It took me a while to realise that my 16-month-old son was saying ‘sit’ in Yoruba. He’d been babbling for a while now and I thought he’d been saying ‘gioco’ (‘play’ in Italian) instead of ‘joko’. I felt a deep sense of pride and joy as it slowly dawned on me that he’d been repeating the words of what had been my mother tongue. When my five-year-old joined in it became the theme tune for our lunch for the following five minutes.
Living in Milan, my family and I straddle three cultures: Italian, English and Yoruba, pretty much in that order. The children are the only mixed heritage black kids in their respective classes, but fortunately they’re not the only ethnic minorities, with Egyptians, Filipino, Latin American and more.
They’re not alone as children of migrants. To their classmates my children are Italian with a British mother. To me they’re a little bit more Italian than I’d like, but that’s what happens when you marry a white Italian and raise children in that country.