meaning DR Congo for him.
All this inspired me to learn more about my roots. I asked questions to my family, and I did an Ancestry DNA test to proof-check their answers. While Ancestry DNA isn’t 100% accurate, it is an indicator, and I’m hoping to do a 23andMe check soon, since it is considered more reliable. Here are my Ancestry DNA results:
(*Trace regions are regions/countries which are only possibilities and might appear in the results by chance.)
My reaction to this data was a mixture of confirmation and surprise. I suspected most of my ethnicity would be African. I knew I had some European ancestry because my maternal grandfather was creole/mulatto. I thought I would get a small percentage for Native American (defined by Ancestry as indigenous groups from North to South America) because I was told my maternal great-grandmother has an Indigenous Cuban ancestor (the ancestor might be too distant to appear). I definitely have Afro-Cuban ancestry, something common in my mother’s home country, yet it isn’t reflected on the test since Afro-Cubans, as other Afro-Latinos, are direct descendants of black African slaves sent to the Americas.
I was surprised by the percentage for the Middle East, and although it is just a chance, it might be true due to extensive presence of Middle-Easterns in Africa, particularly in countries that make up my ethnicity. Regardless of this, I’m happy with being just black African, that’s how I have always identified. (Black) Afro-Hispanic is a label that wouldn’t bother me either, since linguistically speaking, I’m indeed Hispanic, which is not the same as Latino by the way (though I do have Latino [and Caribbean] heritage since I have Cuban ancestry and I grew up quite influenced by it).
When comes to individual countries, I already knew I had Senegalese roots, though I didn’t think it would be my biggest percentage. Conversely, I knew I had Bantu background, since my maternal grandmother’s ethnic group is Bubi, a Bantu subgroup, but I didn’t think the percentage would be so small. I was dazed by the rest of African countries and for the lack of mention of Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde or/and São Tomé and Príncipe, in the list. However, a small look at African history helped me to make sense of this.
Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe were supposedly uninhabited islands when the Portuguese arrived to colonise them. They were populated mainly through European settlers and slaves from continental Africa. That’s probably why countries like Congo and Benin appear in my Ancestry DNA: many slaves were taken from there. A similar logic can apply to Equatorial Guinea: that country was inhabited prior to Portuguese and Spanish colonisation (by ethnic groups like the Bubis), but there was a lot of migration from neighbouring areas afterwards.
Except for two, all the African countries/regions in my results are in West & Central Africa. Considering how European-made national borders in Africa don’t respect ethnic groups and tribes, the variety in my ethnicity makes more sense: the ethnic groups I belong to could be found in various countries in the area. Nationality might not be the greatest indicator for ethnicity in Africa. It is also important to keep in mind I don’t have full access to knowledge about my biological father’s family background. And, as I mentioned earlier, Ancestry DNA isn’t 100% accurate, although my results look more right than wrong.
As you can see, my ethnicity and heritage are heterogeneous. My mother, my legal father and my biological father are all from separate places, even different to their own parents. It is important to mention that while I didn’t inherit genetic traits from my legal father, his heritage and ethnicity still influence my cultural identity. Now, add my nationality (Spanish) and my place of residence (England). To which country in the world am I supposed to be loyal? To which country in the world am I supposed to show patriotism? I identify as black African normally, but I’m aware I’m legally Spanish and I’m a citizen of England.
Having a transnational, multicultural and mixed background is supposed to make me richer in knowledge and experiences, which is not untrue. Yet, it doesn’t make you richer in company. It can be very isolating. You belong to so many places that you end up belonging to nowhere. And more nowadays, when nationalism and ethno-supremacy are such a trend worldwide. It is easy to force nationalism upon people when you haven’t been rejected by your country of birth, when the country where you live doesn’t hate you and when you don’t have a transnational family.
My nationality is culturally and ethnically meaningless. Living in England matters to me, but the current war on immigrants and Brexit make things harder. While I’m trying to learn more about the countries that compose my African background, I still don’t feel attached to them. That’s the main reason why I can’t get behind any person or idea that doesn’t consider that who I am comes from more than one country or region, and tries to shame me for not being nationalistic. I simply have a borderless identity not confined to a single culture or place. And I wish people understood this, just as I respect their right to be patriotic. Hopefully one day, people like me will be considered during political discussions about culture, ethnicity and nationalism. Hopefully.
On September I shut down Finding Myself Inside Me for renovation and rebranding. I reopened the blog last month, with a new layout, a new logo and a new concept. The categories and the pages of the site were updated too, some even renamed. I unveiled the new concept slowly on my Instagram before reopening the blog, using parts of the new design and a reflective poem titled ‘Autobiography’. The illustrations and the poem aimed to subtly explain the new concept of the site. In addition, I also changed my pseudonym, from Emilie H. Featherington to Emilie F. Yaakaar, creating a Facebook page and a new Google + profile for my artistic persona. While I’m not obliged to explain these sudden changes, I want to do so, especially for those who have followed me as a blogger for months or even years.
I blogged for the first time back in 2013. It was on Tumblr and I believe the blog was Bitxina’s Treacherous Life, although I can’t remember it very well. I had recently moved to a new country and I didn’t have much to do, hence it seemed a good way to spend time. I wasn’t unfamiliar with writing, I had been a writer since I learnt to write: I finished my first books, short stories and poems when I was in primary school. But I had never shared my writing before with an audience wider than my friends. My first blog posts were reflections, describing, explaining and giving my opinion on the meaning of inspirational quotes I liked. At some point, I began to write about my daily/weekly life and about celebrities I liked. While I loved Tumblr, I ended up feeling like if my posts were too long for a micro-blogging site. I decided to open a new blog in Blogger, The Abstract Butterfly’s Sanctuary. Then, I started writing about social issues, poems and song lyrics too.
After a while, I decided to take my blogging to a new level and I launched The Witxina Project on WordPress, composed of four blog sites: 5 Words to Live By (for inspirational and motivational posts), Chronicles of a Rhacei Soul (for social and political issues), The Abstract Butterfly’s Sanctuary (for creative writing and literature) and Finding Myself Inside Me (for my personal life). Running four sites was not easy, but it was exciting and I liked doing it. However, after nearly a year, I realised I had neglected my non-blogging writing projects, particularly the novels I was working on. In addition, my first year of university was coming up and I knew I wouldn’t be able to cope with everything. I decided to end The Witxina Project and I closed down all the sites except Finding Myself Inside Me, where I shared the old posts from the closed sites. Since then, Finding Myself Inside Me has been the only blog I run.
If you follow my blog, you will have probably noticed that I no longer write inspirational and motivational posts. I used to recycle old ones, but I stopped. I also ceased writing articles about social and political issues, except for those directly linked to my personal life. Since the beginning of this year, my posts have been mainly poems, song lyrics and reflections, except for a few personal blog series about my university life and my trips abroad. None of these changes are random or senseless: they actually indicate a shift in my attitude, my personality and my outlook towards life. My writing reflects who I am. If it changes, it means I changed too. This can also be applied to the alteration of my artistic name. A few months ago I started feeling a disconnection between my pseudonym and my written work. Emilie H. Featherington had a meaning that no longer translated into what I wrote. It was meant to be about me speaking out, sharing my views on the world and trying to positively influence others. Yet, I no longer wanted to do that. I no longer wanted to inspire and motivate others. I no longer wanted to write deep pieces about politics. My will for all that disappeared, replaced by a need to write about myself and what’s going on in my mind and life.
The shift in my attitude, my personality and my outlook towards life has mostly been negative. This is noticeable if you have read my poems, song lyrics and reflections. To be honest, I have been a dark and sad person for a while, probably always, but I have never shown it as much as I do now. While this could be an innate aspect of who I am, I believe it is a response to severe changes in the circumstances surrounding my life. In particular, my personal life and the state of politics across the world. I won’t talk about these two issues, related posts will be published (or have already been published). However, it is important to know that a lot of things have changed since I began blogging, even since last year. The majority are negative and have had a severe impact on me, which hasn’t been only negative. I’m a more astute and more open-minded person, less naïve and more realistic. I have a better idea of who I am and what I want to do with my life. The problem is that all this has made me colder, less outgoing and more distant from everyone.
You might be wondering how all this affects my blog’s renovation. Finding Myself Inside Me will be personal (again) from now on, except for my poems (which are generally about social issues). That’s why the new layout of the blog is made up of objects with a deep meaning in my life. I can confirm that I won’t publish more political articles or inspirational posts, although these topics might come up when discussing issues surrounding my life. I will share more personal reflections, as well as more lifestyle and life experiences posts. I will also keep sharing my creative writing pieces. For the record: I still care deeply about social issues and politics, as well as emotional wellbeing and mental health (the concepts behind my inspirational and motivational posts). I’m still studying International Development in university and I work/volunteer in those areas. I’m just done with writing think-pieces and articles about them here. The current political and social climate where I live (UK) has affected me badly. I need a break from active involvement in politics and social issues. My academic work is too much in itself. And I don’t feel genuine trying to inspire and motivate others to be happy, strong and hopeful when I’m not that type of person anymore.
With making my writing more personal comes making my artistic persona more connected with who I am in real life. I won’t reveal how I came up with the pseudonym Emilie H. Featherington, but it always reflected someone I wanted to be and not who I was. I was inspired by others rather than by myself. That’s why I decided to change it to Emilie F. Yaakaar. The first name has remained the same because it is merely a different version of my real name, though I was actually baptised as Emilie. I also like the meaning behind it: hard-working. The middle name abbreviated as F. stands up for Featherington. I chose it to not forget about my old alias and because it eventually became a part of me. And lastly, the surname Yaakaar means “hope” in Wolof, a language from West Africa, particularly Senegal. While I have a diverse African ethnicity (my ancestors and my family’s culture(s) are from different regions in Africa), Senegal makes up the largest share. Wolof is the lingua franca in that country, a language that I’m learning. Hence, I chose it to show the importance of my identity in my writing. I selected the word “hope” because hope is something I never want to lose.
I don’t have much more to add, I hope this post made sense. From now on, my blog will be back to being updated regularly. I won’t delete my old posts, but keep in mind that they might not reflect who I am and what I think now, particularly those about social and political issues. If you have any questions related to this topic, please comment below or reach me out in my social media accounts!
Love and hugs,