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Double Identity

Glittering Shards: Double Identity

Glittering Shards

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Double Identity

I was born and grew up mainly in the UK.

In the UK, my life was lived in the insular Sicilian minority community outside of London.

My first language was Italian. My early memories are in Italian.

At the age of five, we moved to Italy. There I learnt to read and write.

At seven and a half we moved back to the UK. My English was not as good as my Italian and I was laughed at in class at by another pupil for not knowing what some basic words meant (and then the teacher put him in his place by asking him how many languages he spoke! Hee hee!). Shortly after returning, I remember my brothers and I being confronted by a neighbour who told us to "go back to the country you came from".

My home life was 100% Italian-Sicilian - language, food, customs, culture (good bits and bad bits). I spent most of my free time after school, weekends and holidays in the shop run by my family and we were known as "the people from the Italian shop".

Yet my school life was lived in English and I was born and lived in England most of my life.

Last Saturday, we spent the evening with a football squad of Italians from Milan - they came over for the weekend to take part in a football match organised by our Italian friend, Dani (score was Italy 13, Rest of the World 6!!).

My double identity seemed to pose interesting dilemma's for them. Hearing me speak English, they thought I was English. Then, when I started speaking Italian to them, they knew I was Italian - not just Italian but Southern - and with a name like 'Concetta' there was no doubt that I had my roots in Sicily (the north-south divide is still very strong in Italy - southerners being the poor peasants). They asked me how old I was when I moved to the UK. "I was born here" I told them (in Slough, the most exotic of places!). Puzzled, they said "Your Italian is very good". "It was my first language" I replied.

In my everyday life, the converse is true. I live an English life with mainly English friends and speak almost nothing but English from day to day. For the most part, I am treated as though I were English. Yet my name and looks are very un-English and most people do not realise how differently I was raised, having been brought up in a 100% Italian-Sicilian houshold, with all the joys and struggles that entailed. (I remember someone being shocked when I told them that as a teenager I had to be chaperoned everywhere as per Sicilian custom).

So what am I? A phrase that emerged as I talked with one of the Italian footballers...

"Concetta", he said "100% Italian and 100% English". I like that.

Though I have to confess, when it comes to International football, I know which side I am on...

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