One week brings temperatures that could well compete with those in the Caribbean, the next one gives us snow. It's obvious that the unpredictable weather in the UK is not one of the most appealing factors for my fellow Latin compadres and comadres when they decide to settle in Blighty.
However, beyond the influence (or lack of it thereof) that the weather in GB might have on newcomers from the Americas, it's worth asking the question: what motivates Latinamericans to come to live in the UK?
If we go by media reports, including impartial and august bodies like the BBC, the search for a better economic future ranks pretty high. Just in London, more than 113,000 Latinamericans (spearheaded by Brazilians, Colombians and Ecuadorians) reside. Nationwide the figure is roughly 186,000, according to research by Queen Mary University and the NGOs Latin American Women's Rights service and Trust for London. It'd be very interesting to know how the researchers worked out these numbers when there are still so many Latin men and women living illegally in the British isles and a "Latin" category is yet to be created in the census that is carried out every ten years in the UK. In fact, Spanish-speaking immigrants "of a darker blue" who originate from the Caribbean have to content themselves with the box marked "African-Caribbean". Provided I have enough space, I usually write "Hispanic-Chinese-Afro-Latin".
However, is the search for better economic opportunities the sole motive behind the Latin presence in GB? No, we can mention also other reasons like politics and marriage. As an example of the former we can't forget that during my continent's Dark Ages, especially in South America, when terrible dictatorships snatched the power from democratically elected governments, the UK became a temporary and sometimes permanent shelter for activists, political refugees and artists. For instance the Brazilian musicians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil settled in London in 1969 following their enforced exile by the junta. Their short stay in the UK coincided with one of the more interesting, extraordinary and revolutionary periods in the history of rock and pop. It was the time when bands such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and T-Rex filled up stadiums and theatres. Years later Veloso admitted that he was heavily influenced by these musical colossi. The evidence can be seen in one of the albums he produced whilst still living in the British capital: London, London.
The second element that explains the growing Latin presence in Great Britain is marriage. This is one of the least mentioned factors, probably because it contrasts with the usual image of Latins as Third World poor people, victims of corrupt governments or ruthless dictatorships. Yet, the truth is that there are many loving, long-lasting partnerships between Latins and Brits, or other nationalities who have settled in the UK.
The advantage of these couplings are manifold: for starters there's the cultural exchange, then, there's also the Latin person's contribution to Britain's multiracial rainbow and last but not least we must factor in the newcomer's professional experience.
I know a Mexican-Irish couple who have six children. Both husband and wife work in the public and voluntary sectors, in her case she is a midwife whilst her consort drives a coach for a community organisation. Their offspring have followed a similar route and chosen careers in the civic and public sector fields. This couple is far from being the only one. A case in point is a Brazilian woman married to a Scot with whom she contributes to her local community, including doing voluntary work at the church she and her husband attend regularly.
It's a truism that those Latin men and women who come to live in Great Britain face barriers such as: discrimination (or invisibility), linguistic hurdles, lack of job opportunities and other social and economic impediments. At the same time, we ought to include marriage amongst the reasons why the Latin community in the UK is in the increase (almos four times in London). Above all, when the effect is positive and visible. And especially when we don't depend on the presence of the snow or the lack of it thereof. It's time to say: With this ring, GB and Latin America, I thee wed.
A shorter version of this article appears in the new issue of The Prisma newspaper
Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 9th May at 11:59pm (GMT)