This community represent a significant part of London, but the majority perceive discrimination, struggles with loneliness and English, suffer emotional ups and downs, while trying to find decent job and get their papers ready. There are several associations providing a variety of help to these immigrants. One of them also tries to make a difference.
Located in the heart of Kilburn, a building has opened its doors to the Latin American community, and once you are inside you understand that being an immigrant in a country of different culture and language is not the beginning of a nightmare.
No, because there, inside, a group of people are responsible for providing the necessary support to join British society.
This is the Latin American House (Casa Latina), formerly known as the Latin America Association, a charity established in 1983, which works with the Latin America community in London.
Since then almost four decades have passed, there have been several directors and there have been many community projects done by the House, a house that for a long time became a reference point for Latin Americans.
A little over a year ago, Carlos Huascar Tapia Montes became the director of Casa Latina. He is a Spaniard with ‘multicultural blood’ because his father is Bolivian, and his mother is Spanish.
Carlos moved to London one summer, when he was barely 20 years old. “I saw a lot of diversity, a lot of different people, different cultures”. In the English capital he found professional opportunities and then what was supposed to be only a few months of experience, became almost twenty years.
Carlos is an open-minded, kind and someone who is very committed to the Latin American community. Being Spanish, but a “multicultural” Spanish, he understands that people from different societies of Latin America tend to meet with people from the same country.
When he talks about his organization, he seems determined to have a go at making it once again the bastion that it used to be a few years ago for Latino immigrants. Therefore, his vision is to create an environment that opens its doors to all Latin Americans and non-Latin Americans, a place that integrates different communities.
For example, he is proud to talk about the cultural section, which is now doing very well, because for the first time they have hired a cultural coordinator and they manage cultural activities, music, theater, different performing and visual arts and much more.
The Prisma met Carlos and talked about this legendary organization, its plans, its future and how Brexit will affect the community.
How did you start running Latin America House?
I have worked in the private sector for many years and I have worked with some things related to Latin America. Then, since 2015 I have been working in the charity sector here in the UK. I’ve been working with two different charities, but I have also studied for a Master in Latin America studies.
I did part of my research in South America, in Bolivia and Peru and I have volunteered there with indigenous communities in the Bolivian Amazon region. I have always been interested in that region, perhaps because my father is South American and when I saw the vacancy [at Latin America House] I decided that it was a good opportunity for me. I liked the idea of supporting people that, in a way, I feel identified with.
What does Latin America House do?
Latin America house right now offers five different services. I would say one of our core services is legal and social advice and information. We have an immigration solicitor who helps people with different cases related mainly to immigration, but, sometimes also with domestic violence, and sometimes with family issues and so on.
Currently we have people with EU passports that need help with the EU settlement scheme, so we secured funding to hire somebody four days a week and we provide a service completely free of charge.
From time to time we also have immigration solicitors giving employment law advice or talks. For example, we had a talk which combined both immigration and employment rights. Many Latin American workers in London, work in the hospitality ors cleaning sector and sometimes, they get their rights abused or they are dismissed unfairly.
Another of the services we offer is adult education. Many Latin Americans don’t speak English, so we provide free English classes. We also, provide digital skill classes, people can learn how to use technology, how to navigate on online platforms, social media, create accounts, computing skills. We also offer children’s education which provides a bit of income for us. We have a bilingual nursery for children aged two to five, Monday to Friday and on Saturdays we have a Spanish school for children aged five to twelve.
We are a community centre, we welcome people here from many nationalities, not only from Latin American countries. Kilburn is a very disadvantaged and diverse area. We have people coming here for the English classes that are from Arabic-speaking countries, and the same with the parents of the nursery. Last year 55% of them were Latin American but others are from Japan, from Poland, but they like their children to learn Spanish.
What are your plans for the future?
What I would like to do is to make Latin American House a reference point for Latin Americans all over London. What I would like to do is, perhaps, create a place where every Latin American in London could feel that there is something here for them to do. I would like the place to be a centre of excellence as well. And to ensure that the community, which is very diverse itself, has a place that they can come to if they need help, and a place where they can also come to have fun, to feel at home and to improve their lives overall. That is the idea.
What are your best achievements?
One of the main achievements has been to establish a name and credibility among the community, a place where they can come for advice, for legal advice where they will get very pragmatic help at no cost. We have helped many, many people over 35 years, to establish themselves in the UK, to become part of British society and to improve their lives with skills and to integrate as well.
How is Latin America House dealing with Brexit?
We have already been working with the Brexit issue for a couple of years now, since it came onto the agenda. Our immigration solicitor deals with that on a regular basis, and we also have volunteers working only on that.
We are doing outreach, so we go to different places were members of the Latin America community go: churches, unions, and other centres. Also, we organise talks to inform people about what they need to do, and when they need to do it.
Any day you can see people here who come to solve their immigration status issues. In the sense of how Brexit is going to affect us externally, that is still to be seen, I think there will be a stop to the free movement that is going to change the demographics as well. But I don’t want to speculate on that because it’s very early to do that.
After the 2016 referendum, have you noticed any difference in the immigration to the UK from Latin American countries?
I think it goes in waves. For example, last year we had an increase in people from Venezuela, perhaps because of the situation in that country. There has been recently an increase in Central Americans who are facing a very difficult situation. Some of them will try to claim asylum here but they probably will never get it.
Are people trying to stay in the UK or they’re leaving?
The reality is that they are trying to stay in the UK, as you probably have noticed the situation in Latin America is getting very complicated, in some countries, and I don’t see the Latin Americans here trying to go back to South America.
How do you perceive racism in the UK? Has it increased since the Brexit referendum?
Unfortunately, yes, there have been some cases of discrimination against European and other people.
I would like to think that the UK is an open country in this respect, but the reality is that there have been already some clear cases where people had more difficulty to find a house or a job.
There has been so much uncertainty that sometimes people didn’t want to recruit anyone from another European country.
For example, among the younger community there have been some cases of crime. There was a Dominican teenager stabbed in Elephant and Castle a month and a half ago. So, there have been some cases that I don’t know if you can directly associate with Brexit, but the reality is that there have been some very ugly things happening.