The Latin American community is a rapidly growing one and a group of organisations from the sector has done everything in its power to make it visible. The struggle is a tireless one. Gaining recognition is a way of saying: “We are here, we have specific needs and great potential. You must talk to us.”
The borough of Southwark has a population of 244,866 including a large number of Latin Americans who make a contribution in a variety of ways to the area.
It is here indeed where the sixth anniversary celebrating Latin American recognition – which consists in allowing Latin Americans access to services, representation and political involvement/inclusion in civic life – will be held.
The Latin American consulates play an important role in this process of integration in recognising immigrants’ identity, culture and customs, since it difficult enough in the United Kingdom for them to settle let alone be visible. And communication is vital in ensuring this recognition.
Given this, the impetus is being provided from within the community itself. Proof of this is to be found, for instance, with the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK (CLAUK), one of the organisation that has taken on the Latin American fight for recognition, for improving the community’s access to health services and for advising them on employment rights.
The struggle for recognition dates back. It started with the Latin American Recognition Campaign (LARC), which initiated the first steps in ensuring the community’s recognition in British society. Then CLAUK – which is made up of several Latin American organisations – appeared on the scene. And in September 2012 recognition was achieved in Southwark, followed by Lambeth, Islington and Hackney.
The Prisma spoke with Lucila Granada, director of Latin American Women’s Rights Service, LAWRS, and integral member and promoter of CLAUK where she was a director for a time) and, in general, someone who has been involved for a long time in this fight that for her started in LARC. She told us what recognition means, its advantages and other aspects.
What is the Latin American identity?
It has many sides. Latin American culture is heterogeneous, with many forms of expression, in which very diverse identities converge. This resulting collective identity endures as a result of our communal practices and things we share in common such as our colonial past and the relationship we have with our respective countries. It is a hybrid of indigenous, African, Asian and European cultures mixed in unequal proportions, but with a wealth of traditions and a rich artistic, historic, culinary and political heritage … our community also has considerable entrepreneurial drive.
Why is recognition of the Latin American community important?
Recognition is what allows us to move towards cultural, social and political inclusion. It is not just about ticking a box on a form – once public services and authorities identify you as belonging to a particular community via this form they are in a position to facilitate your access to public services, justice, and public office. For example, if you go to the doctor there is information in different languages and freely available material that portrays people as Africans, Jamaicans, etc. but you will never find Latin Americans there. The same goes for involvement in civic life. With the process of recognition this is changing. As we have gained recognition as an ethnic group, the council is accepting its obligation to promote our involvement.
Recognition is a way of saying: “We are here, we have specific needs and great potential. They have to talk to us. ”
What does this recognition consist in specifically?
It consists in improving the community’s access to public services and in achieving greater representation and inclusion. That is, greater participation and involvement in negotiations and in civic, cultural and political life. Non-Latin American organisations are also receiving recommendations from local councils to work with our community. This is generating greater awareness at the local level about our presence and needs. When we started this struggle, leaving other Latin American troubles aside, there was no organisation offering services to the Latin American community.
Why is this recognition important in the United Kingdom?
It is very important because there are almost a quarter of a million of us here. We are the second fastest growing non-European community in the United Kingdom. We have many needs, abilities and boast a wealth of culture and entrepreneurial potential; and we could launch many more enterprises if we had fewer barriers in our way. There is a lot of exclusion, gender violence and many more problems that we need to put an end to. We must ensure that the second generation is not excluded in the same way.
The quest for recognition began in the United Kingdom with LARC. You were a part of LARC. Then CLAUK was born. How has the struggle fared in the transition from LARC to CLAUK?
LARC gave the first talk on Latin America in the British Parliament together with Jeremy Corbyn. It was a historic moment for our community and very important for me at that time as campaign coordinator. After publication of the No Longer Invisible report, LAWRS called on all community activists, women and men alike, to attend a joint meeting with the collective aim of making progress on those issues identified by the report. This group has continued to meet, focusing their attention on three areas: recognition, access to health services and advice on employment rights. It was a member of LARC (Claudio Chipana) who was the driving force behind the formation of CLAUK. Today, CLAUK is a coalition of 14 organisations.
How many years has this struggle been going on for and who has been involved in it?
The struggle for recognition has been ongoing for more than 8 years. It is a collective effort initiated by the LARC recognition campaign and by organisations such as LAWRS, but it is also boosted by the presence of businessmen/women and cultural groups from our community. Over the course of these 8 years, Latin American councillors, other community enterprises and of course CLAUK have added their support.
Does the wider Latin American community understand the importance of recognition? Are they interested or not?
The community is very aware of the problems and their possible solutions. Recognition may seem rather bureaucratic, but by ticking a box that says “Latin American” many people recognise that this constitutes visibility and integration and that hence as a community we are stronger. It may well be that recognition cannot be explained by everyone – the systems in each of our countries are different – but that does not mean that the community as a whole does not understand it. When we celebrated this achievement in Lambeth we were expecting 200 people and more than 500 Latin Americans turned up.
How has the process of informing the community been?
We spread news of the recognition process through all member organisations and via our health, employment rights and election workshops; and also through media outlets like The Prisma and other newspapers which, whenever the opportunity arises, have been there to cover the issue and promote understanding of it.
How has the community benefited from recognition, specifically?
One of the latest achievements has been an increase in the number of Spanish and Portuguese speaking interpreters for mental health services in 4 local authorities (Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Croydon) through SLAM. This means that thanks to recognition, Latin Americans are more likely to have an interpreter when accessing these services. Many non-Latino or generic organisations have begun providing some services to our community in Spanish. Southwark funded a study with the aim of establishing the first ‘Latin Quarter’ in the United Kingdom, working with Latin Elephant. Several political parties have contacted CLAUK so as to establish ties with the community. It is an evolving process.
How aware are Britons of Latin American identity? Do they care about recognition – does it bother them? Do they look upon the Latin American community with ‘different eyes’ when referring to local authorities where recognition has been given?
The British community is very diverse – the vast majority are not aware of us. Those who are know we are an extremely hardworking community, with a lot of cultural diversity – a community of entrepreneurs. Although we do suffer discrimination, the local boroughs we have worked with have a very positive opinion of us. Our job is to heighten awareness of the issue so that local authorities can make the right decisions. So, our role does not end with recognition alone.
What does this mean regarding other immigrant communities?
This means there should be more communication between communities and that our community should be integrated with other immigrants and minorities, and with British society.
Where has recognition been the achieved by CLAUK so far?
Lambeth, Islington, Hackney and throughout London by the Greater London Authority via the Mayor of London.
What has been the most difficult thing (official, personal etc. obstacles) in this fight?
Initially, the resistance on the part of local authorities to integrate our community, but there are a lot of us, we strive for recognition and our presence and participation in society is undeniable. The hardest part was right at the beginning when we started knocking on doors and they knew nothing about us. This is still the case in many areas of London.
Who, apart from CLAUK and from within the community itself, has helped in the struggle?
We have had support from many collaborators: from members of the Latin American press such as The Prisma; from councillors such as Natalia Pérez Martín Tiedemann and María Linfoth-Hall; from academics such as Cathy McIlwaine, Catherine Davis and Mette Berg; and from businessmen and women who have supported us with donations or have let us use their space, such as Tiendas del Sur, Distriandina, La Bodeguita, Lo de Lalo, Pueblito Paisa and many more.
In those boroughs where recognition has been achieved, what have been the changes for and within the community?
In Southwark the changes have included new services and organisations aimed at helping the Latin American community; community representation at Local Authority level; and interest on the part of the authorities to better understand the needs of Latin Americans. At the moment, they are carrying out research: a project dedicated to the community.
In Southwark and Lambeth, the number of translators who speak Spanish and Portuguese has increased for all mental health services and consultations and information campaigns have been translated. In Islington, progress has been made in the area of health through HealthWatch. Throughout London, Portuguese has been included on underground machines and the organisations are more and more involved when it comes to informing people about the GLA’s activities.
What is on the agenda as regards Latin American recognition in other boroughs?
There is a lot of work to be done both in the boroughs where recognition has been achieved and in those where we are still classified as “Other” such as Newham, Haringey and Brent. Our biggest problem is the limited capabilities of our organisations. It is essential that local authorities and foundations support and reinforce our community infrastructure so that we can continue to promote Latin American integration.
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos provided by Clauk