To be an immigrant in Scotland

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(disclaimer: this is my personal experience, and doesn’t reflect the lived reality of every immigrant, especially non-white people. if people disagree with anything here, it doesn’t mean either of us is wrong or right, just that we have different perspectives.)

When I moved to Scotland, back in November 2015, I never expected a great many things to happen. I didn’t come here with the aim of joining the political fight for Scottish independence. I didn’t come here thinking that Brexit would ever come to pass. I didn’t come here expecting this country and its people to grip my heart with such force that I now can’t imagine ever living anywhere else. And yet, all of these things happened, and they all shaped the way in which I look at Scotland.

I suppose one of the greatest advantages of being a newcomer, no matter what country, is that you are able to have a much more impartial look upon a country. An outsider’s gaze, a bit like a scientist on the other side of the glass who is looking at the chimps inside, because you didn’t grow up in the midst of it all. In Portugal I am that chimp, unable to grasp what being Portuguese means to me, and why I’ve always felt so uncomfortable with the idea of being one, even before I moved abroad.

This doesn’t mean that you instantly get a gift for clairvoyance, of course. There’s still a lot of emotion seeping into your thoughts, even when trying to comprehend a country from that outsider’s gaze. I will certainly spend the rest of my days, if I am so lucky as to live them in Scotland, trying to make sense of the many wonderful things about this country, as well as the not-so-wonderful ones too. And that journey is part of the joy.

To be an immigrant amidst the Brexit madness

Despite all its madness, and the incredible anxiety that Brexit has caused my partner and I, the ongoing political stooshie has also allowed me to appreciate Scotland and its people in a whole new way that I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to witness if not for these exceptional circumstances. Yes, Brexit has exposed the worst of the United Kingdom, and yes, far too many Scots have happily joined in that chorus. This is not a country of innocent angels, after all. But Brexit has also shown the moral fibre of swathes of people who have stood their ground against the rampant xenophobia, against the lies and the deceit, against the snake oil salesmen trying to fool us all.

Being an immigrant is difficult – most, if not all, of your family and friends will be left behind, thousands of miles away. At times, it can feel depressingly lonely, or you can feel alienated when you fail to grasp certain specificities of the new country that you now call home. And yet, it is also an incredibly enriching personal experience, not least because of all these challenges, but also because of how it forces you to grow and value things in a different way, like the privilege of having a loving family that cries every time you go back to visit and have to leave. Maybe I would have taken it all for granted before. Not any more. I appreciate and count my blessings, as faithfully and as thankfully as I find atheistically possible.

Would I want to be an immigrant anywhere else other than Scotland, though? Hell no. I couldn’t count on a finer folk to have at my side. Yes, some idiots are just as idiotic as the idiots of any other country – but they are easily counterbalanced by the positivity of the guid folk, and that’s on what I focus. Brexit Britain is a mess. It has made me cry, it has made me scream, and it has made me laugh too, although often in despair. But Brexit Britain has shown that, against this backdrop of loud xenophobia and imperialistically nostalgic anglocentrism, of seeing democracy under siege, Scotland stands taller than any of these things, and the country has extended its hand to me and assured me that it won’t let go.

A few days ago, I learned through social media of yet another Scottish family who felt forced to leave, because they judged it better for the future of their children to take them somewhere where the consequences of No Deal Brexit would be diminished. No one can judge them, for only we know what each of us would do for our own bairns and weans. I am deeply regretful of their departure, of the loss that they are to Scotland, but rather than feeling like giving up, these stories actually strengthen my purpose. There is a fight worth fighting for, and that is to prevent any such stories of multiplying.

I came to Scotland as a young 24-year old guy. I had my dreams, dreams I’ve had since I was young, about becoming a published author and an artist. But by virtue of coming to Scotland, I’ve added to those dreams, and those dreams have actually become more tangible because of it all. I now have other dreams that I never thought I would have; namely, getting to see the day in which Scotland becomes an independent country.

Scotland is, and will always be, my home

In Scotland, I’ve felt at home since the day I stepped off the plane that brought us from Faro to Edinburgh. In Scotland, I found a country far richer than I ever imagined (and I’m not talking of material goods), a people far warmer than they credit themselves for, a culture far more familiar than that in which I grew up. This may not be the experience of all immigrants, but I’ve been lucky to meet fellow immigrants who speak of the same kind of experiences. That is the phenomenal magic of this country, and it goes beyond the awe-inspiring sights and the rest of it; it comes down to the most basic stuff, and that is our shared humanity. No immigrant would feel so at home in Scotland if they hadn’t been welcomed by the people who were here before, many of whom descended from fellow immigrants and emigrants (which may help explain why xenophobia is less loud here).

I just spent the first week of September back in Portugal, and the more time I’ve spend in Scotland, the more alien I feel each time I go back to where I was born. Because I may have been born there, but that means very little. In Portugal I was only a lethargic caterpillar, crawling, living from day to day with ever diminishing hope – whereas in Scotland I feel like a butterfly, liberated from its cocoon and ready to savour the brief moments that constitute our existence as people.

Does any of this make sense? Maybe not. I’ve found it very hard to come up with rational explanations for this sense of belonging in Scotland, and since I’m not really the kind of guy to fall into irrational explanations, I’ll simply rejoice in the mystery of it all, ever thankful that I found myself towards this wee corner of the world. I hope that, in the years to come, I am able to give back to Scotland some of what it has given me – although I doubt that I will ever fully match that, for Scotland and its people have given me a joy that I would never have had otherwise, and there’s no way to quantify the importance of that.

Thank you, Scotland, for being a beacon of sanity during these Brexit times. From your adoptive son and brother, I will say this: you may not be the most perfect country in the world, but you are the least imperfect, and I love you deeply, warts and all.