He left his native Cali at an early age along with his mother and younger brother. After 16 years in Spain, he has now been living in London for three, surrounded by Latinos that make him feel at home. This is the story of Luis Sánchez.
Marcos Ortiz F.
The recently sharpened knife cuts through the meat as if it were butter. In the background, speakers tuned into a Colombian radio station throw out cumbia, salsa and vallenato music. In the walkways of Brixton Village, in the south of London, Luis Sánchez can be seen behind the counter, cutting and wrapping leg, ribs, feet and Colombian chorizo made from beef and pork, that he prepares himself.
At 23 years old, while he cuts the last millimetres of fat from a piece of beef, he turns down the music to tell the story of how he came to be here.
“I was born in Cali, in the San Judas neighbourhood, and I moved to Spain when I was 4, as my parents wanted a better future. I travelled with only my 2-year-old brother and my mum. Like many people, she travelled illegally and stayed in Madrid,” he tells.
Every day, Luis’ mother would get up early and come home very late. “At that time, people took advantage of the situation. As she didn’t have papers, she started as a cleaner. My brother and I practically raised ourselves,” he recalls.
His mother’s luck, however, was about to change. “For a long time, she looked after the parents of some Spanish people who lived a comfortable life. They warmed to her and they helped her get her residency,” he explains.
Luis did all his schooling in Spain, but after finishing, he couldn’t find anything to do. Living in Galapagar, a town in the mountains 36 kilometres from Madrid, he decided to try his luck in England, where his father was living.
It was 2014 and his first experiences weren’t the best. In Brixton, Luis began by washing dishes at an Italian restaurant. Problems with his boss made him quit. “I looked for another job and I started cleaning offices. I worked from dawn in the centre of London. I would get up at 3 in the morning, start at 5 and get off at 7, cleaning offices.”(this isn’t clear if he has done a 2 hour or 14 hour shift)
“There are a lot of Latinos here that get managerial positions and it goes to their head. They watch you very closely the whole time. Any tiny thing and they have a go at you, they think they are better than you. Unfortunately that was my experience.”
The next step was washing dishes in a Colombian restaurant, until he heard that they were looking for someone fulltime in a fishery. “I served the customers and cleaned for 8 months. I liked it, it was a good experience and I learnt a lot of English, because everyone was Albanian.”
This time, the problem was the cold. “It was so cold. It stays really cold inside and I worked the whole winter”. His Colombian genes couldn’t handle the conditions, so instead he started working in the butchers where his father had been working for 15 years.
“I’ve been here for 2 years already, I feel really at home here. The customers are a mixed bag. All the Latinos used to be here but now they are more spread out. There are also many Latino businesses. Many Latinos buy stuff here, mostly Ecuadorians, but the people from Brixton come as well, many Jamaicans.”
Luis finishes with the meat and for the first time he takes off his light blue gloves. “I don’t remember anything about Colombia so I don’t think I’ll go back. I have thought about going back to Spain, but things are slow over there so it would set me back.”
He looks around him and seems satisfied. “I have been in England for 3 years and there are lots of Colombians in this area. I get together with them and I’ve even picked up the accent,” he says with a smile while he turns the volume on the radio back up.
Photos: Marcos Otriz – Translated by Lucy Daghorn (firstname.lastname@example.org