Last 27th March the UK Census took place, a long awaited date for the Latin community. A group of people, brought together under the banner of a still recently formed organization, have worked together to defend a simple premise, a thought: we are Latin Americans, no more, no less.
Almost a year to the day the Latin American Recognition Campaign (LARC) began with the objective of gaining recognition for Latin Americans as an ethnic minority whilst educating the community about the benefits that such recognition could bring them. With this objective, over several weeks, LARC encouraged Latin Americans to register themselves on the UK Census form as “Latin American” under the ethnic minority category.
On their first anniversary, because their campaign is continuing and because of the Census itself, The Prisma wanted to speak to Gladys Medina, of Bolivian nationality, and Pablo Allison, of Mexican nationality, both of whom are general co-ordinators in LARC and from whom we recorded their thoughts on the first anniversary of this initiative.
What benefits can registering the Latin American community as an ethnic minority bring to them?
Those of us who make up the Latin American community in the UK are invisible. What we want is to be able to participate with our own voice regarding issues that affect us and society as a whole as well. Furthermore, to have our own identity formally recognised in the United Kingdom will facilitate the integration of Latin American immigrants making them feel part of the UK community. One has to bear in mind that the Latin community is fairly large. On the other hand, to be considered as an ethnic minority will bring benefits to the community principally in terms of health, education and accommodation.
How many Latin Americans are there in the UK?
It is difficult to pin it down in numbers as they vary, due to the fact that a reliable investigation has never been carried out to determine how many Latin Americans there are here. For this reason, our proposal regarding the UK census last 27th March would help obtain more realistic figures as to how many Latin Americans there are in the UK.
Why are you opposed to the label “Iberoamerican”?
We think that it is an inappropriate category, because it can also include Spaniards, the Portuguese, Angolans etc. In other words, the label is simply linguistic and nationalities that do not share Latin American traits can be included in it, such as the examples of the Spanish and the Portuguese, who are already classified as Europeans and already have a recognised “status” as such within the UK.
Under the category “Iberoamerican” various nationalities are lumped together purely for linguistic reasons. We have proved that on the whole Latinos identify with the category “Latin American” for reasons of cultural identity. Further, this category has already been in use for many decades in this country and in others to identify not only South Americans but those of us who came from (or have roots in) Central America and parts of North America such as Mexico and the Caribbean.
Does your campaign have the support of the Latin American communty in the United Kingdom?
We think so. We maintain direct contact with the community. We have links with organizations such as Latin American Womens’ Rights Service (LAWRS), Los Años Dorados (Golden Years), IRMO, and Tiendas del Sur in Elephant and Castle, amongst many others. In the time that we have been talking to the people and informing them about our campaign, we have realised that the majority identify themselves as being Latin American. It is something that many take as a given fact.
What remains to be done after the Census campaign?
Our campaign does not end with the census. This was only the first step, and a very important step at that. We are going to continue working now for the recognition of our community as an ethnic minority in the UK, trying to unite our community and achieve our integration into this country.
From your experience and the conferences and activities that LARC organised to educate the community about the Census, do you think that the community is aware of this subject?
In general the community was very poorly informed, with many doubts and questions: What would be the consequences of participating in the Census for example; how would the information be used; whether it was obligatory or not; a lack of knowledge about the importance of being recognised as an ethnic minority etc.
After a years’ work, what has been achieved?
We have succeeded in uniting the community as Latin Americans. We did not realise that there are many institutions and many people who prefer the category “Latin American”. This helped us to unify and recognise our common links. We believe that LARC has filled a vacuum. For many people it has been an interesting journey of self discovery realising that they are Latin Americans. We think that we have opened the way for greater integration.
What would you say to a Latin American resident in the UK who shows no interest in the topic of recognition?
That it is important that the Latin Americans are recognised as an ethnic minority because this will bring as a consequence the creation and improvement of services for our community from both local and central government. If we do not exist officially, funds cannot be channelled to solve the problems faced by our community. We would also like to say that we wish to reaffirm our origins, culture and cultural interchange. In short, to share our culture to enrich our community. On the other hand, having a designated category on the Census form will assist people to integrate and feel part of the community.
Do you not concede that the other campaign is partially right?
The term “Iberoamerican” is inappropriate for the situation that we are describing. We must not forget that the issue of recognition arises from a concrete context; the recognition of Latin Americans in a European Union member country as is the United Kingdom. On the other hand, ethnicity is connected to origin. Culture, customs, all of these elements make up an ethnic minority, and they are elements very different from those which the other position defends. We are talking about the reality of the Latin American community in the UK and this is why we must look for common traits.
The needs of Latin American migrants are very different to the needs of other countries which are included under the category “Iberoamerican”, for example the needs of the Spanish or Portuguese who already have permission to reside in the UK and do not need to be recognised as such.
But on what is this Latin American identity based? Is it ethnicity, country, race…?
In the main we consider it to be based around geographical origin coupled with cultural and historical heritage common to all Latin Americans. Other factors come into play such as language, which links into the previously mentioned ones.
In order to obtain recognition, would it not be better to work together with different immigrant communities?
Yes, we are also doing this, but our recognition has to stem from us principally. We completely agree that all immigrants need to fight together, but without losing our individual identity. We do this as Latin Americans.
What difficulties have you encountered in pushing forward the campaign?
One of the difficulties is that we all work as volunteers in the campaign and we don’t have the time available that we would like to dedicate to it. Although we are beginning to realise our objectives we have not been able to do this as quickly as we would have liked. But this is compensated by our enthusiasm and work, which is as much as ever.
(Translated by Maria Anne Moore – Email: email@example.com)