Martha Deiros Collado on discovering as an adult that she was mixed race, and how she is determined that her own daughter will know more of her heritage
We use stories to understand our place in the world and create our identities. As a clinical psychologist working with children and families, I recognise the power of the stories we share and those that lie silent and unheard. The stories we tell about ourselves are a window into our internal world. This is my untold story of the past and my script for a preferred future.
We form our identities in our relationships, discovering who we are through how others see us. I have always felt that I do not fit neatly into people’s expectations. Since childhood I have always sparked curiosity in people.
“Your eyes are so exotic”.
A compliment I have always received as highlighting my difference.
“Where are you really from?”
A frequent question that emphasises I am perhaps ‘not quite like them’.
The stories I was told as a child by my parents created an identity of me as white and Spanish. But there was always a mismatch between this story and my reality. Perhaps if those around me had accepted my Spanishness and my whiteness I would not have wondered, “Who am I?”
Perhaps if family, friends and strangers had focused more on what made me similar to them rather than different I would not have struggled to ‘fit in’ and look for a place to ‘belong’. Then again, perhaps I would always have felt different because it is in my blood, it is in my genes.
Three years ago, at the age of 35, I asked my mother a question I used to ask as a child – “Who is my father?” Now that my parents are separated my mother felt able to tell me the truth. The man who is my father adopted me before I was born and my parents agreed to never speak of my true identity. My Spanish family only know the story that was told to me, kept alive by shame. They do not know my biological father is mixed race and alongside my Spanish blood I carry heritage from indigenous people in South America and southern China.
Learning this untold story about my origins and my ancestry was painful and a relief – my experiences now made sense.
As a child I saw a lot of the world as my parents main hobby was to travel. All our trips in South America felt a lot deeper than a simple holiday. The heat, the food, the colours and the rituals of the native people, they always stayed with me. When I was young I felt some of these experiences as vibrations within my body. I now think of these experiences as a calling from my ancestors, perhaps welcoming me home.
I found one of my brothers on social media and went to meet my Chilean family a few months later. I needed to connect with this part of my heritage by being in the same land as my brothers: doing this remotely would not have worked for me. Being in Chile and travelling around allowed me to connect with the wholeness of who I am. This gave me a new desire to become a mother, to continue the legacy of ‘my tribe’. The process of rediscovering my true self and becoming a mother are intrinsically linked. Through the birth of my daughter 18 months later I had a re-birthing of my identity and a strong wish to embrace my mixed-heritage.
I am now in the process of reclaiming my identity. In order for me to heal the wounds of the past, I need to give the little girl inside me – who felt different but never knew why – the space and time to be seen and to be heard.
I need to allow her to feel sadness and rage because for 35 years she was silenced, hidden under the shadow of a story that was not hers to live out. I want to allow my inner child to remove the cloak of protection that became a cloak of shame so that I can connect with the wholeness of who I am.
By doing this work, as painful and internally challenging as it is, I know that I am giving myself the chance to heal. In so-doing, I am also saving my daughter from living out a story that was created for her but isn’t a true reflection of who she is.
Writing this article and re-telling who I am is part of the process that puts an end to the shame that I have been carrying all these years. I want to reclaim my identity so that my daughter can author her own story. I will continue to speak to my daughter in her mother tongue, prepare and learn to make foods from our ancestors in Europe, South America and China, and offer her music, stories, and experiences that help her embrace the complexity of all her heritage. For my daughter to grow up accepting every part of who she is will be what finally heals me.
Dr Martha Deiros Collado is a clinical psychologist specialising in working with children and families. Find Martha on Instagram @dr.mdc_psychologist and head to her website to find out more about her work DrMDC.co.uk.
Pass the Mic is a series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to other voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as possible and contributors are paid the going editorial rate.