Globe, Multiculture, Profiles, United Kingdom

Two emigrations and a struggle for survival

This Colombian cleaner has been in London for many years. One of the worst aspects of London is that it is very expensive compared to Colombia or Spain and the question of accommodation is one that concerns all immigrants. He is no exception


He left Valencia, a city on the Spanish Mediterranean coast where he had settled after leavig Colombia in 2000 and came to London with the hope of finding work.

The crisis in Spain forced him to seek his fortune in the English capital, leaving his two small children in Manises, a small city nine kilometres from Valencia.

Juan Carlos Tapias came on his own to the London metropolis to work and send money home to his family in Spain. In Spain he was working as an electrician, a job that allowed him to earn enough money to live, to look after his children and to cover his expenses. But the crisis, known as the “crisis de ladrillo (the brick crisis)”, that affected the country’s construction industry had a devastating effect on professions like his, which were almost exclusively associated with this sector of the economy.

His early days in London were hard. In fact, the first night he nearly had to sleep on the streets. “Thank goodness I phoned a lady who let me have a room that night and I was really lucky that I never had to sleep on the street”, remembers Juan Carlos.

Having a Spanish passport, it was easier to come into the United Kingdom and find a job, but “if you don’t speak English you have to work in the cleaning industry.” And so Juan Carlos combines two jobs. He is a cleaner at Channel 4 Television and he also cleans in a bar.

Although he misses many things from Spain, he has not found it difficult to adapt because “I knew that I had come here to work and there was no alternative”. Besides, he had already been through a similar experience leaving Colombia to settle in Valencia.

“I had settled in Spain, and although it was difficult at first, speaking the language made things much easier. You are able to say that you are hungry, that you are thirsty or that you do not have anywhere to sleep. However, here you have to cope”, says this 53-year-old Colombian.

Luckily, he says, there are lots of Colombians and Latin-Americans in London, “But attitudes here are different.” Ayala, who has been in the United Kingdom for almost four years, says regretfully that “In Spain we used to help each other out, but here you feel more isolated.”

“There are places where you can find Colombians, you can go and chat but you don’t find the warmth that there was in Spain”. He also says that it is difficult to make good friends. “When you start to work, you lose touch with your friends or your friendships change. That’s why there is not much social contact”.

Juan Carlos also misses the climate and stresses that “it is always cold here and you can’t go out in the sun.”

However, for Juan Carlos , one of the worst aspects of London is that it is very expensive compared to Colombia or Spain and the question of accommodation is one that concerns all immigrants. He is no exception.

Furthermore, he is quick to say that “If the situation in Spain improved further, I would happily go back, but as long as there is work in London, I will stay here”.

**Real facts, fictitious name.

(Translated by Jane Martin) – Photos: Pixabay

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