Brexit and Regrexit

I have been an immigrant my entire life. I don’t look stereotypically immigrant-ish. I’m about as pasty as one can be, but for the record immigrants (or for imperialist, racist reasons, the term used for white immigrants: ex-pats) can look like anyone, because they really, truly can BE anyone.

I am an immigrant. I was born in the US, and shortly thereafter moved to Liberia. My first memories are of England, and so a huge part of my identity is tied in with that place. I’ve also lived in Ecuador and enjoyed extended stays in Australia and India. But England has always been my home. It’s the US that has always felt foreign to me, like a bridesmaids dress – back in the day when they all wore the same dress, regardless of preference, individual body shape, etc. I’m told that this is my dress, even though it doesn’t really fit – it chafes. I am a traveler. Ex-pat. Immigrant.

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All told, I’ve lived in England for 4 years, both as a child and as an adult. Up until recently, up until the Brexit vote, I couldn’t wait to be there again. I’m currently on a break from my PhD studies in London, and for the first time in the year since I left, I’m glad I’m not there, and I find that to be utterly devastating.

I love England. It’s always been home to me, and through all my travels I’ve always wanted to go back home. But now I know, and I know with certainty, that once I open my mouth, I won’t be welcome.

I know a lot of other immigrants in England. I know people who have lived in England for 20 years, have raised their children there, are working in specialized fields, advancing medicine, and bringing thousands and thousands of pounds from their home countries and freely dumping that money into the UK economy.

And I was the same. I began my PhD studies at SOAS, University of London. The members of my 12-person cohort are Bulgarian, Canadian, Italian, Japanese, Russian, English, and more. I delighted in hearing 10 different languages I didn’t understand during the course of my day. I loved learning about research interests that stretched from Senegal to Japan. My professors were English, Australian, German, and Russian. I easily found Punjabi speakers to participate in beta-tests of my research. I was in the most glorious pocket of heaven, representatives of the world at my fingertips.

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But outside the ivory tower, resentment was stewing. I personally felt the rumblings of anti-immigration leanings while I was there, thanks to former Home Secretary, and newly-minted Prime Minister Theresa May, who has worked to make it more and more difficult for non-EU students to study and live in UK, despite the millions of pounds we spend at our universities, our living accommodations, and their nearby coffee shops. Our money was welcome, but we were not. My tuition fees were 4X higher than EU residents, but unlike them, I was strictly limited in how much I could work, while they were not.

I couldn’t stay. The pound was so strong that I couldn’t afford to stay. So I’m on leave. The funny thing is, I could probably afford to go back now. But I don’t know if I would feel safe. Because hate crimes and harassment against immigrants, or those perceived to be foreign, have surged in the weeks following the Brexit vote, even while many people turn to Google to understand what exactly will happen now.

And what has happened? The European Union is a long-standing relationship, one purpose of which is to create important trade relationships. This was set up after Europe was ripped apart twice in the early 20th century by savage wars, one idea being that countries that are economically bound will be more motivated to maintain peace. And it’s worked. The EU policies that allowed the mature generation to travel and work where they please within the Union are now being yanked away from the young. These young Brits are being denied freedom of movement by those who simply won’t have to live as long with the ramifications of this vote. We all laughed when it was reported that searches for “What is the EU?” peaked the day after the vote, but really it’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy that so many were influenced by propaganda.

But the real tragedies are unfolding still. The pound has plummeted, along with it the rocking of global markets, wiping out wealth and stability. Conservative leaders immediately backtracked on major promises of the Brexit, which widely influenced the outcome. David Cameron stepped down as Prime Minister, making way for Theresa May. In first days, she has abolished the climate change department and assigned Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. She has doubled down on her anti-immigration stances, including moving forward with deporting immigrants who make less that £35,000 per year (which will statistically impact more women than men), and also forcing recently graduated students to leave the country immediately upon completion of their studies. For reference, my own student visa was advertised as such: four years to complete my degree, with the option to renew for a fifth year in order to find a job or start a business. Why? British universities among the top in the world turning out highly qualified candidates for many fields. Of course it would benefit the country to keep highly-trained individuals in their own workforce. But no. She’ll go ahead and take the millions of pounds foreign students bring into the country, and then deport us.

Britain is becoming a hostile place to be. I know and care about so many people there whose futures are now deeply uncertain. I know Brexit may feel like old news for many, but for me, for dozens of my dear friends, for thousands for families, it’s a terrifying time. I didn’t post this article earlier because I didn’t want my response to be reactionary; I wanted to allow for some time for answers, for things to settle. But they haven’t. There’s so much uncertainty, and it fills me with so much sorrow.

Kalliope

Kalliope is the youngest of four sisters. She loves baking, travelling, coding, reading, and learning new languages.

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28 Responses

  1. Jonathan says:

    Be cautious you don’t impune someone’s motivations unfairly. For example, you link to the source on Google searches as to what the EU and Brexit were as though the people choosing Brexit were ignorant. The article, however, only identifies two regions by their voting, both of whom voted against Brexit. You cannot support the argument, based on your citation, that the pro-Brexit voters were ignorant – if anything, the cited argument is more supportive of the idea that anti-Brexit voters were (though I tend to think that there is a large enough supply of ignorance to go around on both sides).

    That is a minor example however. The larger point is that Brexit was an issue that presented a number of substantial value judgments. I had no vote, yet despite becoming very well informed on the issue I don’t know how I would have voted. It is a complicated issue (true even if some voters went to the polls with poor motivations), involves serious questions of economics and sovereignty (and basic ideas of self-determination and what that really means), and it defies an attempt to simplify it as the “good” side against Brexit and the “bad” side for Brexit.

    Just some food for thought…

  2. UK immigrant says:

    I am the lady who she mentioned in the article as living here for over 20 years. The overwhelming majority of people I know who voted Brexit did so with immigration being the main issue for them. They had little to no clue about any of the other issues. They just wanted to get the foreigners out, and to take their country back. I think the author’s assessment that the pro-Brexit voters being ignorant of all the consequences is entirely appropriate. The referendum should have never happened due to the extreme complexity of the issue. It was impossible to be completely informed of all the consequences on either side, and the politicians and media have since admitted to lying to the public about it.

    Good post, Kalliope.

  3. Quimby says:

    Sometime early next year I will have spent as much of my life in Australia as in the US. Having been an immigrant for roughly half my life now, my feeling is that these things are cyclical – sometimes I feel quite welcome as an immigrant; sometimes i do not; it largely depends on who is in power at the time, and how they frame the question of immigrants.

    Being an immigrant is difficult. Often, I feel that I must censor myself – because I’m an immigrant, apparently I don’t have the right to be critical. More and more that’s also the case in the US – because I’ve left, apparently I’ve lost the right to be critical. But you know what? This is my country too. I’m a citizen, and I claim it as my own. My children are Australian (although they will quickly remind you, “I’m half Australian, half American!”), my husband is Australian (no half American about it), I belong here, even when I don’t, even when other people tell me I don’t.

    So I’ll stay. Because the alternative just might be four years of President Trump.

  4. Quimby says:

    PS – IMO expats and immigrants are two different things: expats are people who move around a lot; immigrants are people who move and more-or-less stay put. The two experiences are vastly different.

    • spunky says:

      Agree re: ex pats and immigrants. I’m an immigrant. It bothers me when people label me as an expat, itscas though they see my home and family as temporary.

      • Kalliope says:

        It’s a connotation thing I’ve noticed and read a few articles about. Word usage is important and interesting to me, since I’m a linguist and all.

      • spunky says:

        We should do a co-post on the usage of these terms. It seriously is one of the most personally hurtful, shocking and strange word usages in my world.

    • Andrew R. says:

      I am not sure there is much of a difference.

      Expatriate – “A person who lives outside their native country”

      Some are immigrants, some a migratory (back and forth), none is from originally from the country they are living in.

      • spunky says:

        Clearly you’ve never been an immigrant. It is an emotional difference expressed in clumsy words. To me, Ex-pat is to still identify almost entirely with one’s country of origin and see it as “home.” Immigrant means embracing the new country as home. A friend expressed to me once in her between countries feeling that she felt like both her home and migrated country feel like home, but not- she had been away for too long to feel like and ex-pat, but not in the new country enough to immigrate or change citizenship permanently. As though she really had no home anymore. It’s a real feeling, and it can be terrifying.

      • Quimby says:

        To add to what Spunky says . . . Then there’s the feeling that you’re wrong for identifying more with your new country than your old country; that you’re giving up something that is essential to your very being – a huge and fundamental piece of your identity. Even if you’re not terribly patriotic (like me) and never really felt a huge sense of identification with your country of origin (like me), recognising that shift in yourself can be quite difficult and discombobulating. You feel off-centred and unbalanced.

        When I was going through the worst of this, I spoke with a friend of mine, an elderly gentleman who had immigrated to Australia after the second world war. I explained how I was feeling, and how frightening it was for me to identify more as an Australian than as an American. He said, “How long have you been here now?” I said, “Fourteen years.” He smiled and said, “If you weren’t feeling exactly like you’re feeling now, I’d say there was something wrong with you.”

      • Andrew R. says:

        I wasn’t expressing how one might feel, I was giving the dictionary definition. For me the use of a word has to do with it’s actual meaning, not the way it is being used.

        Maybe the word needs defining. And maybe it is different for different people.

        Quimby, you have made a life in Australia. I imagine it is home for you. The country of your birth holds your ancestry, and some of your traditions. But Australia is home, and what is important.

        I think of ex-pats like those from the UK now living out the rest of their lives in Spain. They have emigrated – they do not intend to come home (Brexit aside). But “home” is still England in an emotional sense.

        I do get the difference – but the word does not, alone, sum it up.

      • Quimby says:

        ” But Australia is home, and what is important.”

        It’s really not as simple as that. With immigration, what is lost is at least equal to what is gained.

        About one in every two Victorians was born overseas or has a parent who was born overseas. In uni I knew a lot of people who were children of immigrants, who were taught, “You’re not really Australian. You’re really (Greek, Italian, Israeli, etc.)” Every single one of them felt a deep sense of loss, because they did not know where they belonged. I decided that I never wanted my children to feel that. I never wanted my children to doubt where they belonged. But the trade-off is that I have to negotiate those feelings. Sometimes they only come every few months. Sometimes they come several times a day. When they come, I acknowledge them and mourn the loss and then I remember that I am fortunate, because I have a good life here, and it is not one I was forced to build because of war or unrest, and we have opportunities here that we wouldn’t have if we were in the US. And I am grateful to be here; but Australia isn’t always home.

      • Andrew R. says:

        So the adage, “Home is where the heart is” only works if you can get you heart to stay in one place.

      • Ziff says:

        “I wasn’t expressing how one might feel, I was giving the dictionary definition. For me the use of a word has to do with it’s actual meaning, not the way it is being used.”

        LOL, Andrew! Do you know where dictionaries come from? They’re not handed down from on high. They come from people trying to summarize up how a word is being used.

      • Andrew R. says:

        No Ziff, I had no idea. I am but a man. How could I understand language, and nuance? Thanks for once again pointing out what a complete idiot I am.

      • Spunky says:

        You aren’t an idiot and I hope your comment was sarcastic. Would you be interested in writing a guest post about Brexit ? Will it harm or help missionary policies, or stay the same? Are there biblical comparisons? I know you’re male, but consider the impact on women. Will women’s income be affected? Your’re on the ground for this one and I’d be interested about these things, should you be inclined to write something thoughtful.

  5. Peter says:

    The EU referendum had far higher participation by voters and far more televised debates that went on for weeks than our general elections usually do so it is simply inaccurate to imply that this vote was made in ignorance.

    You say you have only spent 4 years in England, so perhaps you are unaware that Euroskepticism has been an issue in British and European politics for decades and many of us are profoundly grateful that our Independence Day has finally come.

    As you point out, a higher percentage of older voters voted to leave than younger voters (The vast majority of young voters did not even bother to vote) . These are the same people that voted by a big majority to stay in the Commin Market as it was then in the last referendum about it in the 1970’s and were lied to when promised that EU laws would never supercede the laws of the democratically elected UK governments and parliament.

    The message to get from their huge change of attitude to the EU is that they have had very good reasons to lose trust in it based on decades of experience, not some kind of anti youth dying gasp of hatred. They do have children and grandchildren they care about more than anything else.

    The biggest issue is democracy. Simple. The citizens of the USA would not tolerate for a nanosecond giving away control over their laws and economy to a pan-American superstate project in which they would always be outnumbered and outvoted, so it is inaccurate and offensive to make sweeping generalisations about the 52% of the British electorate who voted to leave all being primarily motivated by racism.m and xenophobia. The EU membership forced us to abandon all the free trade agreements we had with the Africsn, Carribbean and Asian countries of the Commonwealth and discriminate against them in our immigration policy. It is a racist project to keep non-Europeans from competing in our markets and contributes to the impoverishment of the developing world, countries like Liberia.

    The poor and lower skilled workers of the UK have had their wages depressed to poverty levels and experienced significantly higher unemployment levels because any EU citizen can come to the UK and compete for the jobs available to them, and have done in the millions. And our housing shortage has meant that with hundreds of thousands of net immigration each year far outstripping the new house building all mortgage and rental prices have gone through the roof and become impossible for a whole generation to afford without bankrupting themselves.

    No other countries in the world, particularly America, would tolerate that level of a battering to their hard-won democracy and economy, so don’t expect us to.

    We haven’t gone to hell in a handbasket – come and visit and don’t believe the sensationalist media stories. We’ll offer you asylum when President Trump gets elected in the USA.

  6. Andrew R. says:

    I agree there were many for whom immigration was a tipping point in voting to Leave. However, EU legislation was also a major topic. Four years of living and being a student in the UK has not really given you any insight into the lives of the majority of people here.

    I agree that the referendum should not really have happened. Also that the issues, and possible outcomes, could only really be guessed at.

    Also, you do know that most countries, including the US expect you to be able to pay your way (hence the £35K). Also that that is only for non-EU immigrants.

    Many so called educational institutions were a means of illegal immigration, and need to stamping down on.

    Really this in uninformed piece of Brit-bashing that I don’t believe should have been posted – it does nothing for feminism in general, and especially in LDS circles.

  7. Andrew R. says:

    I meant to say – I voted Remain.

    • spunky says:

      So what are your thoughts now that “Exit” is on? Have you found peace? Are you hoping for another referendum to Remain?

      • Andrew R. says:

        I don’t believe another referendum would help, and it would mean more uncertainty. I am not happy, but this is where we are. We have to move forward, and hope that the best can be made of it.

        I believe that Mrs May has made the right appointments to assist this process, and I hope that the other 27 governments will work together in a positive way. Having said that, they have their own agenda, and why should they now change and bend for a people so unwilling to be a part of the EU?

        I do not believe there should have been a referendum. And given there was one, I believe the rules should have been tighter. Over 50% of the electorate should have voted out – whatever the turn out. So if less than 50% voted – no result. If 60% voted, over 80% would have to have voted out, etc.

        I also believe we should adopt the Australian rule that everyone turn out to vote – even if you chose to spoil your vote.

      • Quimby says:

        The debate around compulsory voting is very interesting. One argument in favour of it is that politicians have to tailor their policies to suit everyone, because (at least in theory) everyone has to vote, and so they can’t just go after a small percentage of the electorate. On the balance I think it’s a good thing – my opinion on that has evolved sharply over the years; I used to hate it, but I have come to think that it is good for democracy because it ensures the maximum number of people actually have a say. Whereas, in the US or the UK, you can have a result with as few as 30% of the people turning out to vote; meaning a government can come into power with a minimal amount of popular support.

        Having said that, I’m interested to know what the percentage of informal votes is for the election that was held earlier this month. I know that with the election before this one, the informal vote was 5%. That includes obvious attempts to not vote (blank ballots, pictures of penises, swear words, etc.) as well as accidentally informal votes (ballots that are misnumbered, or ballots where someone has written their name on the paper, or ballots where their intention is not clear.) I worked at our local polling station this time around, and we had an informal vote rate of 17%, all of which were clearly attempts not to vote. It’ll be interesting to see if the informal vote rate is up, or if my local polling station is just abnormal.

  8. Liz says:

    This is great, Kalliope, and I’m really glad you posted it. I’m especially glad that you pointed out how some of these policies will disproportionately (and negatively) affect women. I’ve been trying to read as many personal experiences about this whole thing as I can, because the 10,000 foot angle seems to be mostly political posturing and doesn’t really resonate with me in terms of how it all affects people on the ground. I’m so grateful for your perspective.

  9. Kalliope says:

    I hear all of your comments and thank you for taking the time to correct me. I’m not British, and so don’t have a a right to an opinion. It was not intended as Brit-bashing at all, and my apologies that it came across that way.
    This is a global community, wherein the policies of one country, such as the United States, absolutely effect others. Propaganda campaigns are designed to oversimplify and mislead. I never once used the word “ignorant” in my post, but it has been flung about quite a bit these comments. It was a tremendously complex issue; I and many of my loved ones are hurt and scared by the outcomes that are still unfolding. I am frankly more scared by the prospect of a Trump presidency. I care about politics because I care about people; I care about Brexit because the people I see are hurting.

    • spunky says:

      You have a right to an opinion whether your British or not.

      Thank you for the post, Kalliope. Its offered me some excellent insights.

    • Andrew R. says:

      “This is a global community, wherein the policies of one country, such as the United States”

      You are correct. And in part I believe that people like Obama, and other world leaders, passing comment on the need to vote Remain had a negative backlash – British people do not like being told what to do.

      Brexit is not, IMO, a good thing. And I believe it will damage the UK for the short to medium time. But it is the will of the people.

  10. Jude says:

    My daughter has experienced something similar as a Canadian in the US. She spent over ten years in the US getting both a bachelor and masters degrees, several internships (some unpaid) and hundreds of volunteer hours. She has been forced to leave twice (visas expired) in spite of having a solid job offer, which has been devastating, having established a strong social network there. This in spite of having many American relatives (father, grandmother, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-grandparents). While she recognizes that she does not necessarily have a right to live there, it has been very difficult to accept that her contributions to the US are not valued. Turning away bright, enthusiastic individuals who would make a positive contribution to a society is where, in my opinion, protectionist policies regarding immigration actually hurt. It seems to be a growing trend, and is based largely on fear.

    • Kalliope says:

      Thank you for your comment. These fears of “the other” and rising nationalism are alarming everywhere; the US is certainly no exception.

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