The curse of immigration

Are immigrants doomed to a split identity? And is it possible to be British and Brazilian at once?

Apart from the first two letters, Britain and Brazil have very little in common. The cultures are different, the temperaments clash and the histories hardly concur.  Yet I am closely related to both countries. I miss Brazil when I’m in Britain and I long for Britain when I’m in Brazil. I am often mistaken for a foreigner/gringo in both countries. So where do I belong? Where is the homeland of immigrants like myself?

I was born and grew up in Brazil, but I have spend the nearly 16 years (my entire adult life) in London. I went to university, found my first job, learnt to drive and bought my first house in Britain. I danced most of my youth away in London clubs, had a remarkable education and earned my academic qualification, professional experience and reputation. I lived the happiest moments in my life in the British capital.

In contrast, my childhood and adolescence memories belong in Brazil: this is where I went to school, played Playmobil, watched TV, learnt to cycle, had my first boyfriend, developed my early friendships, etc. Blue Peter, Fawlty Towers and Father Ted are entirely foreign to me, and yet I can sing most Xuxa songs by heart.

When I first came to this country at the age of 19 I had absolutely no connection to it: no ancestors, no heritage, no culture and not even a friend. Everything was alien to me then. As the years went by, I progressively assimilated the culture and incorporated many British values into my life. What was once foreign became an integral part of me.

A botched ceremony and the price of Britishness

Exactly four years ago I earned British citizenship, but I wasn’t ecstatic with joy during my citizenship ceremony. The event was so botched and the monarchic values emphasised so much, reminding me of the aspects of Britishness to which I relate the least.

I pledged loyalty to an old woman who represents a medieval and non-democratic establishment. I had to declare that “I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs, and successors”. The pledge of allegiance is a compulsory and final step in the path towards British citizenship. This is a daunting paradox for republicans like myself.

The whole ceremony was shambolic. There was a power outage in Camden Town Hall. The room was very dark except for a bit of natural light coming in through the glass roof. The drinks were warm (the fridge had not been working because of the power cut) and one could go to the toilet (the electronically operated doors were also stuck due to the lack of electricity). The ceremony started almost two hours late and the Mayor of Camden had to run the pledge twice because he missed the applicants sitting in the back of the room.

There was a lopsided portrait of the Queen (not dissimilar to the one illustrated above, except that it was framed and adorned with flowers) quietly witnessing and endorsing the action. A photographer took pictures as the Mayor handed the citizenship certificates to each one of us individually. My picture was also lopsided, and the Mayor’s smile was so crooked and wide that he reminded me of Aphex Twin in the Windowlicker video. A few months after the ceremony, he got done for benefit fraud.

Most seriously, the application process was so filled with red tape and heavily focused on my economic and financial achievements that I often questioned whether I wanted to become British indeed. At that point, it became clear to me why the Queen was pictured on nearly every banknote in this country. Not once during the year-long process they asked about my social, cultural or academic/intellectual contribution to this country.

Yet I was delighted to become a British citizen. I have incorporated many pillars of this society into my life: diversity, tolerance, politeness, fairness, composure, a love for music, a passion for the arts, a desire for knowledge, etc. The nationality came as a consequence and a culmination of all of these virtues.

A change of heart

I insisted that I am British by law but not by heart for a long time. This has now changed.

For four years, I dabbled and vacillated between “having British nationality” and “being British”. I often pondered why most people that earned British nationality as an adult are prone towards the latter. Perhaps they feel that Britain is too exclusive for them. I beg to differ.

National identity is not mutually exclusive. It is possible to be composed as a beefeater and fiery as puxador de samba, or stern as the Queen and cheeky as a malandro, all at once. One can feel deeply British and profoundly Brazilian at once. Identity is a fluid concept.

That’s why I feel like a backward Brit and a wayward Brazilian. Home is where the heart is; for me it’s on both sides of the Atlantic. Being part of two countries is not a curse. In reality, it is a privilege.

One Comment

  1. Gringao

    Really interesting article. My son will probably be growing up and experiencing similar things seeing as his dad (me) is English and his mum is Brazilian.

    For the record, I think that whole citizenship ceremony is one of the most un-British things imaginable. Hardly any of my friends would swear allegiance to the Royals. Glad we don’t have to as I’d guess we’d be looking for Spanish/Jamaican/Brazilian passports instead.

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