SHOULD I PICK A SIDE?

Throughout February, we’re getting people from all over Northern Ireland to contribute personal pieces in the run up to the election on March 2nd. 28 days in February for 28 different voices.

There are still a few spots left to fill so get in touch!


Naomi Chilombo Mutolo

“So
Here you are
So foreign for home
Too foreign for here
Never enough for both.”

Diaspora Blues, Ijeoma Umebinyuo

I moved here from Zambia eight years ago but I am still unsure about the name of where I live. Locals argue over calling it Derry or Londonderry but I try to stay out of it. I normally refrain from commenting about politics and the political situation in NI as I do not feel like I have the right as an outsider with “diaspora blues.”

Coming here was my first time moving abroad and I joined my parents who migrated for work. I attended Oakgrove Integrated College and it felt like a bit of a safe zone away from the orange and green, as the locals describe it. I didn’t even realise this until I attended the local Catholic school for politics class in Sixth Form.

I have always found politics interesting but there is nothing more temperamental than Northern Irish politics. I will occasionally roll my eyes when I watch news reporting about the same old political rows, but I don’t feel it’s my place to comment.

Sometimes I avoid engaging in political or cultural conversations with strangers as I just do not want to get it wrong, and there is so much about Northern Ireland that you can get wrong. As someone who is not accustomed to the rivalry between the two major identities that define this place, I find myself biting my tongue. You get the feeling the you are playing devil’s advocate, that you have to play both sides to fit in.

However, I do find it fascinating that there is that rivalry of terminology for the actual name of the city I live in and it is clear to me that terminology does matter and has a significant impact on community life. I have had moments where I have been questioned and harshly corrected by taxi and bus drivers in Belfast and Dublin when I tell them that I am going to Derry. One of them even said there is no such place called Derry. His tone just emphasized one term, LONDONDERRY, and not even “Legenderry” or “The Maiden City” will suffice.

As a student and an active citizen who participates in community life, such as cross cultural activities and integration projects, I have noticed a lack of consensus among people. Many of the community workers advocate for unity and good relations but they still have to pick a side, and there is no real engagement or respect for diversity. They are people who of course want it to be Derry or Londonderry and those who just do not care what it is called.

Whilst the opinions of both sides should not be ignored, it has resulted in a contagious dispute which has left the newcomers like me confused and at limbo. Where do I fit in? Who do I identify myself with? Should I pick a side? Should I call it Derry or Londonderry or should I just call it Legenderry? What about The Maiden City, the one name which really represents everyone, including me?

As an alien (using President Trump’s definition of someone like me), I believe that diversity enriches our society. I also believe that respect for difference is paramount to community relations and stability. It is not like in the Olympics where your country is in competition to come out on top, but rather both sides of this community are equal representatives of the city. That is what matters to people looking in and to those who want to make this place their new home. You can be united as men and women and still respect diversity and the different identities of the people that live here.


Naomi Chilombo Mutolo is from Zambia and now lives in a city in the North West of Northern Ireland.

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Photo Credit: Visit Derry

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