Charis Nixon: American with a side of British

Riley Sorge reports on how a recent UNR grad grew up in the U.S. with a British upbringing, detailing the ins and outs of her cultural journey.

Charis as a child, shortly after moving to the US. Courtesy: Charis Nixon

Feeling Privileged but Still Erasing Parts of Identity to Fit In

“There were so many moments where I was like, ‘oh my god it’s not because I’m weird, it’s because I’m British!’” Charis Nixon, 23, exclaimed after going to the UK for the first time in her adult life.

Born to an English mom and Scottish father in Sheffield, England, Nixon’s future would soon hold a much different path than her parent’s British upbringing as they moved to the U.S. in January 1998 when she was just six months old.

Fueled by her father’s interest in US workforce culture and potential for more advantageous career prospects, the family moved to Foster City, California. He worked as a Project Manager for the credit card giant Visa while her mother stayed home with the kids then eventually became an accountant.

Settling down in a neighborhood as what Nixon describes as a seemingly common area for immigrants, she spoke fondly of her time growing up in a highly diverse community. Which later made her move to Reno a bit of a culture shock.

Growing up with British immigrant parents, Nixon said they, “seemed to attract every British person within a 30 mile radius.”

“Being immigrants from an English speaking country and being white immigrants and like being wealthy immigrants is a vastly different experience than most people have who immigrate from other countries, we are incredibly privileged,” Nixon said.

The recent UNR graduate noted that her experience coming to America was “vastly different” than those coming from other countries and the one thing she says always struck her was that, “my parents never ha[ve] to face the level of discrimination or the feeling as if they don’t belong, like so many other immigrant families had to face.”

Due to that, she adds, “I am one of the very few immigrants in the US whose life if anything, my immigrant status brings me a lot of privilege.”

Growing up in American schools had its struggles as she found herself being made fun of for her humor and British accent, which led to her making a conscious effort to try and eliminate that portion of her.

“It’s kind of sad as an adult looking back to think that that was something unique about me that I deliberately erased from myself,” Nixon said.

Nixon was also a part of the Reynolds Sandbox as a student with the Reynolds School of Journalism

Struck by UNR’s Demographics

When it came time for college, she decided to uproot and come to the University of Nevada, Reno. Growing up among the diverse Bay Area atmosphere, the makeup of Reno really caught Nixon off guard.

“I remember being at orientation and thinking holy s**t everyone is white, that makes me kind of uncomfortable and I should’ve considered that,” she remembers.

While in college, Nixon did as most do and decided to do a semester abroad. For most students, seeing somewhere new is the big appeal to going abroad, but for Nixon, it was a matter of reconnecting with her roots. With a family of five, the cost to go back to the UK often was too much, she had only been there once when she was four.

Charis and her older brother Ross. Courtesy: Charis Nixon.

Feeling More Connected after a Study Abroad in her Birthplace

While in the UK, her parents and siblings came over and the family reunited with the relatives on her paternal side.

“Going back was an amazing experience because there were all these people I knew they existed, they’ve been sending my birthday cards my whole life, I was friends with them on Facebook, but I didn’t really have any context as to how they were,” she said.

“It was this huge validating experience like ‘Oh my god I have a family. I just felt like my heart was bursting because all of these people were so amazing and loving and immediately treated me like family, because I am,” she said.

“I felt like after traveling to the UK I felt a lot more connected and better understanding of what it meant to be British.” she added.

Nixon went on to graduate in 2019, receiving her degree in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Theatre. She now works at KOLO 8 News Now in Reno as a multimedia new producer.

Reporting by Riley Sorge for the Reynolds Sandbox

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Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.