Speaking for Ourselves

‘A hug to migrant women’: the book that grew from lockdown

‘A hug to migrant women’: the book that grew from lockdown


 Migrant Voice - ‘A hug to migrant women’: the book that grew from lockdown

When Livia Barreira moved to the UK in 2016 she would introduce herself by saying: “I am Livia, I am from Brazil, and I came to Sheffield because my husband is from here.”

There was nothing in that sentence about her – her job, skills, hobbies, passions – but she didn’t realise it until another migrant woman pointed it out. Livia, a journalist and communications expert, describes that comment as a turning point in her life in the UK: the moment she learnt to give herself the importance she deserved.

Almost seven years later she has just published her first book, Living in Sheffield: Our journeys as migrant women. Entirely crowdfunded, it tells the stories of eight migrant women, including herself, who, by choice or by chance, have made Sheffield their home.

“I wanted to have this document celebrating diversity,” Livia says of the book, “and I wanted people to see migrant women and migration from our perspective. I wanted it to be a hug to migrant women.”

Livia is active in her local community and had been considering writing a book about the women’s experiences for years. But it was during lockdown, when she found herself unemployed and with little else to do, that she decided she would go ahead with her idea. She contacted women she had met at work, volunteering or on social media, and interviewed them on Zoom, inviting them to tell her their stories.

The result is a celebratory, diverse collection of stories about what it means to be a migrant woman – in particular, a successful migrant woman, although not in a traditional sense. 

“To me, success means to feel happy. I think to succeed in another country it’s more about feeling part of that community, feeling like you belong to that place,” she explains. The women are “uniquely successful” in different ways: “One is a businesswoman; one is a mother of four kids. Another is a very happy dancer.”

Livia herself  feels successful. But it hasn’t always been that way. She struggled to find her place and balance in Sheffield. Having left a journalism career in Brazil to live with her husband, Livia had to start from scratch, learning English and making new friends.

“I was going to every course I could, to practise and improve my English,” she recalls, “and I used to volunteer a lot,” which helped her make connections with others. But when it came to applying for work she struggled. She was overqualified for entry-level jobs but her lack of UK experience prevented her getting more advanced positions. It’s a catch-22 conundrum faced by many migrants, she notes.

One day something clicked. “No one gave me an opportunity, so I decided to create an opportunity for myself.” Livia launched an Instagram page, Living in Sheffield, where she promoted local businesses and events. The page has been a success, with almost 8,000 followers, and Livia is often recognised when walking around Sheffield. She is now putting her last touches on her website, where she will be able to offer her services as a marketing consultant.

Even when things picked up for Livia and she moved from volunteering to paid jobs, she initially had ”impostor’s syndrome”, she says – a feeling of inadequacy despite her success. But with time she started to value whatever previously made her self-conscious: “I think the accent I have when I speak English is great. It’s what makes me unique.”

Last April, Livia travelled to London to join Migrant Voice’s launch of its report on extortionate visa fees, which she also had to pay to be able to live with her husband in Sheffield. In the Houses of Parliament, where the event was held, she joined a room full of migrants, activists and policymakers fighting this financial injustice.

“It was very important to occupy that space as a migrant group together,” she says of the experience. “It was special, strong, and quite emotional.

“Until we see people who share similar experiences to ours, who are going through the same thing, we think we’re the only ones with that problem. As human beings, we think that way.” But in Parliament “I listened to people’s stories. I could see people who were going through the same as me, or worse. I learnt a lot.”

The event encouraged her to speak up on issues she cares about: “I have permanent residence now, so I don’t even need to pay for visas anymore. But I won’t be silenced, I will keep speaking up, and I hope more people will do the same after me.”

Livia is now working as an “ambassador for Sheffield” with migrant communities, running events and festivals, promoting her book and sharing her knowledge, empowering her network of migrants.

Each chapter of Living in Sheffield ends with a page about Livia’s connection to the highlighted  woman. “I'd like to make the readers think about their own connections in life. 

“We all live crazy lives, we think we don’t have time. We actually don’t have much time left. I was just thinking about those friends from school or from uni, and we don’t even have time to ask if they are okay. At the end of the launch of my book I asked the audience, Why not send a message to someone you love when you leave? Don’t lose these important connections. When you have the right people around you, better things will happen.”

Living in Sheffield: Our journeys as migrant women is out now. If you're in Sheffield, find it at Good Taste Fair Trade Shop and Juno Books. Alternatively contact Livia at @livinginsheffield to get your copy.

Photo: courtesy of Livia Barreira

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Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: info@migrantvoice.org

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