we are not alone

Thoughts on being an immigrant in the UK

GMT 17:35 Tuesday ,26 January 2016

 Migrant Voice - Thoughts on being an immigrant in the UK

Fernando Sdrigotti

I. No event has had a bigger impact in my life than leaving my country early into the 2000s. Leaving would configure everything that happened afterwards, from careers to relationships, my everyday moods, my whole life, everything. When you leave – in the knowledge that you are not leaving for a holiday – something changes in you. The possibility of not returning many times becomes a stubborn resistance to a possible return. This happened to me at least.

When I left, Argentina was deeply immersed in an economic crisis; many of my generation had no other choice but packing their stuff and heading somewhere else. This was almost 14 years ago – the words "lost" and "generation" were uttered a lot back then, just like today. Argentina's crisis anticipated many crises to come. I am sympathetic to Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, and Italian people: I know how it feels to see your whole life crashing from one day to the next; I experienced high unemployment, surreal inflation, violence, and political apathy. I know what it is to leave everything behind to search for a new future. Not seeing the way out. I don't envy anyone in that position, in the same way that I don't envy anyone who spends his/her whole life in the same place. For some people the ideal situation is spending some years somewhere to then return. These are the only people I envy. 

I wish I could do that. I can't. It would mean another self-exile, a new set of effects left behind. I learned to find a home in displacement. I learned to know that this is the only form of home I'll ever experience. It is a double state of homelessness. And still an enriching state.


II. The following words are generally attributed to philosopher Miguel de Unamuno: "Fascism is cured by reading, racism by traveling". I don't know whether he really said this or not, but I do agree with these words. Being able to experience other cultures has opened my mind, made me a more generous and tolerant person. 

These words take an even bigger presence in my life today. The UK has slowly become a more intolerant and ignorant place. More and more people are in serious need of reading and traveling. Sadly, I don't think we will see that happening. If only it was so easy as prescribing books and trips to cure what is nothing more and nothing less than the fear of "the other". 

It is an uncomfortable moment to be an immigrant in the UK. Immigrants have become the scapegoat of many problems that have nothing whatsoever to do with the movement of people. This is not only the making of parties the likes of UKIP, BNP, EDL, etc. Mainstream political parties have also – and cynically – taken on the anti-migrant rhetoric. 

It would be pointless here to insist on the benefits brought by immigration, or on the lack of hard data when it comes to this or that other aspect of immigrant life in the UK, or on the fact that Brits living abroad are hardly ever mentioned when discussing migration in the UK. There is a human side of the equation that both right and centre-left constantly efface from the arguments around migration: people move to look for better lives, be this a better economic situation or better weather. The discussions around numbers and figures can't capture this; how could this be quantified, turned into a utilitarian statistic?  

Xenophobes concerned about the loss of a "national purity" (whatever that is) won't listen. And if they did they wouldn't be fussed about it. That doesn't mean that we should stop reminding them. We must remind people that leaving is never a decision taken lightly. 


III. Immigrants had a hard time in my country too when I was there. The crisis and unemployment was also blamed on them. Look back in history and see that anti-migrant sentiment is as old as the wheel. Scapegoating is rarely innovative, and yet it is hard to fight back against it. 

Immigrants don't have as many mouthpieces as those at UKIP and BNP, etc. We have little or no representation in "mainstream" media. Due to many reasons – from language skills to cultural specificities – we are at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting the Farages/Griffins, for a spot in the limelight. There are few voices to compensate for the bashing unleashed by the right wing. Few in politics, and few in media. 

That is the reason why movements such as Migrant Voice are important. It is all about generating a dialogue between a plurality of voices, opening up the spectrum of what is represented and representable. Maybe many won't listen. But we will become stronger and more comfortable in the knowledge that we are not alone. And that we aren't going anywhere.  

Fernando Sdrigotti is a bilingual writer. Born in Rosario, Argentina, he now lives in London. He tweets at @f_sd



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