Immigrant stories:  foundations 

So many of my immigrant friends are feeling the same sense as I am of foundations being ripped up from under us this week.  
Britain has for so long been, or at least seemed to be, a tolerant and welcoming place. This is now in question and for us it means the stability we had when we went to bed in Thursday is not something we can take for granted any longer.  

The foundations you build take years of hard work to build when you make a new country your home. 

You build them as an uprooted being with a heart that aches for your homeland, especially at first (but it never really stops aching). That ache is unlike any other, so most of our lives we are surrounded by people who have not felt it – making it hard to even talk about it.

Everyone who arrives in a new country to live has to find their own way to build these foundations. 

Small things like how to greet strangers, how to make friends, what plants you can grow in your garden, how the food, habits, weather and seasons change your body.

How to respond to the daily question ‘where are you from?’ which continues as long as your accent does – or for people of colour it continues forever and even your children and grandchildren will have to answer it. 

The form filling and jumping through official hoops nobody around you even knows exist. The constant worry that the rules will change and you’ll have to fill in more forms.

Accepting your new identity:  immigrant, foreigner, refugee, expat.  

Big things like the moment you realise the place you came from isn’t completely home any more, but the new place isn’t completely home yet, either.  

The years between where you wonder if you will ever have a home again. 

The day the new place is home and your heart jumps for joy and breaks at the same time, because this is the day you realise you can never return where you came from.

The day you visit where you came from or meet somebody from the same place and they think you are from here. 

The day some get a new passport, often meaning we lose the citizenship we were born with and all that means. 

For those of with children, navigating building foundations under them and helping them build their own. For some, dealing with the reality that your children belong to a different culture to your own, speaking and sometimes even looking different to you. 

Being the only person with an accent and / or the only person on of colour in our families, at work and at social gatherings. Often. 

We learn to make and thrive in families and communities that don’t resemble the families and communities we grew up in. 

For immigrants who speak another language, there is the moment when you stop thinking in your mother tongue and start to think in the new one. 

Having to justify your presence to yourself and those around you in a way native born people never have to, ever. Working hard to be ‘worthy’ of your status as a person. 

Today a lot of us a rebuilding the foundations we thought were fairly solid. Some of us will not be able to and may be called to build them where we came from, or somewhere new.

Some of us (me!) are very, very determined to rebuild and redefine how we fit into this new world.  

Please be patient with us. We love your country as much as you do, and we are an important part of creating a good future here – in fact, you cannot do it without us. 

Comments are closed.