I felt displaced as the nation mourned the Queen’s death
We're not all grieving
I’m difficult to place. I sound English, but people often ask where I’m from. People mostly guess (incorrectly) that I’m Spanish and when I’m travelling through Europe and parts of the Middle East, people ask if I’m one of them. I could pass for English - I’ve lived in England most of my life and I’ve become a social chameleon who can slot comfortably up and down the British class system. But it’s an illusion: I’m a second-generation immigrant whose parents aren’t even from the same place.
My mother is Irish and my dad is Greek-Cypriot and I mostly felt at ease with my mixed heritage growing up in a cosmopolitan city like London. I even played up to it on my dating profile on Hinge by saying ‘guess which countries my three passports are from.’ It worked a treat as a conversation starter. In the early days, my boyfriend had me saved on his phone as ‘Tiffany 3 passports’. It was all a bit of fun.
But since the Queen’s death, I’ve lost a bit of my humour about my mixed heritage and I’ve been feeling displaced. I felt nothing while the nation collectively mourned. My Instagram feed became loaded with pictures of her majesty and people were sharing stories of times they’d encountered the Queen. On Twitter, people were rolling their eyes at anyone who used this as a time to question the monarchy and hate was directed at anyone who dared use this historical moment as a time to question the past. As I once felt isolated in my grief when my boyfriend died by suicide, I felt isolated in my lack of grief after the Queen died.
I work a lot with America. An American on the phone said to me that they were sorry to hear of the Queen’s passing. I replied that all my grandparents were born under British colonial rule and during the awkward silence that followed, I became angry. I’m sure lots of children of the empire and daughters of immigrants are royalists, but I refuse to be one of them. There’s no greater erasure of the blood that runs through my bones than when it’s assumed that I grieve the death of a British monarch. England may be where I live, but the nation’s collective mourning reminds me that this may not be my home.
All my grandparents (and my father) were born under British colonial rule. I grew up seeing pictures of British soldiers pointing guns at children’s faces at my Cypriot grandparent’s flat and heard stories on my Irish side of family members who fought off the British oppressor. My Irish great grandfather was one of the early MPs in the Irish free state in the 1920s.
I knew these stories, but I happily grew up in England and thought of it as home, but there was always an underlying tension. I’ve been told that I’m too direct, too hot-headed and too argumentative and if you look closely, my features aren’t European. I’ve always gravitated toward those who are different: my best friend is a Romanian first-generation immigrant and my partner is Italian. I’m proud that London is a place that facilitates those connections, but the response to the Queen’s death is making me question my place here. As more and more people joined that goddamn queue, I questioned if this country is for me.
It’s been an uncomfortable reminder that I’m not the same as those around me who I’ve assimilated with. I stayed quiet in WhatsApp groups and on social media, fearful of being accused of being disrespectful. I bit my tongue when people talk of the Queen as being the nation's grandmother.
The Queen is not my grandmother. My Yia Yia (grandmother) lived in Cyprus’ capital, Nicosia - the only remaining capital city left divided in Europe after the fall of the Berlin wall. My Yia Yia lived two streets away from ‘the Green Line’: a line British generals drew to split the republic of Cyprus from the Turkish Northern Cyprus following tensions between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. These tensions were originally stirred up by the British.
Cyprus, despite many people not knowing where it is and presuming it's a Greek island, has huge strategic importance. Look on a map and you'll see it's in the Middle East. The British wanted it to control the Suez Canal and their trade routes to India. They still have British army bases in Cyprus and these keep them relevant on the international stage as British warplanes fly out of there to places like Syria and Iraq. Lands that Cypriots share closer blood ties to than with the English.
It was poignant that on the day of the Queen’s funeral, I was walking across Nicosia’s Green Line to visit the Turkish side of Nicosia. It wasn’t explicitly by design to do this, but it worked with our travel schedule and so while back home, people were watching the Queen’s funeral, I was looking at houses riddled with bullet holes. I walked through derelict and abandoned houses and the destruction caused by the imperial desire for power. A conflict stirred up between two people who had lived peacefully for years, so Britain could maintain its clutches of power.
I am from two divided nations - Ireland and Cyprus. Two lands that are overshadowed by the destruction of the British Empire. An empire that is synonymous with the British royal family, no matter how much they rebrand themselves.
To many in England, the monarchy represents many things: pride, tradition, and stability, but not me. I see them as a symbol of the status quo – of upholding class privilege, inequality, inherited wealth and a denial of the shame and atrocities of the British Empire. The stark contrast of a funeral that’s attended by celebrities and dripping in gold during a cost of living crisis, soaring inflation and a recession to me says it all. It’s no surprise that tax cuts that benefit the wealthy were announced the next day. It’s all connected. I wish people could see that more clearly.
The most harmful things can be dressed up as harmless. The Queen believed in the divine right - that God appointed her to rule. What a thing to believe. It’s easy to justify your role in an unequal society when you believe that. The monarchy today may be well-meaning and open to adapting, but they’re not willing to let go and it doesn’t seem like many of their citizens want them to either. However, the institution, its history and what its continued existence represents matters and it’s important we talk about it.
The Queen may be buried, but the issues related to the monarchy are not. It’s entirely appropriate to see this moment as a turning point in history and to look back to ask - what next? I’m proud of this country and that’s why I want something better for it - something stronger than an institution and history that divides people. I want collective action and progress and one where it’s ok to question destructive power, no matter how symbolic and meaningful for some. At death, no matter how expensive the coffin we’re buried in, we are all equal.