Belonging, once


I am, for all intents and purposes, in a privileged position. I have a job that enables me to pay rent, buy food, put a bit of money aside every month and occasionally treat myself to take-away, a night out or drinks with friends without worrying about breaking the bank.

I usually pass for a native English speaker. I’m Caucasian. I’ve been here for over a decade and – for now, at least – I have a legal right to live in the UK.

Once, I even belonged here. I’ve lived in a variety of places that could not be more different socially and historically – London, Cardiff and a small town in the Welsh valleys that probably doesn’t appear on most maps.

A few months ago, I ordered the book to study for the UK citizenship test, a process that costs over £1200. A sum that is ridiculous and provokes an incredulous stare whenever I mention it to British friends.

But I wanted citizenship because I felt Welsh. I’d never felt Luxembourgish, so it was a strange feeling to have found a place that seemed like somewhere I could spend the rest of my life.

Not that it was an easy journey; to be honest, I didn’t feel all that much at home here for the first year and a half. That initial period, from what I’ve been told by friends who’ve also emigrated, isn’t all that unnatural though. It takes a while to build a life for yourself somewhere you’ve never been to before and where you don’t know a soul.

I even tried learning Welsh, though the course was such a clusterfuck that I didn’t continue past the first year. I can say a few phrases, such as “dwi’n gallu siarad Cymraeg”, but obviously there’s not much truth to that sentence and it is thus entirely useless: it means “I can speak Welsh”.

Once, I had a Welsh flag on my wall. It was there for many, many years. On June 24th, around 8am, I tore it down and threw it in the bin.

That sense of belonging, so strong for all those years, had been ripped away from me. Has been ripped away from me. I don’t know if it’ll come back.

What I’ve come to realise since June 23rd, more than anything else, is that I’m European. I am deeply and utterly European. I’m much more European than I ever was Welsh and I certainly am more European than I am Luxembourgish.

Ironically, of course, it might just be my Luxembourgish heritage that has made me European. I went to a high school named after the father of the union, Robert Schuman. I filmed a documentary in his birth house for a school project. I’ve been to the parliament in Brussels, sat in various committee rooms and in the assembly itself as part of a project to bring together students from all over Europe to learn more about the institution.

I wouldn’t be living in the UK now if it wasn’t for the EU. The only right I have to live here is as a European citizen.

I’m perfectly aware that the EU is not perfect. There are a lot of things I would change, but at its core it is the world’s biggest and by far the most successful peace project ever undertaken by humanity.

What I came to realise on June 23rd is that the place that had become my home didn’t want me to be here.

I know that when people talk of foreigners they don’t necessarily think of me. They think of muslims. Indians. Africans. Chinese. The Polish with a strong accent who can’t pass as British despite their whiteness. The non-Caucasians who are visually easy to pick out of the crowd.

I know that, yes, they really do also mean me when they want to kick all foreigners out.

The British people have turned themselves into the worst of humanity. The sheer scale and efficiency at which that happened is almost admirable, in a “I now understand how the Nazis could rise to power” kind of way.

Mentally, I’ve been slowly moving to Dublin for a few months now. It’s a city I definitely fell in love with when I spent some time there during the summer last year. Arguably, it’s a fantasy escape to a place where everything would be okay. Perhaps.

And yet.

I didn’t belong in Dublin. That sense of belonging might come after a while, but it wasn’t there.

And truth be told, the thought of leaving behind Cardiff saddens me beyond belief, perhaps even more so than the result in June.

I don’t belong here anymore because here doesn’t want me to belong. I haven’t had a day in months when I haven’t worried about my future.

The constantly looming threat of the pound crashing even further and making my student loan repayments (in euros) completely unaffordable is driving me insane (it’s already become several thousands of pounds more expensive, so don’t tell me that nothing has changed yet and that nothing will until Article 50 is triggered).

I haven’t slept through a single night in… I’m not sure how many weeks. I honestly can’t say if it’s related but the constant worry can’t be helping.

May and her cronies are using me and my fellow immigrants as a chess piece in a political game that will, sooner rather than later, destroy this country.

The truth that no Brexiteer wants to acknowledge is that, of course, the UK absolutely must get a significantly worse deal from the EU than the privileges it enjoys currently. Anything else would bring about more exits and the collapse of the union.

Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t belong here anymore. Here is a burning building with firemen standing outside having a pint and shouting “you’ll be warm in winter!”

But to be so powerless is anxiety-inducing, rage-inducing, madness-inducing. I might pay my taxes, speak fluent English and be white but that doesn’t matter.

I’ve been displaced because of a stunningly shortsighted move by a man who  forgot his daughter in the pub and (allegedly) once fucked a pig.

Today, I don’t belong. Increasingly, it feels like tomorrow I won’t either.

One response to “Belonging, once”

  1. I’m starting to look for my own exit from the UK, too. Until the referendum, I could tell myself that the UK was, on the whole, a nation of good people, even if the popular press peddled virulent xenophobia, racism and bigotry. Most people don’t read the papers, I thought. Katie Hopkins is the aberration, the shit-stirrer who is paid to get a reaction out of people, not the voice of the people.

    Then, it turned out that more than half of those who could be bothered to vote do not mind siding with hate preachers and racists, do not mind supporting policies that would obviously lead to victimisation and persecution, prefer isolationist egocentric wishful thinking over cooperation and solidarity with other peoples and other nations.

    Ultimately, it was a victory of ugly nationalism and regressive populism over multiculturalism and progressive intellectualism.

    Watching the political scene in the UK tearing itself apart (on the left) and embracing con artistry, bluster and dishonesty (on the right) has been utterly depressing.

    It is time to turn our back on the UK. If the UK population doesn’t mind their government descending into authoritarian rule, populism and bigotry, then history teaches us it’s best to get out early, rather than wait for the disasters that follow.

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