CARMEN

"I don't have a particular sense of belonging to a place, and I don't quite understand what feeling European or Spanish means. As far as I see it, we're all in this together."

Shot at her favourite place in London, The Barbican Centre.

Nationality: Spanish.

 

Location: London.

 

Occupation: Freelance translator and part-time museum assistant.

 

How long have you lived in the U.K.?

Seven years, split between Colchester and London. 

Why did you move to the U.K.?

Living abroad was a long overdue wish. Plus certain aspects of my life in Spain had become disappointing... Therefore I didn't think twice when I was awarded a grant by the British Council to teach Spanish in a secondary school in Colchester. It was there that Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon first met, which I interpreted as some kind of cosmic sign. Disclaimer: I'm a die-hard Blur fan.

What does your family think about you living in the U.K.?

They are reassured that I have made strong bonds with my friends in the city and have never insisted on me going back to my hometown. My parents like visiting and checking out how different England is from the south of Spain. I remember enjoying a nice walk with them around Richmond Park when a storm broke out, forcing us to run for shelter. I was a bit concerned, but both mum and dad were cracking up laughing as they let themselves get drenched.

As a European, what's it like living in the U.K.?

 I don't want to sound fussy, but I must admit that I don't have a particular sense of belonging to a place and I don't quite understand what feeling European or Spanish means. As far as I see it, we're all in this together. Because I had secured a job before I moved, I can't really talk about the struggles some expats face. I consider myself lucky to have lived in Colchester before settling in London as it was a good opportunity to see more of the country beyond the great metropolis. I never felt excluded during my time in Essex; on the contrary, most people were curious to know more about me and my background. Same goes for my travels around Scotland, Wales and the North.

I haven't felt discriminated against at Uni or in the workplace, although I believe that the class divide in this country is still a big issue for those of us coming from working class environments. Perhaps I should mention that my closest friends in the UK are actually English, which I find reassuring. On a legal level my status might change, but the affection and understanding that I get from them won't.

What do you dislike about living in the U.K.?

At the risk of sounding overdramatic, I don't trust the "Keep Calm and Carry On" motto. There are many stereotypes about Britain and the British that are simply not true, but I think emotional repression is actually grounded in reality. Sure, who am I to undermine other's cultural traits? But I genuinely believe that no one should take pride on stoicism these days. Being confident and resilient doesn't mean you should be cold, distant and unable to look at me in the eye when you pass me by. Oh! And it gets pitch-dark at 4pm in the winter, which is no fun.

What do you think about Brexit?

I'm especially worried about what Brexit is a symptom of, and that is, I believe, political and social radicalisation. Quoting Charlie Brooker, it seems like nowadays you're either an uneducated racist or a city elitist, as if these two were the only "roles" available. There are good reasons to be disenchanted with the political system—and most politicians deserve to be regarded as frauds anyway—but I suspect that some people are venting their frustration against the establishment for the sake of it.

 

While I am a defender of questioning the it-is-just-how-the-world-is mentality, this can't be done blindly without examining and debating. It's no news that the grand, emotive narratives that certain politicians are using worldwide are there to remove the need for "difficult" thinking. Needless to say, this is not a local British problem linked to Brexit—take Spain, for example, whose citizens have seen the sudden rise of the far-right Vox party. The notion that the British were once the best rulers of the world is being resold within a strategy of cultural distraction. We must recognise this and ask ourselves who is benefiting from the crumbling of public faith in Europe. 

 

Will you stay in the U.K. after the Brexit transition period?

I very recently decided that I will be moving back to Spain early next year. While it hasn't been crucial in my decision to leave, I must admit that the uncertainty regarding Brexit is not helpful. To put it simply, my priorities have changed: despite how much I appreciate London's culture of openness, the lack of affordable housing has become a burning issue for me. But fear not, I'm already planning on visiting the Sophie Taeuber-Arp exhibition at Tate Modern next summer, Brexit and COVID-19 permitting!

What would you like people who voted Brexit to know?

I would like them to rethink their notions of borders and identity. And I would like to ask them: Why are you channelling your anger to the European Union? Why are you so sure that the EU is determined to cripple Britain's autonomy? As I said before, I don't possess a great sense of belonging, but I do suspect that rising iron curtains in the wake of a climate emergency won't help us build a world of greater equality and dignity. I would like people who voted for Brexit—especially if they have concerns over immigration—to remind that history has demonstrated that the fears that have perpetuated social, gender and racial injustice were unfounded. There's a line in a song by Father John Misty that I find so prescient of what we need to hear now: "I hate to say it, but each other's all we got".

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