Aberystwyth University student Kelly Gomes relates her experience of being the child of Portuguese parents, and how the unique position of second-generation immigrants needs to be reflected upon as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
This feature is published as part of Aberystwyth University’s Ambassadorship scheme and hosting partnership with Planet.
For most people in the UK, their birthplace is a simple concept, as is their self-identity. They are born in the UK therefore they are British, it’s what it says on their passports, and English is what they use to communicate with the world. However, not only for those who identify as Welsh, for example, rather than British; but also for the children of almost 10 million immigrants in the UK1 this is a grey area. Social identity for most second-generation immigrants is a difficult concept - which status quo do we follow? We have to balance out certain social and political expectations from both our heritage and our nationality.
We often face scrutiny and judgement from our peers for not being ‘British’ (or ‘Welsh’ or ‘English’) enough or we receive it at home for not following traditions and cultural norms that are unfamiliar to society in general. There commonly seems to be the opinion that nationality should overpower heritage, because if we are born in the UK we must dismiss every celebration and tradition our parents have tried to keep alive since moving to the UK. We often have to battle between our sense of pride for our parents’ background, whatever continent they may be from, and upholding the UK traditions that we are trying to participate in and recreate for ourselves. We are often accused of not having interest in those traditions and norms our parents have tried to maintain as a source of comfort for themselves. This accusation sometimes comes with the charge that we have ‘lost interest’ as we are trying to project a certain image of ourselves to our English peers and colleagues, and are maintaining a façade to fit in. This judgement is perhaps more common towards those who don’t speak their parents’ language.
But second-generation immigrants are aware of the multiple, hybrid ways in which self-identity and roots can be expressed within this small island that we are all a part of. We include those who have completely dismissed all signs of their ‘British’ side, having only friends who are like them in both looks and cultural background. They prefer to speak (or only speak) their parents’ tongue, and are fiercely loyal to their heritage. Then you have those of us in the middle, who probably speak both languages equally, who have a variety of both British and non-British friends and who appreciate both aspects of their background. And then you have what are sometimes termed the ‘Refusers’ - people who deny and reject any aspect of their parents’ background in an effort to fit in. They refuse to speak their parents’ tongue because their friends don’t understand it, and they probably have no use for it.
In light of Brexit, we have experienced a cultural and political uprising from the younger generation. More than ever Millennials see the importance in involving themselves in political and social debates around the EU. We have seen many politicians debate the advantages and disadvantages of Brexit throughout the media, on the right politicians such as David Cameron and Jacob Rees-Mogg and on the left Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn. We see that all of these opinions about Brexit are declared as very black and white; that you are either for or against the EU. However, the issue plays out in a nuanced way, especially for second-generation immigrants, and there is often a lack of empathy for our unique position in society.
Brexit raises some serious issues of identity for most second-generation immigrants, not only is it a feeling of being rejected by the majority of citizens, but it also raises fears for what is to come in the future with the decisions made and proposed to us by politicians who don’t represent Millennials and second-generation immigrants. More so than ever we have seen a rise in political participation with the help of social media. However, whatever your opinion on social media, what most of us can agree on is the lack of unity and the growth of hostility towards migrants during these divisive times. There is also evidence of politics being manipulated via social media for propaganda reasons. Is social media fuelling a rise in xenophobia and crises of identity, or are events like the Leave vote and Trump’s election victory (which are in many ways the outcome of underlying xenophobia) simply being expressed more widely through Twitter and Facebook?
The refusal to think about British citizens as anything other than fully British is not only ignorant but extremely disheartening for those of us who are trying to battle our way through society, and to find our rightful place amongst those who have the luxury to not have to balance their heritage and their nationality. We often strive towards being a more accepting and compassionate country, but we never seem to make a difference regarding the social injustices towards people who happen to look different or who speak differently. As second-generation migrants, we are hardworking people who aren’t given the same support and opportunity to be able to contribute to the country which never fully accepted us to begin with.
Kelly Gomes is a BA student in Romance Languages at Aberystwyth University.
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