Sunday 6 May 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

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.

© 2012

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)


  1. I wonder if the stories of migration today really different throughout history. I think if we could track movement of people we would see it as continuous and as beautiful as movement of ocean waves.

    Maybe someday you'll share with us a bit more detail of your love story :)

  2. The Latin presence is certainly most welcome and positive in UK.....great contribution to culture etc....

  3. Absolutely loved this piece... You are so right to highlight marriage as one of the most important chapters in the migrant's story - it creates bridges, healing and happiness. Not to mention teaching perspective and wisdom.

    I'm with oceangirl... More details on ACIL's own love story please :)

  4. On a somewhat tangent - I've always been confused as to how I can check off a box for myself that says "white" when others have to write in "Hispanic-Chinese-Afro-Latin." Shouldn't mine be German-Native American-Austrian-Irish? Or can I just write in I'm AMERICAN and I speak ENGLISH as a first language. That way someone else who is AMERICAN and speaks SPANISH as a first language can write that in? Or someone who is BRITISH and speaks ENGLISH or BRITISH and GERMAN or whatever? Census information just confuses me.

  5. Well, this has cheered me up a tad! The news - and the views of commentators on that news - has been all doom and gloom of late, so thanks for a sane and optimistic analysis of at least one aspect!

  6. In our little island today, we have loads of new migrants being welcomed by the government because the local native population is falling.

    While we are a hodgepodge of races who have come to live very well with one another because of history, a different kind of discrimination rears it's head not from race but by just being a newbie.

    And the criteria seems to be their respect for this land and it's different races of people.

    In this case it's not about having the right box to check.

  7. Cheers for cross-pollination!

  8. I've just finished my lunch, so this is a post-prandial comment. Thank you very much for your feedback.

    I'd be the first one to say that the only category that really matters in a census is the "human" one. Because that's what unites us all. But, we all have identity markers which we carry with us and contribute to our human make-up.

    Re my own love story, it was (for me) love at first sight. And sixteen years down the line, it still is. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  9. have wondered what brought you to London. I assumed it wasn’t the weather! I do understand the need to move for political reasons, an interesting but tragic reason. My reason for living in England for 3 years was indeed my British husband. He’s actually ¼ Hispanic. His grandmother is Chilean.

  10. The one and only time I visited London I found the opposite-it seemed there was much more inclusion of peoples of all nationalities than what you might find in the US. Of course I was only traveling and touring. But I liked that about GB. Diversity is a good thing in my humble opinion.



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