Migration is a concept that has been around for as long as there has been life on Earth; early humans, pre-humans and animals all have a pattern of migration that is traceable back to the origins of each species. The most famous human migrations include the discovery of the Americas, workforce from Eastern Europe to Western, and colonisation across the world by forces such as England, Portugal and Spain. Despite the immense history of migration, immigrants of the last few generations have had an especially difficult experience as they try to adapt to the new country, culture, neighbours and language, while often facing backlash from both those in their country of origin and those in their new home.
With the subject of immigration being a hot topic both in light of Brexit and Trump’s America, I thought I would take the opportunity to share my experiences as a product of immigration, how it’s affected both my character and my view of the world and the challenges that my friends and I faced while growing up as children of (mainly Portuguese) immigrants.
[My parents on their wedding day]
My parents emigrated from Madeira in 1992, at the ages of 21 and 23. They had just gotten married and while my dad had a stable job, my mum could not find a stable job that was paying a decent salary so they made the decision to emigrate to Jersey, where my grandpa had previously been working as a seasonal farmer, to make a better life for themselves. I was born almost 5 years after my parents immigrated to Jersey. By this point, my father was working on the same farm as my grandpa, because he could not speak English, and my mum was a supervisor at a supermarket, but when she fell pregnant with me she asked to return to being a sales assistant. We lived in a small room that held a bed for my parents, a cot for me and not much else. Still, I was lucky; a lot of Portuguese immigrants who had children around the same time sent them back to Madeira, both because employers did not want them to have children living in Jersey and because they did not have any family members in Jersey to look after the children while they worked.
[My parents and I when I was 2]
After starting school, I learned English quickly, but the teachers’ advice for my mum to speak English with me at home as well eventually led to a loss of ability to speak Portuguese. I could still understand it perfectly, but for those few years when I travelled to see my family my aunts had to translate what I was saying to my grandparents, whose knowledge of English does not surpass “chicken” and a few choice swear words. After becoming interested in a TV show aimed at teenagers, I regained a passion for my mother tongue and was able to learn to speak Portuguese again. While I am grateful to have been able to grow up with a second language and culture, many others in the same situation as me did not have the same opinion and were embarrassed to speak Portuguese.
[My “bedroom” for a few years]
Growing up, I had everything I needed and my parents did their best to give me a lot of what I wanted. There were a lot of bumps in the road, but that’s natural for any family. As far as my young self was aware, I may have not had the latest technology or the trendiest clothes (in part due to my dreadful styling choices, which my mum refuses to let me forget), but I was happy with the family and the things that I had. Throughout my childhood, my mum continued to study, doing various Nursery teaching courses and evolving to English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) courses. She was able to continue her studies while working a full-time job (multiple before she became a qualified Nursery officer), raising me and keeping the house together. I am so proud of everything she has accomplished and I definitely took it, and her, for granted.
[Madeira island, as seen on the way to the airport]
I also took for granted being able to fly out to Madeira almost every school holiday because I was so used to it; I did not think about the costly flights or the fact that my parents were often giving up their opportunity to go to their home island so that I could be with the family that they had left behind. I was naïve and selfish, as any child is, going so far as to burst into tears once after my parents announced at the airport that they were going with my aunt and I to Madeira. I didn’t want my parents in Madeira because then I’d have to behave but we were all going for my uncle’s wedding – I didn’t understand at the time how important it was that my parents went with us but my mum’s family were apparently in tears when they saw that they had gone.
[My parents and I on their 25th wedding anniversary]
As I grew up, I was a lot more aware of my social status as a child of immigrants and the views of the ‘native’ children on both immigrants and their children. At school, particularly at the end of primary school and beginning of secondary school, the Portuguese children banded together, in part due to our parents knowing each other and the various Catholic events that we were forced to attend. That is not to say that we did not also have friends who were not Portuguese, but there was certainly an unspoken stigma against us. If you ask any of the Portuguese descendants in Jersey from my generation, they will tell you that they have heard racial comments from the British people of the same age, the most common being ‘Pork and Cheese’ – a play on Portuguese and the stereotype that we love meat and cheese – and Porco – the Portuguese word for pig.
As well as the racial comments, the Portuguese children of my generation also had to deal with the negative perception of the Portuguese, both academically and socially. There are a couple of areas in the town that are infamous Portuguese hotspots; there are a few Portuguese cafés in each location and Portuguese men like to go there, drink a beer and stare at people walking past. There are also a vast number of immigrants who do not attempt or care to learn English, which gives off the impression that they are lazy. For my generation, there were two major opinions when it came to school: either they entered the stereotype of not trying, or they worked extra hard to prove that they could do just as well as the other children. I fell in the latter category but a lot of people my friends knew fell into the former category. There was a general perception that, because the Portuguese parents didn’t have high-ranking jobs, Portuguese children did not go to university. That is partly why I am where I am today, fuelled by the negative perception of not being able to go to university to prove to those who believed it that it could be done.
There are certainly many positives and negatives about my life as a second-generation immigrant, only a few of which I have covered in this post. There are many things that I wish could have been different, others I would not have changed for the world. I am extremely thankful and grateful for the open-minded outlook I have as a product of being a child of immigration and for the opportunities that I have been granted in my life due to my parents’ wish to make a better life for themselves and their new family, 25 years ago.