Nothing Complicated

Last night in my Portuguese class, our teacher asked us whether we would like to contribute to the next issue of the school newspaper, which would be themed “Multiculturalism”.  The idea was to share the story of our migration experience. “Before and after, what it is like living in a new country, how it is different from your home countries,” she explained, making it sound quite simple, nothing complicated, and, she pointed out, it would be a good opportunity to work on our Portuguese essay writing skills…

 Then, to practise our listening skills, the teacher read an interview with a young Ukrainian immigrant, recounting his story to a journalist.  We listened carefully, in order to respond to the exercise questions (What happened to Igor’s father?; Why did his mother come to Portugal?;  Why did Igor decide to come to Portugal?; Why is it difficult for him to renew his residence permit?; Does Igor consider returning to Ukraine?).  We answered these questions swiftly, as Igor’s responses to the journalist’s questions were short and clear: Igor’s father was killed in an accident while working in Portugal; his mother had to come here to repay his father’s debts; Igor came to be with his mother; he could not yet obtain a formal work contract; and he preferred to stay in Portugal.  It was nothing complicated.

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2 thoughts on “Nothing Complicated

  1. Nothing complicated… as your title implies, anything but… — as we movers (migrants, immigrants, landless, dispossessed, new settlers…) know.

    The story you recount is very similar to that of one my students in Italy to whom I teach English.
    A great kid full of special gifts, imagination and a kind of secreted seriousness, he was busy getting into trouble and losing his way. Discovering the events of his short life, his mother’s and his vulnerability, and being ‘only’ the English teacher, I reached in to talk a couple of quiet moments just to let him know that as a grown-up his life mattered to me and that his circumstances were not ‘normal’ or easily overcome. He was never my student again as he moved on, but whenever we bump into each other there is a look we have that I like to think is special. This in itself is important: ‘Save one life, save the world’ (well, I wish).

    On the other hand, how can anyone be so naive, or indifferent, as to think that a story like the one your teacher used, or my student has (as his only story +/-) not create complexity: emotional, social, institutional and ultimately, political?

    Yet there are whole communities, ideologies and bureaucracies of indifference, using a vocabulary of “integration” and “tolerance”, expecting that the extra-ordinary circumstances of migration not take a toll. Immigration policy needs to begin with personhood. You cannot integrate when your life story is not included.

    great work D.

    • “Immigration policy needs to begin with personhood.” Well-said, Tracy (I might quote you on this!). Thanks for your comment and for sharing.

      (I also think that being a teacher (within an institution that prefers simple categories and not messy stories) is quite challenging. Maybe I could interview my teacher on her experience….?)

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