4 months living in Australia…and it’s Winter…colder, wet, but still light enough compared to the UK in the Winter, sunny and crispy on many days, temperatures at around 12 degrees and much cooler at night…Ironically, we had a snow fight celebrating Quebec Day on the 23rd/24th June…
It’s Winter, but mainly in my heart.
It became inevitable, it had to lead me to write about this on here, a blog about global migration…I never thought it would affect me so much…A Brexit ‘Leave’ vote…In the last few days, I have felt so sad. I was not entitled to vote because I am not residing in the UK at present, but did until very recently for 18 years. After the vote, I tried to reach out, listen to the news, read articles, keep in touch with many, tried to understand and initiate thinking with others from the Leave and Remain camps about the future of the country. I felt some resistance and I was also very upset. I then thought to myself: ‘Why am I so sad?’, ‘maybe I am not well’, ‘maybe Winter is getting to me’, ‘I was fairly happy a few days ago, what happened?’ I then started thinking, ‘no, I am deeply affected, but why?’: ‘I am not even British’, ‘I don’t even live there at the moment’, ‘I should take it lightly’. I then realised it is profound, much more profound than I thought. Then it made me think that perhaps people do not necessarily understand why I feel so sad, perhaps I need to take the opportunity to write about it, it may help me, it may help others.
For the last few months, I have been writing this blog on global migration, talking about opportunities and challenges as global citizens. For me, it consisted of a particularly brave and innovative way to talk about our adventures in more formal way, support other families who may experience similar experiences. Brave, because I need to consistently work hard to perfect my writing. Innovative, because I had never done something like this before. I am not considering myself as necessarily talented in information and technology design. I had never used writing as a form of expression, I am much better verbally, but I am far away now, I cannot use this mode of communication.
I never anticipated I would use a written form to express some deep feelings, the ones I am feeling at the moment. There is a sense in me where I feel I need to explain why I feel so sad and it is important to do so…for the future.
Why am I so sad?
A Land of Hope, Dreams and Opportunities
I arrived in the UK in 1998 with a packsack, on my own, with a visa allowing me to work for 4 months initially and 2 years overall. Having chosen Scotland as an interesting place to discover, I settled there for a short-term employment opportunity. I was meant to stay for the Summer but life happened. I met my future husband and gained a post as a French teacher in a special needs school, an opportunity I always dreamt of. Scotland/UK became for me a land of hope, discovery, permanent employment, security, a place where I was able to expand my skills, my career, improve my oral and written language skills, a place where I felt accepted, appreciated for who I was. We spent 5 years in Scotland, life took us in a different direction, to the South of England. Opportunities continued to grow and develop. Children grew up in a society where I continued to pass on my cultural heritage as well as ensuring a full integration in the community we lived in, with our diversity and our thirst to continue to learn about new cultures. A country who welcomed me and believed in me…
Significant opportunities across the Channel
Yes Britain offered many opportunities but did not fully fulfilled the desire to live and learn different languages. We found ways to expose the children to new adventures. We found a French school funded by the French Government in Britain and the children attended this school every Saturday mornings. Their skills improved dramatically and their ability to communicate with their family in Quebec increased.
We also travelled all over Europe, camping and for other trips. It was so easy, pack the car full of camping gear, drive to the Channel crossing, wait half an hour, and drive to our destinations across the Channel. We met a number of people from many countries in campsites as well as friends from the UK we arranged to meet on our travels. Children were amazed at having to use a Deutsh/English phrasebook to communicate with campers. They were able to meet many children with their French language skills and their openness to other cultures. We felt the opportunity of free movement for cultural exchanges, opportunities to discover and explore, expand one’s horizons were absolutely amazing and enriching. A unique continent where one can embrace all this diversity on one territory…
Being an Immigrant
Britain is a land who accepted me as a young adult. Initially I did not speak very well in English. People supported me, encouraged me, insisted I wrote ‘Bonne Fête’ in birthday cards. Over the years, I built my own identity through the opportunities and challenges I faced. My identity was always going to be different as I arrived with an already lived journey, but Britain gave so much in return and I gave so much in return too, leading to tertiary qualifications and a career helping others. This land who ‘adopted’ me, gave me great opportunities. My identity developed to the point that I now feel there is much more to my identity than ‘just being a girl from Quebec’…perhaps Britain shaped my experiences more than I thought, perhaps I belong in Britain more than I thought.
It has not always been easy. There were a number of moments where I felt I needed to make significant effort to integrate the communities I lived in. I felt that I had to explain my story, talk about differences and similarities. I made the effort to develop a sense of belonging, integrate and perhaps ‘assimilate’ to a certain extent, perhaps more for my survival more than anything else.
People may think ‘Pascale, you are not an immigrant’…but fundamentally I am…different culture, different language, a newcomer to the country, the country ‘adopted’ me. An adoptive country who took me under its wings, built and developed a relationship with me over time, hard times and happy times…a country where I felt nurtured, as a parent who adopts a child. Yes I felt Britain did this over time. However, in recent years, it started to become more difficult to accept comments from specific party members talking about the migration discourses, including hate discourses directed at immigrants. Although I blended in the community, there was a national front against immigration.
The thing is that I always worked, had a strong work ethics, working with commitment and passion. I have always been employed due to my experience and qualifications. I gave back to communities I lived in much more than I claimed back in terms of benefits. I never claimed benefits. I claimed job-seeker allowance twice and had three maternity leaves, ‘benefits’ I was entitled to as I had paid National Insurance contributions for a significant amount of time. I paid for my studies both at masters and doctoral levels.
Many migrants are in the same situation as me, contributing to the society in a positive and meaningful way. I have never stolen a job from anybody. I always gained employment on merit because I could give back.
Now, I have to go through the same process in Australia. It’s not easy having qualifications recognised and finding people who will offer opportunities. We do not have the same rights as citizens, such as being to claim for benefits, rebates and tax credits. Migrants work hard and have a huge desire to be accepted for what they can offer, what they are worth, migrants are determined, resilient and have positive outlook on life…to a certain extent…it’s survival!
Values and discourses
Despite me believing in my adopted land and working hard at making it work, I feel a sense that living in an accepting, respectful, inclusive, united country may become harder and harder. Someone may say, but ‘you are not British, why do you worry about this?’ I worry for my children, my husband, my family. This land who adopted me and nurtured me seems to be changing. I try to promote positive values of inclusion, acceptance, unity and togetherness in my work, with my children, in my relationships but these seem to be more and more different to what I once knew. I also feel it is important for the children to grow up hearing messages of openness, inclusion, resilience, communication. To me, being in Europe represents a sense of being opened to other cultures and discourses, being able to communicate in many languages, feeling a sense of diversity. It also represents a sense of resilience, working hard in trying to understand others’ points of views. It also represents a sense of unity and togetherness, despite differences and cultural diversity.
I have felt completely overwhelmed with emotions, sadness, anger when Jo Cox was violently murdered, because she tried to promote democratic values and convey messages of compassion, respect for one and another, and many others. Watching the news from a distant land, this message of anger was reinforced, for me, not only by a violent murder, but also by some aggressive behaviours from supporters at the Euro football games. I am not comparing both incidents here at all, but feeling sadness and frustrations, complete despair, at those trying to convey a message without respect, listening skills, communication and mediation. I felt the same last Summer when some actions were taken to send dogs, more military support and erection of fences during the immigration crisis, without engaging in some mediation, compassion, communication. There may be global fears about terrorism which impact on people’s perceptions of immigrants. How can the immigration debate be improved? How can we engage in healthy debates about controlling immigration without being rejectionist? How can we ensure that immigrants feel safe and secure wherever they live?
I fear that Britain may become even more isolated in its relationship with Europe and the world. There was already a sense of hardship and difficulties. For example, in all the semi-rural areas I lived, children in schools often felt there was no need to learn another language, or lacked awareness about other countries and cultures. I also fear division, division between those experiencing cultural diversity or not, division between different parts of the country. How do we teach openness to other cultures? How do we increase mutual respect for other cultures? How will children learn the need to appropriately communicate with someone from another culture? How do we teach the importance of multiculturalism and inclusion? How do we ensure that migrants are fully included, communicate, have a sense of belonging to their adoptive country? How can people live united and happily?
There is a view that migration will stop, if not in the EU. The thing is that migration from EU countries is minimal compared to the migration from other countries. Opting out of the EU is one way to prevent migration numbers. The other thing is that as soon as immigration is mentioned, many start inflating it to rejection, sending people back, not protecting the most vulnerable, not welcoming asylum seekers. The other problem is that immigration policies have to take into account historical relationships, not only an EU, but also Commonwealth populations and political refugees. Could there a point system like Canada and Australia? It would have to be contextualised to a UK context. There are a number of visas and ways that immigrants can move globally and in and out of the UK, not just on visas based on a point system. Yes it is a small territory for a dense population, but it is also a country who has always wanted to be economically strong and a leader of the world. These aspirations cannot be achieved alone, Britain has always had many partners. At the same time, Britain has always been very strong in wanting to maintain its traditions. Can both be maintained equally?
Leaders’ discourses regarding a diverse society has always referred to the importance of promoting ‘tolerance’. I always found the term ‘tolerance’ as an interesting choice. Yes tolerance may represent the ability to tolerate others’ opinions, but it also represents a form of negative connotation that refers to enduring adverse circumstances and reactions. ‘Tolerate’ refers to ‘putting up with’; ‘enduring’, refers to a situation being ‘hard’, ‘difficult’, ‘having problems’, ‘fighting against’. This discourse does not necessarily refer to ‘embracing others’ opinions’, ‘listening’, ‘respecting’, ‘communicating’. Although I have lived in Australia for only a few months, and still lots to learn about culture and politics, I have enjoyed hearing politicians talk about the need to promote ‘mutual respect’ as a discourse reinforcing the importance of a diverse society.
What do I say to my children?
Initially, I was like ‘why should I be so sad, I am not even British’. I never applied for the citizenship. I always felt that travelling on my Canadian passport was absolutely fine. I had permanent residency which allowed me to work and vote. One of the major factor which may have made me apply for a British passport would have been to be able to have opportunities in Europe, perhaps live and work in France or Belgium. With a Canadian passport, although there are some partnerships, these are not as strong as the ones the EU provided, it is not easy to move from one country to another without a free movement policy. It is a gift of life to be able to give children cultural and global opportunities, just as it was an amazing gift to be able to experience free movements between European countries. By leaving the EU, will these opportunities be the same? What will our children say in 20 years time when they say I would have liked to go to Paris to study, or would have liked to travel around Europe but becomes more complicated and costly?
During our travels, the children loved meeting new people, loved seeing new cities, exploring new cultures, routines, rituals. We visited many sites. Inspired by some sites and cities, our oldest expressed that he wanted to go to University in Copenhagen. University fees are likely to be at an international student rate, very very high. Fees in the UK are already very high. How can we ensure that our children continue to be able to experience diverse experiences? How can we protect our children’s future and opportunities?
We have a number of friends from different countries, European friends living in the UK. We embrace, as a family, different cultures. How can these cultural exchanges be welcomed in the future? To what extent will the UK embrace diversity? How can we ensure that our children feel their own diversity is understood and respected?
UK achieving independence, wanting to take control?
UK was always independent. It is a country in its own right. Did people vote to express years of dissatisfaction with austerity? People have recognised a need for change, have they opted for the immigration and EU as ways to initiate this change? Yes there is probably a need to restructure politics to ensure that politicians really represent their constituents’ views, but are immigration and EU the real issues?
The other major point to bear in mind is that European elections and decisions about MEP representatives have always been totally and utterly unnoticeable in the UK, except for immigration issues which have been talked about more predominantly by one party, a party who had a number of MEPs in Brussels. Interestingly, Australia has a system where voting is compulsory. What was the quality of representation at the EU Parliament, a representation able to fully embrace all issues, able to engage in healthy debates, there and back in the UK?
There seems to be a surge of involvement in politics since the debate. Why were people so disaffected in recent years, but are engaged now? My husband stood up as a local councillor. He lost the last election to an extreme right party candidate who never attended a meeting and then resigned based on saying he did not feel he had the power to change the system. Why parties found it difficult to recruit new councillors, new candidates for elections? How can the public engage in debates close to them on a regular basis, all the time? How can they be engaged in meaningful political debates, debates that are healthy and respectful? How can we teach respectful debating in schools and political involvement and engagement as essentials to being a responsible citizen?
It’s a Democracy
Democracy comes from Greek, demo (people) and cracy (power, rule) and refers to a system of government in which all people of a state are involved in making decisions by voting, generally for electing representatives. Democracy also refers to the active participation of the people as opposed to aristocracy which refers to the rule of elite. One main characteristic refers to the majority rule with the importance of having protection for minority groups to ensure their views are represented through different processes such as petitions and other processes (Definition based on basic Google searches).
My questions here would be: Who led the referendum debates? Elite or the people? Were the people able to fully understand points made by the leaders of the debates? Many have now explained how they regret their vote.
Living in a democracy also refers to listening and protecting minority views. European citizens residing (for many years) in the UK were not allowed to vote. Isn’t democracy to be part of a debate, listen to others, present respectful and healthy debates on both sides and give the right to vote to all involved.
I have spoken to people in Australia and have been in touch with friends from Canada who were not aware of this debate. Did the debates involve international partners who may be affected by a decision to leave? Britain with its history has a huge impact at an international level, issues were also related to global matters. Were these fully debated and discussed with all involved?
So what’s next, what about the future?
‘Get over it and move on’
I find that particularly difficult to accept. By engaging in a debate and voting, people also accepted to continue the debate, continue to discuss ways to shape and plan for the future. A vote Leave now brings division as both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU, where does that leave them?
People say they are fed up with political posts, news, etc. Uncertainty and difficult times need communication and togetherness despite adversity, not a withdrawal from the discussions and debates.
In the meantime, I will have to tell my children that opportunities for them within an EU system are slightly slim; University in Copenhagen is a distant dream; A society, with a very small majority, has decided that cultural experiences and future opportunities may be more difficult and costly; They may grow up as British citizens, but their diversity may not be fully understood and accepted; They may have to fight to regain some privileges they enjoyed. Will Europe ever be a future opportunity, is Australia the right choice at present and for the future?
Am I being pessimistic? No. I am trying to identify future steps, where work needs to be done to rally people in debates of the society, think about the future, think about where we go from here, where changes need to take place, ensure people understand the difficult times ahead and the need to engage in debates, ensure that we are involved all together in healthy discussions, but with direction encompassing future solutions. I am trying to explain how I feel so people understand my devastation and are then able to be empathic in initiating debates and are aware of these deep rooted feelings that may explain behaviours. We live in a democracy so this is where people can define positive discourses and show that debates and discussions can take place with sensitivity, mutual respect and a sense of future. Not all may have the words, the courage or even the reflective insight into fully exposing their feelings, articulating some arguments and ideas for the future.