Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Immigrant

I realize more and more that I am an immigrant.  8 months into my move to the UK my status as "foreigner" is more and more ingrained in my sense of identity.  Visa problems, cultural differences, lack of general knowledge of habits and local customs, unable to speak the "correct" language all solidify my status as an "Other" in a way different from my "othering"in the States.  

I've been quiet this past month.  Coming off my half marathon in Prague I moved into a house in an amazing location outside the city centre, increased my hours at the organisation I am working for, decided that I wanted to start creative writing so began my first short story,  wrote a working paper for an online publication series through London Southbank University, and agreed to present once more on May 4th AND co-organize a conference on Race and Ethnicity in the Arts in June in London.  So to say the least I have been a little busy.  But in this time as well I have had to contemplate about my status in this country as my visa ends at the end of September, 2010. 

Coming back from Prague both Mike and I had to go through immigration at Bristol airport.  A small airport with just a few immigration officers, one is allocated for non-UK and EU citizens.  Mike and I were the only two in the line and after 15, yes 15, minutes of questioning we were allowed to go.  My visa is good for 15 months and Mike's for 3, yes 3, years.  Nonetheless this woman wanted to make sure we knew we were immigrants in HER country.   My visa was questioned up and down - "What is the course you are studying?  Why did you want to study in the UK?  What do you plant to do when you are done?  How are you funding yourself?  Why are you working?  How many hours a week do you work?  What is the pay?  Oh, why are you working again?"  Question after question left me more and more anxious as I felt I had doen something wrong by coming back into the UK with a LEGAL and VALID visa.  

Mike was then interrogated and his questions even harder and more personal.  After it was found out that is working 30 hours a week and still in search of a professional Project Engineering job in the middle of a recession the woman whips out her hands and counts on her fingers how long Mike has been in the country without a professional job.  After that condescending act she then asks "Well, how are you supporting yourself?" to which Mike responded "Well, with the job I am working 30 hours a week."  Then I added, "And I am also helping out with bills since I am funded." To which she replied "Oh, well isin't that nice of you.  Carry on."

That performance left me mentally exhausted and utterly pissed off.  I do not expect special treatment because I am American and think I have some ingrained right to go wherever I please in the world. On the contrary, I find that behaviour and way of thinking obnoxious and ethnocentric.  But what I do find unacceptable and down right degrading is the way in which "foreigners" are treated in the West when they are traveling for legitimate and valid reasons.  You don't want me in your country, don't give me a visa to either study of work - period.

But, it has been a good lesson and one in which I know will keep teaching me.  I am the "Other" here because of where I happened to be born and raised.   Most of the time it is not a real issue, but once the law comes into it my status become more and more real.  Presently, I am going back and forth with LSBU about renewing my visa for another year so that I can stay and write-up my dissertation here and defend back in the States next May.  

With the new visa regulations, that change literally ever 6 months to get harder and harder, I now have to go through a new set of hoops to show my student status for the extension: £1600 pounds in my account and an electronic letter of acceptance alongside another biometric analysis and £350 application fee.  After that year ends the process will begin again to finagle how I can then stay to start my career.

Life is a funny thing isin't it?  Logistically my life would easier if I just took my ass back to the States and started a career there.  But logistics and happiness do not always go hand in hand.  Despite my immigrant status, the problems I always incur with immigration, the fees and taxation these people pay in this country, and the awful food (sorry Brits) I love the quality of my life this country presented to me and that i happily embraced.   Being an immigrant has helped me understand the issues and complexities of politics and law around human life and the ideas of human rights.  This is translating into my writing and research.  So now I end this long rant by saying that people need to think twice before they go on about immigrants and immigration because when it comes down to it immigrants are people with a history and story.  Do not let media hype and over sensationalism cloud your judgement on a group of people labeled by the state.  In this vein the recent legislative law passed in Arizona is an abomination to basic human rights and we all need to voice concern about the implications that law has in "othering" both nationals and immigrants and what that can do to your basic human rights.  

Thanks for reading

1 comment:

Celeste said...

Excellent expression of thoughts. Your experience definitely drives it home. I don't understand why immigration folks are just so mean ... Anyway. Onward and upward man. It's all we can do.