I was reading a post by JannaT about facets of change when I recalled an incident which happened to me and decided to articulate what I was feeling. Luton is an incredibly diverse town; thousands of people from all over the world have moved here, sometimes with their entire families, sometimes very wealthy families have come here to set up businesses and invest here for the safety net and low risk business environment. Others have come alone with no money, sometimes with only the clothes on their backs to sojourn for better lives for themselves and the people they love. They remain here for decades and begin a new life, marry and have children. Thus there is a sense that anyone who comes here and speaks in a different accent is an immigrant. I went to the bank to set up a student account and the lovely customer care lady I spoke to said to me;
“Are you an immigrant?”
“I do not believe I am, are you?” I asked
To be honest, I was shocked by her question and my response. I think we were both shocked. Anyway, we cleared that up; student vs immigrant; two completely different things, thank you very much. When I thought about it later, I wondered if I should have reacted that way. I wondered if I should feel a bit ashamed? It is like there is a stigma attached to being an immigrant, a feeling that these people are aliens and a burden to the state. You can tell who the immigrants are because they have no language and money is often times a struggle, they also work the hardest jobs which nobody else wants.
According to the international migration organisation, an immigrant is someone who moves to another country usually for permanent residence. I have moved here to study not for permanent residence. In the event that my project Management qualifications are needed by a company and I am hired, then by all means call me an expatriate, thank you. Immigration is incredibly fascinating, equally fascinating is the host community’s reaction to it. When you think about it, the world is one huge immigration case study. Most of North America was “founded” by immigrants. Australia for example, was used as a penal colony by the British; the dumping started with the ships arriving in Botany Bay in 1788. There are certainly disadvantages to immigration; the culture of deprivation and alienation shows in densely populated immigrant areas; there is very high incidence of crime and poor integration which can then beget problems which last for generations. There is also the culture of resentment in some parts of the host communities towards immigrants for competing for jobs that are already scarce, few and far between, and for using other facilities which are bursting at the seams already.
It has been three weeks since I moved here to study and I still feel like a part of me is incomplete, that feeling you get when you forget something but can’t quite place your finger on what was forgotten.
“Do you miss home?” People constantly ask me.
It really is not that big a deal, I say most times. I wake up as usual, put on my warm clothes, and conduct my business as best as possible. But you see, change is tough, it is like a scab on a healing wound; you know that pulling it off will reveal a new layer, a much needed healing. But you are also afraid of the pain and possible bleeding. When I decided to move here for 14 months, I knew this was not the usual holiday where I saw sights, did some shopping, visited friends and went home. Nonetheless, nothing prepares you for the tightness in your chest when you hang up after speaking to your mother, nothing prepares you for the tears in your eyes when the wind slaps your face and howls in your ears. More than anything, nothing prepares you for that feeling of being an outsider, when you open your mouth to speak and it is evident that you are a stranger.