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'Forever an Isolating Existence' - Migration and Integration

Writing and Illustration by Antonia Popescu.

The discourse around isolation when it comes to migrants is, more often than not, unequivocally biased. Someone who settles down in a country other than the one of their origin is depicted as the agent and the patient in the process of isolating themselves from their new community. It is simple; ‘they do it to themselves’. Subsequently, the host country and the native community are portrayed as the victims of this process. Both arguments are far from the truth; they are stereotypes created by the single story, painting an incomplete picture of the migrant’s experience. There is a tendency in politics to address the topic of social isolation in relation to different ethnic groups, however this often develops into the criminalisation and racialization or ethnicization of these same groups, with the purpose of enforcing the hierarchical division. This representation from without is limited, and because of its normalization, it manages to take the focus away from the actual link between isolation and migration. The thing is that when you settle down somewhere other than your home country, you become a foreigner, forever an isolated existence, and I will tell you why.

When you emigrate you are completely and utterly clueless. You have no idea what awaits you; you have no idea that you’re leaving a world and a reality behind and that you’ll never be able to return. This in itself is an abstract concept, because physical return is obviously possible. However, you leave the invisible and intangible space which you filled in a certain community and which that community filled within you. This link is permanently severed the moment you settle down in another country, as your entire identity is dominated by the fact that you’re a foreigner. As soon as you arrive you are ‘welcomed’ with a demand of assimilation and integration, but what does that mean exactly? It is interesting how Oxford's Learner Dictionaries define ‘to integrate’ as a combination with another in order to form a whole. The more you advance into this process, the more chopped up you feel. You distance yourself from your own roots and you never quite become part of the community which you so vigorously try to merge into. It is a lose-lose situation.

I will try to illustrate the paradoxical manner in which the notion of integration is often used in discourse regarding immigration by describing a part of the Danish citizenship ceremony, which I am familiar with because I have recently acquired it. In December 2018, one more criterion has been added to the list of requirements for the ceremony: the attendees must shake hands with the mayor or member of council. This law has been pushed through mainly by right-wing parties, such as The Danish People’s Party and The Conservative’s People’s Party. It is obvious that this law is targeted towards applicants who follow the Islamic faith, and who due to religious reasons might reject shaking hands with a person of opposite sex. It is an action only intended to provoke and divide, as Muslims are most affected by xenophobia in Denmark. The law is a power play; it seeks to maintain the hierarchical division between migrants and the native community, leading to a hostile environment. You give up your principles and values only to become the subject of a witch-hunt.

It’s impossible to talk about giving up bits of yourself and not speak about language. I speak three languages, but my everyday life is dominated by number two and three. My mother tongue is now reserved to four phone calls a week. In nine years, I have stagnated on the same linguistic level as a fourteen-year-old, a factor which has subsequently led to many awkward interactions with fellow Romanians as I grew older. Yet, as a foreigner, I am to speak in other languages which I’ve learned mechanically and therefore far from the privilege of words jumping out of my mouth without asking for permission first. Despite this, I can’t pretend that I’m not privileged. My accent isn’t as thick as it could be, the question doesn’t come as often: ‘Where are you from?’ - that constant reminder of isolating displacement, an open wound which I haven’t yet been able to surpass.

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