Mina Moriarty: “I’ve felt alienated by both sides of my heritage”
The creator on how place affects your sense of self, mixed representation and not looking like her family
Hi, welcome back to Mixed Messages! This week I’m speaking to Mina Moriarty, better known on TikTok to her 329k followers as @historyho101. Mina’s videos share the horniest, hairiest and most unhygienic stories from the 18th century, including spotlighting mixed-race families through history. I was excited to explore Mina’s mixed-Indian and white heritage with her, especially as it’s a very similar background to my own. Read Mina’s story below.
How do you define your ethnicity?
I usually tell people that I’m mixed, white and Indian. If they ask, I say my dad is from Punjab and my mum is from the North of England. I don’t look like either of my parents, my dad is dark-skinned and my mum is ginger and pale. If I’m out with my dad, people think I’m his sugar baby.
When I was 5, my mum used to tell people that I was special because I was mixed-race, so I used to say I was ‘special’ too - I guess I had a confidence that I didn’t have later on!
Did where you live affect how you saw yourself?
I was born in Leeds and moved to Wales when I was five. We lived in a tiny village and then moved around the north. I’ve been in Scotland since I was 10. I liked living in Leeds because there were lots of mixed, Black or Asian kids in my class. I didn’t think about my background because I was surrounded by different cultures.
Moving to the north, I lost contact with my dad for a while. I lived with my mum and sister, who has a different dad, and it was weird to not look like my family – people used to ask if I was the au pair. I’ve felt othered a lot in my life, whether that’s by white people or Indians or both. I’ve felt on the margins and alienated by both sides.
Do you find people decide your identity for you?
If I’ve said I’m half Indian, people in the past have said “no, you’re not. You look Italian or Persian.” It became exhausting for me to try and assert myself in any way. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve not minded as much. You become more accustomed to or accept certain things, or know how to deal with questions like “where are you from?”
Did you still manage to connect to your Punjabi culture?
I remember being five and cooking a lot with my grandmother on my dad’s side, standing on a chair to make chapattis together. Losing contact with that side of the family did lead to me feeling disconnected, which was sad, especially for my teenage self living in those white environments. Now, I see a lot of them and it’s nice to reconnect.
I think I connect so much to food because I can’t connect to that culture through language. I wish I had learned Punjabi to feel more validated in my Indian-ness, but language is a vulnerable thing. If I try to learn it and pronounce things wrong or get words mixed up, I’ll feel even more like I’ve failed and I don’t know if I’m willing to face that!
Has your sense of self shifted over time?
I think having a link to Punjabi culture and then losing it, growing up in diverse cities and then moving to small villages, being darker skinned for periods of my life and then being lighter, my experience has never been one thing. It’s constantly fluid and changing. Never having a single route has added to my identity issues.
You’ve showcased mixed families through history on TikTok – do you think mixed representation is important?
I think representation of mixedness can be a good thing, depending on how it’s delivered. Before I started researching, I never knew mixed families were as prevalent as they were, with families taking the time to go and get a portrait done.
People still comment that “everyone is mixed really” or fetishise mixed people, which is gross, so I think it’s important to share people’s stories, and also to share as many voices as possible. That can help people understand the mixed experience more, and make navigating the world as a mixed person so much easier.
I also think it’s important to explore mixedness from lots of different angles, through interviews, artwork, poetry, TV, books, and more. That’s what we try to do with Middleground magazine.
Did you go looking for spaces like Middleground, that spotlight mixed identity?
I used to be fascinated by interviews with actors who spoke about their mixed heritage. I clung to anything that I felt could represent me in some way. Then I connected with Pauline Jérémie , who runs Middleground, through the Scottish BAME Writers Network. I didn’t go looking for a space like that when I was at university because I didn’t know it existed.
Can you share more about your poetry too?
Poetry is how I properly started to explore my mixedness. It’s very raw. In Exile/Home, I wrote in the voice of Sophia Duleep Singh, an Indian suffragette with Indian, German and Ethiopian heritage, imagining that I was her through different periods of time. I couldn’t write from my own perspective, I needed another layer of distance to things. Now, it feels easier to write in first person.
Are there any writers that inspire you?
Poet Nadine Aisha Jassat is of Indian heritage, and I love her collection Let Me Tell You This. Dean Atta, who is of Greek and Caribbean descent, writes brilliantly on being mixed in his collection The Black Flamingo.
What’s the best thing about being mixed for you?
I can talk to people from lots of different backgrounds - I have empathy and understanding for different cultures. I love that I have two distinct cultures in terms of history, folklore, food and music too.
Can you sum up your mixed experience in a word?
Buy Mina’s book, Who The Hell Is Olympe de Gouges, here. Next week, I’ll be talking to Sian Gabbidon, founder of SIANMARIE and winner of The Apprentice 2018. Subscribe to get Mixed Messages in your inbox on Monday.
Enjoy Mixed Messages? Support me on Ko-Fi! Your donations, which can start from £3, help me pay for the transcription software needed to keep this newsletter weekly, as well as special treats for subscribers.
Mixed Messages is a weekly exploration of the mixed-race experience, from me, Isabella Silvers. My mom is Punjabi (by way of East Africa) and my dad is white British, but finding my place between these two cultures hasn’t always been easy. That’s why I started Mixed Messages, where each week I’ll speak to a prominent mixed voice to delve into what it really feels like to be mixed.