As immigrants the last thing we want is to be also discriminated against by other immigrant groups, because we have enough with the ‘British natives’. But that’s the truth: we immigrants are discriminating against each other.
Mónica del Pilar Uribe Marín
The fact that the Latin American community has been around in the United Kingdom here for more than two centuries doesn’t seem to have helped us. Our long history as an immigrant community doesn’t appear to matter to us.
If we ourselves can’t learn from our own experiences as immigrants, we can’t expect the British people to understand?
The fact is that as immigrants, we distinguish ourselves (or classify ourselves) as different from others according to the ‘type’ of immigrant we are.
We differentiate ourselves by examining our pasts. Do we come from a village? From the countryside or a city? What type of family do we come from? Did we go to university? If we did, which one? How many master’s degrees do we have? How many trips abroad have we been on? Were they for work or pleasure?
Also, the reasons we came to this country (or any other) give us more criteria to differentiate ourselves from others:
Did we come to study a postgraduate degree? Did we come because we married a British citizen? Are we here on a gap year? Are we here because our parents are funding our stay? Or because the job we had back home was so great we can afford the luxury of visiting to Europe? Or simply because “we are bored” with ‘Developing’ Latin American countries and we want to travel to Europe and open our mind?
On the contrary, are we here because violence back home forced us to flee, because someone tried to kill us, or because our family members were killed, we faced persecution, we were threatened? Or we are here seeking political refuge because we have to, although we didn’t want to leave our countries?
Or are we here because, simply, we had no money, we had no work, we’re from a poor family? Because we hadn’t even finished our high school diploma and thought we had no option but to leave, with or without official papers, to work in whatever jobs we could find, working all hours to save money and help our families back home?
But we also discriminate ourselves from others based on what we do, or what we have done, here, in our ‘new homeland’:
Are you a cleaner or have you been one in the past? Are you studying for a master’s? Do you have your own business? Do you work in your profession? Are you married, or were you married? Are you a director or a manager?
And then there are questions that ultimately classify our status:
What type of visa do you have? Are you a British citizen? Or… are you ‘illegal’? Are the majority of your friends English? Do you speak English?
This last question is really important, whether you hate the language or whether you have any kind of difficulties learning it or not. Or even better: Have you became so Anglo-Saxon that you have forgotten your Spanish?
This automatic classification that takes place on a subconscious level inevitably gives rise to discrimination and worse: to self-discrimination. And this is precisely how immigrants connect with each other and create their groups, according to these ‘classifications’, these criteria.
Unfortunately, this discrimination also reaches the media, which should be promoting the integration of the immigrant community. Media run by immigrants have been created based on the same type of classification and such differentiation informs the image we portray of ourselves in the media. What we want to promote, who we want to promote, the stories we want to report: all are created by this classification.
Thinking like that, it’s impossible for us to create content that unites and helps the community, which can contribute towards successful integration.
And in a community already so divided in itself, our own discrimination and the classifications we make do little to defend our community.
The media themselves are divided for the very same reasons, each one living as if on its own island, having its own background and serving only its own interests.
It is certainly true that a serious and professional newspaper is one that is run by professional journalists. But the reality of immigrant life doesn’t always allow their media to be like this, generally they are run by enthusiastic amateurs, or people with no experience of journalism.
Nevertheless, the value of this effort is that what they are seeking is to reach out to and be accepted by the immigrant community.
So, we should forget about such classifications and instead produce informative, content giving the bigger picture. The community newspapers should unite to truly defend the Latin American immigrant community, and counteract the hateful image of immigrants disseminated by the established British media and by the Government.
Our experience as immigrants is all encompassing. It includes our ability to integrate into your host country, our success, joy, art, our cultures and our dreams come true. But it also includes, deportations, cleaning jobs, anti-immigrant campaigns, police raids, immigrants suffering in detention centres, racism, exploitation, our struggles for a country without borders, for fair salaries, for respect for our professions, our fight for bilingualism, for our identity.
Immigration is also loneliness, abuse, the fear of being deported. It’s the frustration of not being able to do the jobs we did back home. The frustration of not being able to speak good English and, because of that, not being able to know well our host country. For some people immigration is ‘declassification’, a process of moving down the social ladder. For others it is the opposite. For others it is ‘re-classification’. For others it is growing stronger.
If travel does indeed ‘open our minds’, we should act accordingly. Here, no matter how different our pasts are, we’re the same: immigrants. We enrich this country’s culture – a fact many find hard to accept. But we bring classism and racism from our own countries, and we must learn to leave them both behind.