In the current climate, immigration is an unavoidable topic. As the world seems to get smaller, with people moving more freely and countries in general becoming more diverse, it is bound to come up as a discussion point. However, for me, it seems to be something that people discuss in a more negative manner. I see this particularly reflected on social media and through the Internet, always there to give us the most radical views at the click of a button.
I get compositions handed in from students stating it makes them feel nervous to hear languages they don’t understand spoken on the street, that there are neighbourhoods becoming overrun with immigrants. I have heard this a million times over in the UK – the typical, usual complaint that at one point I thought might have had some truth in it. Being pressured by the news, social media, peers, and general public opinion means you form a one-sided opinion that generally only reflects a small part of the issue.
The message, at least to me, is clear – the word ‘immigrant’ isn’t usually used to describe someone from a wealthy, majority ‘white’ country. Whilst reading what one of my students was writing about immigrants – that they have to get a visa to come here, that they speak their own language in the street, that they take over neighbourhoods, I had to stop myself from writing that I didn’t need a visa to come here, and I was still an immigrant. That I spoke my language in the street, and nobody cared. In fact, they encouraged me to speak in it. They spoke back to me in it. They urged me to speak in it to them, so they could hear me use it, and practise it. I had to fight from writing that large areas in the city have become overrun by English speakers, too, but nobody minds. Nobody cares.
After reading so much about immigration, and hearing so many people complain about what it is doing to their culture, their traditions, and so on, I wanted to write about what it is like to be an immigrant – because it is what I am, even if people don’t seem to want to give me that title.
General Public Opinion #1 – Immigrants Should Learn the Language of the Host Country
I totally agree with this statement. However, I don’t agree with people’s expectations. They seem to think that if a person comes to another country, they should be fluent in the language already and not have any problems with bureaucracy, filling in forms, conversing with the doctor, and all the kinds of things absolutely necessary to become a citizen in the host country. I’ll say this for the UK – I think it is brilliant that they translate government forms and informative leaflets. I don’t think doctors and the like should have to translate, but at least written information can be clear for the reader. The fine print is hard. It’s not translated here, and while I do speak Spanish, I come over weak-kneed when faced with my tax rebate form. I have absolutely no idea what to do with it (Spanish forms are notoriously hard). I’d give up a month’s pay just to have all my forms translated. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to speak the language, it just means I want to understand every little detail.
General Public Opinion #2 – It Unnerves Me to Hear Immigrants Speaking Their Language in the Street
What do you want them to speak to each other in? Can you imagine going home to your parents now, and speaking to them in Czech? Of course not. You can’t change the language you’ve spoken to each other in since day one, and nor should you have to. You want to stop people communicating? As long as they speak to you in the language of your country, why should you care? It doesn’t affect you in the slightest. Learning a language is a slow, complex process. I’m trying very hard, and after three years I still struggle. I speak to my friends in English. I always will. I speak to the Spanish and Catalans in Spanish (something that every Brit expat SHOULD be doing, but that’s another matter). I am not going to switch to incorrect, pidgin Spanish when speaking with my friends just to make you feel that one bit better.
General Public Opinion #3 – Immigrants Take Our Jobs
Immigrants have jobs. This is true. But emigrants also have jobs. All those people that left your country are taking somebody else’s job in another, aren’t they? Or is that different? Immigrants from poorer, more troubled countries, as it were, often take the jobs that people really don’t want to do, and will work at them twice as hard, because why would they want to lose the job that keeps them in the country? A person here once told me they hated the amount of immigration coming in, because the people from other countries were taking jobs away from citizens. That same person employed a Venezuelan nanny. The Venezuelan is obviously the cheaper choice. If you really believe that statement, then pay a little more and employ a Spaniard or Catalan – who won’t do the same job for the same price.
General Public Opinion #4 – Immigrants Cause More Crime
Sure, where there’s poverty, there’s a greater likelihood of criminal activity. The poorest of our communities are often the most desperate (but not always). This statement looks at things in the most basic manner. What about the people who steal from the government? You know, those rich people who bank offshore in order to avoid tax? The worst part of that is that it’s legal. An immigrant steals a wallet and the public clamour for justice, to send these people away. The people born and raised in the country are often stealing from you, but they’re just doing it in a way that’s more difficult to condemn. What about all the university students who took out big student loans and then don’t inform the government where they are, or what they earn, in order to avoid paying it back? Good on you mate, you take what’s yours! It isn’t yours – I’m not saying I agree with it either way, but people do this all the time, and it’s cheating somebody somewhere. You just can’t see it directly in front of you, so you don’t care.
There are so many things that can be argued back and forth across this topic. I simply wanted to give people a taste of what I feel as a person in another country, and hope that you will see my point of view as an ‘immigrant’. Before we criticise, we should put ourselves in their shoes, weigh up all the pros and cons, and not jump on the scapegoating bandwagon, which generally looks at things at face value. Consider what you would do in their position. Consider how you would feel in another country. Consider the facts and figures, before jumping to wild conclusions. Hopefully that way, we’ll begin to actually listen instead of giving a knee-jerk reaction to our sentiments on immigration.