Maria Notelodigo was not born in the UK, but her husband and child where.
On the night of the referendum, I woke up at 5am with a bad feeling, grabbed my mobile, and there it was: “Britain has voted to leave the EU”. My heart sank in. My husband and my son, both British, were sound asleep next to me, unaware of the rapid train of thoughts and news I was trying to digest, to put in order, to grasp. I, somehow, expected this result. As a social scientist, I understood the 52%. I can recognize, and almost predict the consequences of inequality, disempowerment and discontent. I was aware of what could happen after many months of fear mongering, lies, and politics of “us Vs them”.
It was a clear vision: we are all suffering the consequences of many years of cuts and austerity. The EU’s answer to the recession has not taken into account the views and lives of many citizens in any of the EU members; their language and arrogance, along with their solution to one of its major crises was not welcome, not understood and nor respected; our image of the EU was that of an autocratic beast, relentless in its pursue of power for some, at the cost of many.
However, I also understand that, even with its imperfections, the EU is better than no EU, for it also has – in principle – achieved better rights for all, better prospects for all, including the planet, and a period of peace unknown on the European continent for a long time.
If we, the many, the workers, were unhappy, we only needed to unite and find a way to improve our “marriage” with the EU. There are many ways to do this, one of them was by choosing better representatives, prepared to voice our sentiments, and fight for our rights. I do understand the plight of those who state “lack of democracy/ accountability” and “austerity politics” coming out of EU as their main reasons to vote Leave.
Still, I also know what immediate and medium term consequences are likely to unfold after such a hateful campaign and the Brexit result.
This has led to an emotional change in the landscape for many of us who live, work and love in the UK. This change has been buttressed by a politics of fear which has not readied now the campaigning is over. We have all become sensitized to ‘difference’ and not in a positive way.
I am still trying to come to terms with it all, and already feeling some of the consequences at home and when out in the streets of Liverpool. I have never felt like a ‘foreigner’, or a ‘migrant’. Like many others, I have never had to question what these terms mean – not until this corrosive campaign and its aftermath.
No before all this I was ‘me’, going about my everyday business, feeling like a citizen of the world, worried about the local issues as much as a local, and the global issues, as much as I’ve always done. Since the first time I visited, in 2004, and once we decided to live here, in 2008, I considered this city as my home. I never experience racism or xenophobia and everybody I met was always welcoming. I loved chatting to locals on bus stops, supermarket queues and taxi rides, and they seemed to enjoy their chats with me.
I saw myself both through their eyes and mine, my identity being constructed as part of that intertwined perception. When my son was born, two years ago, I felt even more at home here. I speak Spanish to him, as I want him to grow up knowing the language and being able to understand his maternal family and culture. This has never been something to reflect upon.
Quite the contrary, people, both strangers and acquaintances, have told me on several occasions how lucky he was to be able to learn more than one language from the start. Being perceived as different and targeted for speaking another language is, abruptly, part of my worries now. I wonder if this will be a problem for us, and for my son. I worry about our future, his experience at school and with other kids. I worry about being seen speaking a different language in all those places and I worry about how “different” I also look. This is new to me.
Only one day after the results, all my fears became feelings of inadequacy: “I don’t belong here”. Or rather: many don’t want me here. My identity, how I perceived myself, was rapidly morphing into something different, an undefined entity, which was rapidly being shaped by other people’s voices and perceptions. Together with my feelings, uncertainty about my citizenship status here, even in the long run, have also contributed to a rapid change in how I see and present myself, here and in the world. I am scared. Somebody shouted at me on the streets. I got a dirty look on the bus. The taxi driver seemed annoyed and blunt. He had a massive English flag inside his cab. I am watchful and agitated. I have anxiety attacks at night. I am in tears all day. I feel dizzy and the world as I knew it is quickly vanishing in front of me. I don’t feel as if I can share these with my English friends; or my family; or my Spanish friends. I don’t want to worry anybody. They will think I am exaggerating. But how can I explain how I feel, how I am being treated and perceived, how the future is uncertain for me and my family and how terrified of this I am?
I think now that both sides have lost, as these are difficult and extremely uncertain times for all. What seems to have ‘won’, both in the UK and elsewhere, is a sense of division, an “us vs them”, the Far Right, together with racist and xenophobic sentiments, and a type of politics which resembles very much that of an early 20th century, imperialistic Europe.
This might be too negative, too early but it seems all the more important to keep our senses about us, and find what unites us: workers, middle classes, young and old, men and women, Left and Right, migrants and nationals everywhere. The truth is that we have much more in common between us.
The processes that divide us are not easy to see and with the Brexit vote they seem even more concealed than ever: concealed under a smokescreen of what for many must be an intense feeling without knowing and for others, a perhaps less dangerous, knowing without feeling.