I have a British accent, I have a British passport, but living here in West Yorkshire, I am an immigrant.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes an immigrant as:
a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country:
By this very definition I am an immigrant. England is not my country of birth. Yes I have the same rights as the English people living here to work, access healthcare, etc. But I am an immigrant. This is not the place I grew up in (holidays notwithstanding).
My place of birth was not a country, but an island. It’s a place surrounded by beautiful beaches and has winding country lanes where you can’t travel more than 15 mph without breaking the speed limit. The highest speed limit is 40 mph and as a child, anything above that can seem way too fast. Where cows are brown in colour, not black and white, and German bunkers litter the coastline as reminders of the Nazi Occupation during WWII. An island where the vraic (seaweed) smell is a part of life and so familiar that you miss it when in a different place, and where if you aren’t careful and find yourself walking along the seafront during a high tide at certain points of the year, you may find that water coming over the wall and drenching you (not so fond memories of that one).
England, to me is a foreign country. I may sound like a native, but I am not. It took me an entire first year of university to get used to travelling by trains, it took even longer for me to get used to the fact that cars can go over 40 mph on a motorway, and don’t get me started on the fact that license plates have letters other than ‘J’ on them. I can hear you asking why any of this is relevant and why I am bothering to make a post like this, so let me explain.
Like most immigrants, legal or not, I moved in the search of something new. Different opportunities, the ability to make my mark in a place that wasn’t my original home. I have been accepted. I have been taken in easily by the people here, even though my accent isn’t a West Yorkshire one, because to them, I am one of them. It’s been easy for them to accept that I am here. Whereas, I witness with an alarmingly high frequency the racism towards other immigrants. I’ve lost count of the time I’ve heard people complain about the amount of ‘foreigners’ working in call centres, shops and hotels. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard someone mention a particular country’s natives and make fun of their accents or the call them a name that they probably don’t even see as racist, because to them they are enlightened people who don’t use the ‘n’ word or call someone something to their face.
The truth is that people don’t look at why people leave behind their countries in search of somewhere new. It can be financial, it can be political, it can be in fear of their lives. When I hear people complain about the number of non-English speaking children in schools, I wonder if they actually think about the fact those kids may have been taken from everything they knew, uprooted, and had to just get on with it, because a life here is better than persecution and or poverty in their homeland. Those kids are in a new country, chances are that none of the other children in their class speak their language and they’re having to learn the things they need to learn whilst struggling with the language barrier as well as try and find their footing in the social spider’s web that is school life.
Immigration is a touchy subject for a lot of people, but the reality is, without immigration the world would be a very different place. International bonds are created through immigration, better understanding of other cultures and lives happens and people build and form families, communities and bonds that are unbreakable.
All too often people choose to look at things from a negative perspective when it comes to immigration. They choose to see the differences, believe the hype that jobs are being taken away from the natives (even though more workers can lead to more jobs as more money is being pushed into the economy), but they don’t look at it on a basic human level. We are all human, we all have our stories, and we all have our cultures and traditions. Immigration allows existing cultures to expand, building further foundations for future generations, it allows people to share their foods, and their music, their art and their traditions. How many of you enjoy a curry or a Chinese takeaway on a weekend? And, whilst I’m not asking for you to tell me, how many of you then complain about the immigrant population, even if just in passing, the following day? When you look at it that way, it can change your perspective on the whole situation.