migrantvoice
Speaking for Ourselves

'We so-called "foreigners" are framed as either victims or villains'

'We so-called "foreigners" are framed as either victims or villains'

Daniel Nelson

 Migrant Voice - 'We so-called "foreigners" are framed as either victims or villains'

Christine Bacon is so weary of lazy media treatment of immigrants as victims or villains that she is taking action.

She has started a podcast series, I am an Immigrant, which aims to help shift the public conversation on immigration.

For Christine, the personal is the political. Since arriving in the UK from Australia in 2004, she says, immigration has constantly been in the news, yet she feels the media has never reflected her own experience of immigration - or the lives of millions of fellow immigrants.

“We so-called ‘foreigners’ are framed as either victims or villains, or occasionally as inspiring hero or model citizen ‘making a contribution’'” she says.

“The truth is,” she says in an introduction to the podcasts, “ … we immigrants are mostly people who live regular lives, work in a variety of jobs, subscribe to streaming television services, socialise with friends, fall in and out of love, say and do stupid things, and pick our kids up from school. We’re everywhere guys. I mean, 9 million of us are living here.”

Her own immigration story started with her parents, who took the opportunity of moving to Australia from Ireland under a subsidised travel scheme that favoured white people from the UK and Ireland. The scheme was an echo of the White Australia policy, introduced in 1901 to keep out non-Europeans, especially Asians.

Christine was an actor and waitress in her home city of Melbourne, but her interests and working life were changed the specific motivating spark was struck by a controversy in 2001 over the Australian government’s refusal to allow a boat carrying 433 rescued asylum-seekers, mostly Afghans, from entering Australian waters.

Shocked by the government’s actions and the widespread public support for its hard-line stance, she joined a campaign group, Actors for Refugees.

She subsequently studied politics and secured a place on a refugee studies course at the University of Oxford, which is what brought her to Britain at the age of 30. 

There was no long-term plan. She thought she would do her course, travel a little, and see how life panned out.

“What happened was that I found things to do here, I found people who I loved here, I popped out a couple of kids here and, like so many immigrants before me, I stayed here.”

She founded a UK version of Actors for Refugees (now Actors for Human Rights) with ice&fire theatre, a company dedicated to “exploring human rights stories through performance”. She is now artistic director of ice&fire.

The random unexpectedness of how her life worked out is what she fears will be lost under the post-Brexit government policy of admitting immigrants only to do specific, relatively high-paid jobs. That approach “means that people who packed a suitcase and came here on a whim, for adventure, to experience life in a different culture, are a dying breed. I have a Spanish friend whose first job was in a sandwich shop in London. She gave a customer a chicken sandwich instead of a cappuccino because her English was so bad she couldn’t differentiate the words. Now she’s a social worker, running a team of people doing amazing things. She’s made her life here.

“That kind of immigration experience will rarely happen now. Someone like my friend would look at the rules and say ‘I’m not allowed in’. It’s about who we are losing.”

Bacon wants the podcast to be a place where immigrants can express themselves in the way they choose, where they can be funny, insightful, insecure, weird, eccentric, outspoken and most importantly, human.  

* Next ice&fire performance, Asylum Monologues, is at Queen Marys University, London, on 22 July.

* To subscribe to the podcast and listen to the preview and first episode, search for I am an Immigrant on a podcast platform, or click here

Image credit: Courtesy of Christine Bacon

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Migrant Voice
VAI, 200a Pentonville Road,
London
N1 9JP

Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: [email protected]

Registered Charity
Number: 1142963 (England and Wales); SC050970 (Scotland)

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