In the Colonia Tabacalera in Mexico City, I go by the name Pancha. There are two reasons for this. One of them is that Hayley is too difficult to pronounce in Spanish. The other is that it’s such an oxymoron that it’s funny. Pancha is the name of a famous nanny in Mexico from an old Pedro Infante film, the sort of woman who could drink you under the table down at the local. It’s also the kind of name you would expect the woman on the corner who can make tortillas on a hotplate with her bare hands without burning them to have. So ascribing that name to a vitamin-D deprived English girl coming to Mexico to ‘find’ herself was pretty funny to a lot of Mexicans.
Pancha is back in England now because she didn’t want to be an oxymoron anymore.
But finding that sense of belonging isn’t as easy as just going back home. Manchester, I’m learning, is a very complex place. The thing I love about Manchester is its incredible diversity. Everything goes in Manchester; walking the streets you can hear a myriad of languages, smell a synthesis of exotic food cooking and visually it’s so stimulating. I love being here and I get an incredible energy from it but I haven’t figured out really how I ‘belong’ here.
For a start, if I’m honest, it’s not really the Manchester I grew up in. Prestwich is a suburban, very comfortable mostly white middle-class neighbourhood where everyone has a big back yard and a driveway. Bolton is a working class, now mostly residential town where different cultures and ethnicities tend to lead quite separate lives. The Manchester I’m exploring now is pretty different from both of these places but I find it hard to identify with either of them anymore, I’ve been so long out of them. I’m about to move to Moss Side, an area of Manchester that is historically a settlement for a mish-mash of migrants; Irish, Chinese, Indian, Caribbean and Somalian, to name but a few and one of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve been there is a real community spirit (or at least from the outside). I don’t know that much about it but so far I’ve been drawn in by the old-fashioned Victorian terrace houses and just that ‘feeling’ that something is right.
Making the decision to move there opened up an existential can of worms. What are my motivations for moving there? Am I looking for a neighbourhood to ‘save’? The area has often been labelled as ‘deprived’ but I don’t really see it that way. Am I looking for somewhere that reminds me of where I was before? Am I always going to be in that “the grass is always greener” mindset?
And then there was the guilt that I had the luxury to choose which neighbourhood I wanted to settle in. I thought about so many of my friends over in Mexico who were returned migrants from the USA. The ones that had grown up over there from a young age, learnt the language, embraced the culture, been educated there and then in their 20s and 30s were found to be illegal and were forced to return to Mexico; forced to re-learn who they were and embrace a culture which for many of them was probably new. How the hell do they find their roots?
This humbled me.
In the multicultural and dynamic world I have always lived in, there’s more to appreciate than just the roots of a human being. The beauty of a plant also manifests in it’s flowers and it’s foliage and these are things that can change over time.
Who is Pancha? Where are my roots? What’s my social class? Am I being authentic? For the moment I’m putting those questions aside in a quest to enjoy life a little more and in the meantime I’ll take on board some words from Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray, the story of a young man who sells his soul to preserve eternal youth.
To him, man was a being with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex multiform creature …. [The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde]
Just like the patchwork city I live in; identity is complex, diverse, exciting and anything but static. We are not one thing at the exclusion of another, we are bits of lots of things. That’s OK and I’m ready for a new growing season.