Speaking for Ourselves

Giovanna’s story - A life devoted to migration

Giovanna’s story - A life devoted to migration

Anna Marsden

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Giovanna’s story - A life devoted to migration

Migration characterises the life and identity of Giovanna in several different ways: she comes from a migrant family, is a migrant herself, and migration has always been her field of work. “I think I ended up working in the migration field because of my personal background in some way. I was interested in it”, says Giovanna, in her office at the Open Society Foundation.

Giovanna comes from a multiethnic and migrant family: her Italian father emigrated to Portugal where he married a Portuguese woman. They lived there for several years and had her sister, who speaks perfect Portuguese, and then moved to Italy where Giovanna was born. 

These mixed roots are an important part of her identity, and she has always been passionate about her work on migration, first in Italy, where she coordinated projects providing services to migrants, then in the UK, where she works on migration projects in Southern Europe, particularly Italy and Greece, promoting migrants’ participation and human rights. 

“I’m very lucky because I can combine my personal beliefs and values with my job”, she says. “I have always been working on migration and I’m excited because I used [in Italy] to have to look for funding, but nowadays I’m on the side of donor and support organisations”.

Giovanna did not plan to move to the UK: she was just given an opportunity and she seized it. She saw an ad for a position at the Open Society Foundation that matched her profile perfectly, sent the application just to give it a try … and it worked. 

Initially the position was to be in Budapest but by the time she was hired things changed, and it came out to be in London. In 2015 she moved with her husband to London, giving birth to a son six months later. 

Settling in London wasn’t too easy, despite having a good job. Her husband spent six months looking for one before he found a position as a security analyst in a small company, and renting a flat was trouble: “We had to pay six months in advance on top of deposit because we had only one income and were newcomers. We had to ask our parents to send us money.” 

Furthermore, she had to quickly find out how the health system works in the UK, and all you need to know when you move to a new country. The cost of childcare was a shock: “it’s like paying a second rent!” 
Giovanna finds it difficult to live in London because of the high cost of living and the long commutes, but she loves her job and the multiculturalism of this city. 

“It’s an enrichment for me,” she says, “and I think also for my kid, who goes to a nursery with kids from all over the world, where staff is from all over the world. I think it will make him more sensitive and respectful for diversity in the future and these are things that in Italy you don’t really have … It’s completely different - the multiculturalism you have here.”

She plans to apply for citizenship as soon as she has notched up five years of residence. She plans so particularly for her son, because “he was born here and he already speaks more English than Italian. He eats types of food that I personally don’t like and can’t prepare, such as pies. In the nursery they have some multicultural cuisine … it’s part of him. He was born and is growing up here. 

"For him to have a British passport would also be a symbol of his identity because he was born in London. So, even if we ever go back to Italy, he may want to return to the UK, to attend university here…”

Since the Brexit referendum, Giovanna’s plans have become more uncertain and she is keeping an eye on job opportunities in Italy, although without any specific plan. She is worried about her future after Brexit: “My husband has a less stable work, so I’ve been thinking of what would happen if he lost his job and then we fell below a minimum income requirement for families to stay here, or … if they [the government] requested a lot of conditions to be met. The government hasn’t clarified how it will work for EU citizens. 

"Also, I travel a lot and have already experienced how police controls have increased at the border. I don’t like it, you feel less free.”

For the moment, however, Giovanna continues with her job and, together with her colleagues, she has extended her activity after the referendum to create a contrast to the division in the country and the anti-immigrant campaigns. 

Immediately after the vote, the Open Society Foundation had an internal discussion and decided to use some emergency funds for a new programme aimed at building bridges between white Britons and immigrants, promoting social cohesion through various actions. 

The programme (that is now concluded but will probably be re-launched in the near future) included about 15 projects, some at a national level and a majority at a local level, particularly in areas characterised by a higher Brexit vote. These projects supported disadvantaged people from immigrant communities and white working class with a variety of initiatives carried out by local groups. 

In Newcastle, for example, the project supported the activity of a centre helping women experiencing domestic violence; in Manchester the activity of Reclaim, a youth leadership and social change organisation, that led to the creation of a new movement: Team Future. The movement began as a group of working class young people who came together as a response to Brexit, feeling locked out of a decision that would change their future forever. They mobilised over 4,000 youths and wrote a manifesto for the 2017 election asking politicians for honesty, representation, approachability and inclusion.

Giovanna is proud of these results and, despite the uncertainty of her future after Brexit, she will keep fighting to give migrants a voice and to promote equality and societal cohesion.