#1DayWithoutUs by Adela Belecova

20 Feb

Today, my colleagues students from English for Action and I are taking part in ‘1 Day Without Us’. This is a nationwide day of action and celebration, aimed at drawing attention to the contribution that migrants make to Britain. We see it as a celebration of the array and diversity of cultures that exist on this planet.

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“I am participating in #1DayWithoutUs because I don’t think it’s good to prioritise one group of people over another”

When I came to England seven years ago I didn’t speak much English, even though I had been learning the language since I was five. I was, like many others, learning a language whose spread is a legacy of the largest empire ever to exist, because it was ‘the language to learn in order to make it in the world’.

My reason for coming to England came from a realisation that after having completed four years of study at an art college I did not actually want to become a full-blown artist and needed to therefore find another path that would better suit who I am. I have always loved and enjoyed the company of people from different places. I have always found the encounters really exciting and perceived them as having valuable learning opportunities, leading to a better understanding of the world. How could a person exist comfortably on this planet not knowing who they share it with? At least this is how I feel it, and this is the way in which I was brought up; to be open and interested and aware of the beauty of being part of such a varied and rich world. All of us are equally good and bad and we should be entitled to equal rights. All of this led me to go and live in another country to expand my experience and understanding.

In the UK, I first worked as a cleaner. I found the whole experience quite degrading. Suddenly, from being seen as a prospective young artist I found myself in a situation where my cleaning skills were being tested by the person I worked for. They made their house dirty on purpose and then checked whether I had noticed the stains and cleaned them. No one had ever treated me with such distrust. Being quite verbally expressive and having this type of communication as the main means of relating to the world I suffered hugely from the muteness that I was trapped in because of not being able to speak English.

After a few months I started working in a pub. There, colleagues and customers continually spoke about ‘sending me back’ to Eastern Europe. I felt utter surprise and shock rather than anything else. I couldn’t understand what they meant. Why did they not feel the same way as me about people from different places? I was slowly realising the complexity of being an immigrant.

My aim was to become as much part of my host culture as possible. I found it paramount to speak and behave like the people around me. I purposefully avoided people from my country in order to learn faster. I think that, affected by the experiences described above, I felt English culture to be superior to my own. This happened for different reasons over time. There is sometimes a feeling among immigrants that if you socialise with English people or even have an English partner, you have somehow made it. It counts as success. I obviously couldn’t be like the people around me because I grew up in a different, but not that different, context – European countries being quite culturally similar to one another in the grand scheme of things. I felt that I couldn’t function in social situations as well as my English friends could. It has however been a double-edged sword. In certain ways I was becoming English and finding it difficult when I went back to my country because responses I got from the people there were different to the ones I was used to in England. I belong to both places and neither.

I understand we are herd creatures and it’s natural to want to protect one’s own herd and damage or destroy other herds that seem threatening. It was once indispensable for survival. However, I do not think that this is still the case. I think that we have become very efficient in the way we live and food is no longer scarce. We have used our brains to make our lives more comfortable. I believe that we are equally capable of using our brains to shape our behaviour and change it in a way that does not threaten other herds. Immigration is a phenomenon that has the potential of helping us to do this because it brings us closer to the other herds. The phenomenon itself is not enough, it needs the active participation of both the longer settled and more recently arrived herd. Today at English for Action we’re celebrating this mixing for #1DayWithoutUs. We see it as one step on the way towards a world in which we do not prioritise one herd at the expense of another.

Adela Belevova, 20/2/17

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