It feels as though life in the UK, or indeed Europe, will never be the same again, since that fateful date of June 23, 2016. Since that day, I have been asked several times by my fellow Latvian nationals and people in the UK on how I feel about living in the UK, following the referendum. My family have been calling from Latvia, following distressing news about the mistreatment of Latvians in Bristol which they have seen on the TV. I’ve also been approached by British nationals asking whether there is anything they can do to make me feel more at home.
To clarify my feelings about living in the UK before and beyond the Referendum – I have never once been made to feel like an immigrant. Any such feelings, when they arose, have been of my own making.
When I perceived myself as an intruder, that is the attitude I began to see in the actions of others towards me – usually in some minor details I would otherwise overlook. And they go hand in hand with self-pity.
The Latvians who reported their mistreatment on the news probably did feel mistreated – but there is a small chance that they were also mistreating others.
As soon as we give into the illusion of ‘self’ and ‘the other’, we perpetuate that illusion by every action we take. And at the end of the war – how will you distinguish who started it first? And will it even matter who was the first to cast the stone, when you find yourself surrounded by rubble and dust?
In my 12 years living in a different culture, which has given me a chance to reflect on my own, I have begun perceiving nationality as an illusion. Division is also an illusion. I believe that at some profound level we are all connected.
If I came to the UK with a mindset that this country owes me something, or that I am entitled to something, then I would see injustice everywhere. And it’s the same with life. How much time I would waste, kicking and screaming that I have had a difficult childhood, a difficult adulthood, that I haven’t been granted enough resources to do what I love for a living, and so on. Instead, it’s more worthwhile to simply acknowledge your feelings and recognize how they have shaped you into the person you are today. Focusing on the strengths and survival mechanisms you have developed as a result, which are all to your merit, instead of wallowing in how difficult your circumstances have been. All the obstacles that I’ve had to face since arriving in the UK at age 15 have helped me distill my desires and really know the ones worth going for.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the UK and all the wonderful people I have met here, who have all, in their small ways, helped me along the way. Not everyone has been so wonderful, of course – but neither would they have been in my home country.
Let’s just say that there are nice people and there are nasty people, and as a general rule it’s better to avoid the latter in any country! 🙂
One of the best and most encouraging experiences I have had in the UK was when I hosted the screening of a documentary close to my heart – The Soviet Story –
which commemorates the victims of the Soviet regime. Friends from Latvia, the UK and Germany donated to obtain the screening licence and members of the BRLSI (David Baird in particular) after facing some initial opposition, fought for my case to screen it. A friend from Colombia helped to film the event, and an audience consisting of multiple nationalities engaged in a passionate discussion after the screening.
Despite the discussion throwing me off guard at times (I am not a historian after all), I was grateful to see more than fifty people give up a sunny summer’s evening and their money to see the film. What was even more wonderful to see was how so many invested themselves emotionally in a cause that was important to me and to Latvia – but I couldn’t imagine would really matter to anyone else. Nationality was still there, but it was no longer relevant. Discouraged or encouraged during the discussion, I was pleased to see that emotion had electrified the room.
The UK Referendum happened to take place on the same date as the Summer Solstice in Latvia, which is why I wasn’t here to witness what feels like (following all the upheaval in politics ever since) a historical moment. Perhaps even a turning point in the history of Europe. Before I left, friends anxiously asked me whether I would get kicked out of the UK now. But what I’ve come back to has only endeared me.
My whole Facebook wall has gone UK-referendum-crazy, with everyone I’ve seen expressing their deep shame and disbelief at the result of the vote. My mum who works in a hospital here, received a letter from the NHS, saying how much they valued their staff from the EU, bringing a tear to her eye. A work colleague offered their full support and expressed remorse if I felt like I couldn’t make the UK my home as a result of the referendum. A complete stranger apologized for the result of the vote, as if it were his fault.
There is always the beautiful side of life and the ugly. While I bear in mind that it’s not wise to ignore the ugly part, I choose to dwell on the beautiful.