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My Mixed Background is Precious
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My name is Lila-Sandrine Diarra. I am a 27-year-old French national. By giving you my name, I am explaining my origins.

“Lila” is the name of my Persian grandmother from my mom’s side. My mom was born and raised in Iran. “Diarra”, my family name, means “Lion” in Bambara, which is the dialect spoken in Burkina Faso, Mali and some part of Ivory Coast. My dad was born and raised in Burkina Faso. My parents both left their countries to come and study at a university in France. I guess they wanted me to have a French name, therefore they gave me “Sandrine” as my middle name.

 

Persian traditional dress

Photo Courtesy: Lila Diarra. The author in her traditional Persian clothes.


My parents were married for 20 years and they raised my brother and me for the first 9 years of my life in Bois-Guillaume, a really small town in Normandy, not far from Rouen. In Bois-Guillaume, my brother and I were the only ‘coloured’ children in the school. I do not think that it mattered at the time, but I also felt that I did not look like everyone else. I did not have smooth hair and white skin. The town where I grew up was quite conventional and it was not always easy for my parents to socialise with other parents.

My brother and I were the only ‘coloured’ children in the school. Click To Tweet I did not have smooth hair and white skin. Click To Tweet

During that year, I went to an American primary school which had a particularity: There were a total of 51 different nationalities in the school. There were Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Indian and so on. It was such a melting pot compared to my school in France.

In 1999, my mom decided to move to San Diego, California to improve her English. As she is a researcher, America was the place to be in terms of advanced techniques. During that year, I went to an American primary school which had a particularity: There were a total of 51 different nationalities in the school. There were Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Indian and so on. It was such a melting pot compared to my school in France. However, I was the only French in the entire school. Now I realised that it does not happen often! Yet, it was a great experience, I learned English and met people from around the world. It was also difficult to fit in, as pupils tended to stay within their own community.

Photo Courtesy: Lila Diarra with her parents in California

 

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My American primary school was a melting pot compared to my school in France. Click To Tweet

In 2000, we came back to France and we soon moved to the suburbs of Paris. It was a breath of fresh air. Paris is so much more cosmopolitan compared to Rouen. I remember that when we were in Rouen, it was really difficult for my mom to find us a good hairdresser that could cut afro hair or even shampoo that was appropriate for our type of hair. However, in Paris, things were much easier as there is an African neighbourhood in Paris with a lot of hairdressers and shops to buy appropriate products.

It was difficult to find us a good hairdresser who could cut and shampoo Afro hair. Click To Tweet

Something I should mention is that my parents got divorced that year. I think they loved each other a lot, however, both cultures are so dramatically opposite that it was hard for them to make it work.

Something I should mention is that my parents got divorced that year. I think they loved each other a lot, however, both cultures are so dramatically opposite that it was hard for them to make it work. For instance, in Iran, whatever age you are, you are always your parents’ child. You have to come and visit and they have a say in your life choices. However, in Burkina Faso, once you turn 18, you are considered an adult. Your parents do not interfere with your life choices. Plus, both families were not the greatest support and obviously, the language barrier did not help. A lot of my parents’ friends were also mixed couples and they all got divorced, which is a shame.



My parents got divorced because their two cultures were so different, it was hard to make it work. Click To Tweet A lot of my parents' friends were also mixed couples and they all got divorced, which is a shame. Click To Tweet

We stayed in Paris for 4 years and then my mom met my stepdad. He got a promotion to go and work in China. It was a shock to me! China! In 2005, China was not what it is today.  However, I went along, I had to leave my brother as he was off to University, my friends, my dad and my country.

In Beijing, for the first time in my life, it was good to be different. The more languages you spoke, the better. The more countries you had lived in, the better.

I was scared at first to come to this totally new country with a person I have never lived with. However, there, I went to a French School. The melting pot in Beijing was huge. There were people with different backgrounds, speaking multiple languages, and who had lived in two or three different countries. It was a new world for me. In Beijing, for the first time in my life, it was good to be different. The more languages you spoke, the better. The more countries you had lived in, the better. Luckily, I improved my understanding and my speaking of Persian over there. I always had a bit of a mental block to learn Persian at a young age, which I regretted ever since. I also learned Chinese, which I really enjoyed as it was completely a new way of looking at things.

I enjoyed learning Chinese. It was a completely new way of looking at things. Click To Tweet In Beijing, for the first time in my life, it was good to be different. Click To Tweet

However, do not get me wrong, the culture shock was massive. China and France are two completely different cultures with their own habits and you need to learn them. I came here and I was quite open-minded about it. I remember telling myself “You have no right to judge them. They are in their country they can do whatever they like”. Living in Beijing really taught me to be more tolerant of difference and different cultures.

Great Wall

Photo Courtesy: Lila Diarra. The author at the Great Wall in China.

After three years in China, we went back to France for me to start University in Paris. It was hard to come back to France and get used to ‘proper’ French people. I truly believe that I was changed by living in another country during my teens year.

I remember telling myself, 'You have no right to judge them.' Click To Tweet Living in Beijing taught me to be more tolerant about difference and different cultures. Click To Tweet

In 2013, I decided to go study a year abroad in the UK. I lived in a shared house with 13 other people who came from all around the world. There were Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Irish, Swedish and obviously, French. It was a great year and I really enjoyed living in the UK. This is where I met my current boyfriend, Nils Eliasson. He is Swedish. 

Nils and Lila

Therefore, I am now also in a mixed relationship with two different cultures. Nils and I are completely opposite in our ways but we are compatible. We worked together and we understand each other’s differences. We even love our difference as it makes us who we are.

At the moment, we still live in the UK, however, we are thinking of moving either back to France or Sweden. We will see where we will end up, but as long as we are together, everything will be ok.

My mixed background is precious. I need to embrace it and share it with the world. Click To Tweet

In the end, my mixed background is something really precious because it is so unique. I need to embrace it and share it with the world.




 

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