Why do migrant voices matter?

By Cosmo Neacsu

Why do migrant voices matter? As a migrant myself, you’d think I should be able to answer this question easily. But yet I drew a blank when I started thinking about it.

I suspect this is because I’ve been a migrant most of my life and it has always been drilled into me that my ultimate goal should be to blend in. It’s only in the last few months that I have started to challenge this and my involvement in the Just Citizens project is a huge part of re-evaluating my place as a migrant.

I left Romania and moved to Portugal when I was only eleven. I don’t think my brother and I were ever prepared for this monumental life change. I, thankfully, adapted quickly but more changes came when I turned fourteen and I started studying at an International American private school on a scholarship.

It was harder to adjust to this change as I always felt not only different but inferior to my wealthy classmates. Four years later, I came to Glasgow to study law at Glasgow University. As grateful as I am for all these experiences, I feel like the last sixteen years have been a war of attrition against my cultural values and customs.

Cultural roots

Up until recently I felt no pride in my cultural roots. I would tell people I was Portuguese to soften the blow of my Romanian origins. It is obvious to me now that I had very low self-worth in relation to my cultural background due to a combination of exposure to bigoted right-wing media and an inability to claim any culture as my own.

I was encouraged to think of myself as “a child of the world” and ”a social chameleon” – and this did benefit me at some points throughout the years. But all I really wanted was to feel like I belonged somewhere. I would watch old documentaries about Glasgow and would feel an overwhelming sense of nostalgia followed by a deep sadness as I felt, again, that I could not stake any claim to this heritage.

I struggle too, to connect with my Romanian roots. I am often reminded that I sound different from the rest of my family and that I cannot possibly relate to Romanian people my age, because I don’t live in Romania and so cannot understand their struggle with a corrupt state.

Being part of this rich diaspora is not something I feel I can be proud of –I carry too much guilt about the loved ones I feel I abandoned. Knowing how people in Romania are struggling, I find it hard to feel that I deserve to live a comfortable life in the UK.

Because of this strange feeling of displacement and loneliness, I’m constantly, manically, trying to show everyone that I am worthy of being part of the community I’m surrounded by now.

I am sure that other migrants will be able to relate to this deep imposter feeling. You know you shouldn’t have to go to extremes to prove that you are a human being worthy of the same respect as everyone else but yet you have the constant urge to seek approval.

The way I do this is by getting involved in many projects at the same time to underscore my worth.  As a consequence, I tend to experience serious burn out at least once a year.

Brexit looming

Recent events – like Brexit – reinforce some of these feelings. Brexit has caused so much anxiety in my life and the life of all my migrant friends. It’s something that I have to constantly remind Scottish people in my life.

There is also the erroneous view that racism and bigotry do not exist in Scotland. But I do not believe the existence of more tolerance in some sections of society is equal to the lack of intolerance in others.

As a migrant I am terrified of the rise in right wing rhetoric in all spheres of public life. I don’t feel safe and I don’t trust that the state will protect me if push came to shove.

So why do migrant voices matter? I am sorry I still can’t really answer it yet. But I’m giving it a lot of thought. And I hope through my involvement with the Just Citizens project, I can really start to understand my place in the fabric of this community and to amplify my voice and the voice of other migrants who have not been given the same platform that I am lucky to have.