Heritage and Me – Part 1

I’ve been thinking about heritage and culture for a while….another one of those themes that’s been nipping at my heels. I seem to be landing in countries to which I have cultural connections.

Brazil – Portugal, Mexico – Spain, and now India – Britain & Portugal.

Cultural identity has always been difficult for me to pin down. I used to get asked “Do you feel more British or more Spanish?” all the time. Not sure why Portuguese never go a look in…
Before I started school (I’m not sure if this was reception class or nursery) Mum said I couldn’t speak English, I only spoke Spanish. When I was little I distinctly remember thinking I could only marry a Spanish person. I’m sure at this tender age the logistics of finding a Spaniard in the UK hadn’t seemed important. Maybe I thought I would just pop over to Spain and that would be that.
I also remember my Mum coming down to the school one day because there had been some trouble between my sister and a girl in her class – I remember the phrase ‘Spanish onion’ being thrown about as an insult.
I remember thinking it was a very poor insult and lacked imagination!

I see that as a child I strongly identified with my Spanish roots.

As a teenager and young adult I think I was firmly in the British camp. Links to Spain had wained. There were more summer holidays to Portugal and no more Spanish school – the dreaded classes 3 times a week after english school.

When people found out that I had a Spanish mother and could speak Spanish, there would invariably be requests to ‘say something in Spanish’. I was a moody teenager so these were usually met with a “no!” or “How about piss off in Spanish?”.
At an age when you want to fit in, you don’t want to be seen as the different, the rarity. Cue again the annoying “Do you feel more English or Spanish?” question. I think at this point in time the answer was usually English.
Again, no reference to Portugal unless it was some dimwit asking if they spoke Spanish in Portugal and was Portugal part of Spain.

Brazil didn’t make me feel particularly connected to my Portuguese side. Maybe because the part of Brazil we were in had been predominantly settled by Italians, Ukrainians and Germans – I was too dark to fit in. However the H was often mistaken for a local – that is until he spoke. When we went to Rio my Portuguese accent was instantly recognised as Paranaense and people thought I was Brazilian! What a difference a 2 hour plane journey makes to perceptions.
I felt a lot closer to Portugal on a trip to Goa. The villages and houses reminded me of summers spent in my Auntie’s house in Estoril, going to the beach and fleeing her psychotic cockerel. This wonderful Aunt passed away a few years ago but the memories were so vivid they sent me sobbing into the Basilica of Bom Jesus for a quiet place to compose myself….during Easter Sunday mass….ooops.
I have a feeling it won’t be the last time I have a reconnection with my Portuguese side while I’m here in India.

Food has a lot to do with how patriotic I feel towards which country, at any given time. There are certain things which will bring out the British in me with a vengeance. Scones…there’s been many a time when a poorly executed, sultana riddled, puck has been served up to me as a scone. The poor H sighs and gently reminds me that there are also many poor examples of a scone in the UK but they do not provoke the same red mist. What annoys me is that these poor imitations are being touted as British outside the UK. No, this is not what we are!
This misrepresentation also applies to a tortilla, a Spanish omelette…a few veggies in beaten egg does not constitute a tortilla and no self respecting Spaniard would want to be associated with it. Call it want you want, just don’t call it Spanish…Also a nata…well, quite frankly I very rarely have them if I’m not in Portugal. The disappointment of flabby custard in soggy puff pastry instead of a golden, creamy treasure encased in buttery flaky goodness is enough to send anyone to their bed in distress.

I feel protective of each culture. I want to right any misconceptions that I hear or read about. I want to say “No, that’s incorrect!”. Again the H will remind me that mine is just one perspective of many and just because a certain thing is done in A, it doesn’t mean that it’s done all over that country – that would make me as ludicrous as those people that think every one in Spain dances flamenco, eats paella and rides a donkey.

Ahhh yes, I see your point….wise chap the H.

The ‘heritage’ questions still annoy me. With regards to saying something in English/Spanish/Portuguese – I’m not a circus poodle, I don’t perform on command, and if you want to hear a language being spoken; go to Google. Or better still, go to that country and hear it spoken.
And these days the answer to the question ‘Do you feel more English/Spanish/Portuguese?’ is “I don’t know, but isn’t it wonderful that I have all those options? Now if you’ll excuse me…”

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