Around the world, especially in Britain, Europe and the United States, there’s been a surge in extreme populist movements, selling a “back to past values”, protectionism and with it, anti-immigrant sentiment.
The last 18 months marked a shift in the world as I knew it. As we know it. The aftermath of the Brexit referendum saw a surge in racist hate crime by 57% (http://www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/hatecrimethefactsbehindtheheadlines.pdf). As I write this, the Brexit negotiations are not looking good, with the EU citizens still on a limbo as to their future as bargaining chips. Some European countries are turning to the right, or on the right path to it. Over the pond in the United States… well, where does one even start?
Every new election in Europe sends shivers downs my spine. Will France or Austria elect a far right Government? Will the result open the floodgates in other countries? Will it give even more licence for fascists and racists to come out of the woodwork and casually commit crimes?
Thankfully I haven’t felt the brunt of anti immigrant attacks. Perhaps because I feel so assimilated in my host country and people find it difficult to identify where I’m originally from? Or because of my skin colour and how I look? Which is not really British, but also not particularly threatening? Because I keep a low profile?
I do, however, read the news and overhear conversations. I have been at the end of some unwitting discrimination. It made me so, so sad. It made me cry.
Talking to other Europeans and in particular Portuguese nationals, I know that not everyone feels that way. Again, everyone’s circumstances are different. In my case, I have a british husband, who doesn’t speak portuguese, and whose family is based in the UK. I lived here for 20 years, this is where my life is, and now I have two children who were born here. They have British and Portuguese passports. All they’ve know is the British way of life. Thankfully that means, also because we live in London, tolerance and access to a multicultural society.
Now, the reason why Brexit has everything to do with our bilingual journey, and with my newfound determinations to succeed in having them speak and write Portuguese, and also feel 50% Portuguese is that it could have a huge impact on our family’s life.
After the initial shock of the referendum, I started thinking about potential scenarios. It became a real possibility that there may be civil unrest, even a revolution or civil war, economic meltdown or persecution. That may sound far fetched but one only needs to look at a not so distant memory to see the similarities in circumstances that gave rise to fascism. These are very volatile times. I sometimes hear the news and feel like I should have a go bag, be ready to go at a moments notice. That’s not what I deserve after 20 years of making a peaceful and responsible to this country.
The truth is, and I’m ashamed to admit this, I have found myself not speaking Portuguese with girls so not to be singled out. I continue living as if nothing has happened, good old fashioned “business as usual”. Yet, half of my brain and heart is aware that if we had to up sticks to Portugal, the girls would have little connection. It would be a huge upheaval.
We have a good life. From their perspective, we have a busy social life, they know what to expect, do lots of fun things and just started making friends. As much as a 2 and 4 year old can – for Amelia, even the snail in the garden is her best friend.
And that’s what Brexit has to do with it. It made me realise that the beautiful freedom and fluidity of travel we’ve had so far is about to end one – way or the other. It is likely that our lives will change in the next 2-5 years to the extent where it is important for our children to be competent in the minority language.
I don’t need, of course, to reiterate all the benefits of bilingualism. Brexit however, brought me renewed resolve.
Yes, I’m late to the game. Yes, I should have been more strategic from the day they were born. But I will not quit. This is far too important for me.