I’m an Immigrant and Proud
“Where are you from?”
A simple question but one that floors me every time. Twenty years ago I may have simply said London, or England, or the UK. But now I stand there, take a deep breath, and spill out my life story. Because there isn’t a simple answer to that question for me or many others like me – I wasn’t born in the same place in which I grew up, or the same country that I raised my own family or even where I live now.
I was born in England but raised in Barcelona, I moved to London as a child until I was in my twenties, I then spent a year in Australia where I met my husband, we moved back and I had my first daughter in London, we then moved to the south of Spain where we had our second daughter and now we all live in The Netherlands.
Ask me where I’ll be living in three years time and I may be somewhere completely different… I don’t know… this is just what my life’s like.
Exhausting and exhilarating in equal measures, a restless quest for a life less ordinary. A life without borders.
Some see the world as a big scary place. A huge expanse of unknown, places where one doesn’t belong and will never understand. For most people their time is split up between work/not working/two weeks holiday somewhere safe and sunny. For me life lacks that predictability. I see the world as something that is sitting there waiting for me, a place I want to experience to its full potential… not as a holidaymaker passing through but to really understand. I want to soak it up, live it, breathe it, feel it.
I want to say I’ve lived among its people and seen life through their eyes. There’s so much out there, so why do I want to do the same thing every day for the rest of my existence? I’m a middle class nomad, a financially secure gypsy, an adventure seeker with itchy feet – wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home.
My husband works for a shipping company and we often get the chance to relocate. As a freelance writer I can work anywhere where there is WiFi – and sitting at a beach bar with my laptop, or in a sixteenth century canal house looking out over quaint bridges and bobbing coots, sure beats a dusty office somewhere in the West End. My kids are on their way to learning their third language, we get paid well to live this way and we don’t spend our weekends in MFI or visiting the same relatives every rainy Sunday – instead we jump on trains and purposely get lost in new places. We are a close family who get to explore and appreciate where we live as we know we won’t be here forever.
In a nutshell, we love our life as immigrants.
That’s right, I’m an immigrant. When exactly did that word become the scapegoat for all that is wrong with the world? When did it start to conjure up images of illegal aliens and scary faces infiltrating our perfect lives? Being an ‘immigrant’ simply means I used to live in one place and now live somewhere else. Just as Russell below!
It means that I have chosen to settle in a country from which I did not originate to seek a different life and earn money. It’s not a crime, it’s allowed. There are millions of us out there living in countries where we don’t understand the language, looking different to the locals and having to adapt to new customs and traditions. Except when people hear me refer to myself as an immigrant they visibly recoil.
‘No, no. You’re not one of them! You’re an Ex Pat. You’ve been relocated. Your husband has a good job and so do you, your kids go to private schools for goodness sake. It’s not the same thing.”
Except it is.
I am no different to the men and women filling up the front pages of your newspapers being blamed for bringing down the economy or filling up your schools. I’m no different from all the other foreigners in your country wanting to experience a new life for their families, a new beginning for their children, a new adventure. I’m the same as ‘all them darkies’ you glance at on the bus speaking a language that you don’t understand, that stand in the queue at A&E with panic in their eyes as they can’t make themselves understood, that peer in confusion at tins in the supermarket or that huddle together with their ‘own kind’ outside the school gates.
I am the same as them… I just look the same as you.
Us Brits are good at that, looking like we have a right to be anywhere we want to be. We’re British, for crying out loud, we speak the Queen’s English! The universal language! We get to act and look and sound like a Brit regardless of where we are and what is expected of us, happy in the self righteous knowledge that what applies to them doesn’t apply to us. And we are never immigrants – oh no, that’s for the poor and dirty and desperate. Not us. We’re Ex Pats. A much nicer word. The colour of my skin and the zeros in my bank account make me exempt from xenophobia.
Enough! It’s not right….
It’s time we stopped fucking about and opened our eyes. Let’s not delude ourselves that just because of the colour of our passport we have a greater right to move around than others do.
The world was never made with borders, it was us humans that put them there. We decided what pieces of land constituted as countries, what groups of people belonged where and who had to speak what language on what section of God’s green earth. Yet we also invented boats to cross seas and planes to get from one side of the globe to the other without having to break into a sweat. We made it both easier and harder to enjoy the world, except we now want everyone to stay with their own kind and only move around for that precious two week holiday once a year. After all, we don’t want any of that lot over here.
I’m lucky. Being white, middle class and in possession of a good job means I don’t have to suffer at the hands of ignorance. I have the pleasure of residing where I like, living and learning and loving new surroundings every day, without sly glances or fearful stares. If I struggle with a new language and speak my own then that’s okay, I’m English, everyone wants to practise their English. No one presumes I’m here to steal their job, use their dwindling social resources or take over their religion. I’m an invisible immigrant, one that the locals don’t worry about or blame for anything. How is that fair?
I’m no different from any other economic migrant, the ones that are both feared and detested, yet maybe had I been born elsewhere it would be my photo on the front page below screaming headlines about border crossings and tighter controls.
Being an immigrant isn’t easy but it IS rewarding. Thankfully in the thirty seven years I’ve wandered this planet no one has ever asked me to go back to where I came from. Good job too, as I’m not exactly sure where that would be.