Recently a movement of young adults in Spain, posted photographs and videos of themselves on a website, communicating the fact that they were going to maintain their pride and stay in Spain. It was a message to everyone else who had jobs, which they were not going away, they were not going to be pushed out of their home. This tells you about the feeling that many economic migrants having to move to the capital city having been unable to make a material life for themselves in their home town and country.
Many of London’s immigrants, even those who have travelled internally, feel a certain degree of shame, rejection, humiliation and embarrassment. Many immigrants arrive into the The Big Smoke already feeling rejected or ashamed.
Somali children yet to reach their teens, who may find themselves in a state of shock, sitting on a couch in London Heathrow arrivals, wondering where the agent, who accompanied them on their trip is, having been told in no uncertain terms by their parents, on depature from Nairobi, to do everything the agent said, and with the agent, some three hours ago, telling them that he would be back in a few minutes. Like many others, they come from a place where they have not been accepted or they have been rejected, sometimes by their own family, in a city with ten million people, where not one has any deal of concern for them. It is a journey from rejection into oblivion.
But even if one has not been sent by war torn Somalia there is always a certain humiliation that comes with immigration, in having to move away from the place that one was born, in giving up the relationships, the synergy, the knowledge, the power, the experience, sacrificing it all. Even if for a better life. Such people arrive in London discontented, confused, lacking pride and hope, humbled and defeated sufficiently that they felt compelled to leave, to accept defeat, bitter that at being disowned their homeland they then disowned their homeland.
This humiliation and shame does not subside with time, it stays with you forever. So whilst you whilst the person who immigrates may feel proud of the fact that they have made a conscious choice to better themselves, and may indeed do just that, they will always subconsciously, feel humiliated, that for one reason or another, they felt propelled to make such a choice, and that they had to flee the land that they were born into, that they were never able to get a grip of resources in that land, and never were sufficiently accepted by those who did have a grip of the resources, that they could carve a name out for themselves, carve a position, a certain status and relevance, that means they would never have felt the need to go and carve a better life out for themselves.
Daniel Stier a German photographer roams London’s ex-pat communities, looking for people to take photos of in their country’s traditional dress. His work has a lot to do with the fact that he lacks a sense of belonging himself and is interested in exploring that feeling in others. Daniel commented, “I didn’t have to come here – I’m not a refugee – so I’m not complaining, but what I tried to look at is how people integrate into a place, but don’t ever fully become integrated. It’s that feeling that makes London what it is; 40 percent of the people that live here weren’t born in the UK. Everyone I photographed would say stuff like “In my country” or “back home” as if they’d just left, even though they might have been living in London for 30 years. I realised I do the same thing; I’ve been here for so long that I have no idea what goes on in Germany nowadays, but I still refer to it as “back home”. And their traditional costumes are the one part of home people can carry with them.
Stier took a photograph of a Ugandan refugee draped in an orange sheet, of which he said, “He’s a Ugandan refugee who used to fight as a guerrilla warrior and somehow got mixed up in the army, then somehow ended up here. The whole story was extremely sad; he couldn’t speak the language, didn’t speak to his neighbours and couldn’t stand being here. I went to the mayor’s office when I tried to find somewhere to exhibit the photos and they’re all very up for promoting the idea of a multicultural London, but not the actual stories behind it. I mean, yes, London is “colourful”, but the stories that come with that are often very depressing. The official London picture is not like the reality.”