Photo by Ionut Comanici, Unsplash

‘Go Back to Your Country’: A Romanian Immigrant’s Journey

I left my country of origin, Romania, six years ago to live in London with my mother in hopes of living a more prosperous, English-speaking, Western life like the one I had seen on TV. Is it prosperous? Not very, seeing as capitalism has seen fit that only those at the top can get over £1000 per month, 700 of which usually goes to rent in a very sad, dingy shared flat with way too many people. I should know; I live in one. Up until recently, I have been sharing a room with my mother for the last six years .

Let’s move on: English-speaking? Very much so. Speaking in general, however? Not so much, maybe if you count the occasional chit-chat about the weather. My forecast, however, is a cold one for the week. Or your entire stay here. What do you mean by that? I hear you ask. And to that I tell you: don’t expect to make many non-immigrant friends here. The English are a cold lot. Is that because of the weather too? But don’t bring it up to them, they’ll shoot you a lukewarm smile and gossip to their family afterwards, after which they’ll avoid you like the plague.

Now, “Western life”, huh? I’m left wondering if I wished too soon. In my own mind, the UK seemed like the bastion of open-mindedness, multiculturality and acceptance. This was very important to me as a bisexual teenager. What even is a Western life? I turned it over and over again in my mind. Something wasn’t right. The moment I stepped off the boat (yeah, literally: we took a ferry) and into the chilly London night and onto the double-decker that looked like a red titan to 13-year old me, fear and bliss gripped me. Excitement and worry. Would I fit in?

To me not knowing where I fit in this vast land that has left me so changed and embittered. In secondary, even the weirdos and the emos considered me too weird to have around. I spoke the English I heard on American TV, as that is how I learnt it. The slang, people’s expressions, the deeper, and the subtler social cues and fabrics, however, all went over my head.

Sorry, young me. The answer is meeeeh… not really. You can bring the easterner out of the east, but not the east of the easterner. Is that a bad thing? Depends who you ask. From my mum telling me to mind my own business and just get good grades, to my classmates always misunderstanding me despite my fluent albeit Americanised English, to the UKIP supporter screaming at me to go back to my country to… To me. To me not knowing where I fit in this vast land that has left me so changed and embittered. In secondary, even the weirdos and the emos considered me too weird to have around. I spoke the English I heard on American TV, as that is how I learnt it. The slang, people’s expressions, the deeper, and the subtler social cues and fabrics, however, all went over my head. This was not some American high school film like I had hoped for.

So to all of my expectations and questions the answer is just “no”. That’s the word that always floated through my head. Let’s think of a different word. We use it all the time now. Cringe. Cringy. It was a new word to me then, and I wanted to fit in, so I overused it. And that, my friends, is how I embarrassed myself by calling a KFC chicken “cringy”. The coolest friend in the group retorted, “how is that cringy?” I panicked, grasping at all the intellectual faculties I possessed all at the same time. “I—Um, because… because… it’s making me hungry and I can’t get it right now…”

“Oh.” We left it at that. And I ran home with my tail between my baggy trousers. UK uniforms suck, you know? Yes, in Romania we had to wear these really ugly vests but other than that we were allowed to wear black jeans at least. That’s not the point. I might be laughing about it now, but it was no laughing matter then. I call that the darkest period of my life. I was like a ghost, floating around aimlessly, never acknowledged unless it was for a good reason, like misunderstanding a word (I complimented a girl for her “pants” … sigh…) or being bullied or shoved for my looks and sexuality. Getting called Shaytan or an “ugly c**t” by boys who practically embodied toxic masculinity isn’t the best, so I started to embrace it and my weirdness, which only led to me getting bullied even more. So, British people didn’t want me, and other minorities didn’t prefer me. No matter how multicultural my school was, I didn’t belong anywhere.

I then moved schools. Not that it was better. I had no friends there either. Apart from one. He took me under his gay witchy wing and showed me the realm of paganism and witchcraft and… British imperialism? His manipulation, which lasted for 5 years, completely shaped my identity. Yes, you guessed it, he was a fraud. He had established a sort of cult of personality around the school and not many people dared to cross him or god forbid, their reputation would be destroyed. Or so he said. He was the thing that made me wish to be something I was not. I cannot stress how much I wished to be English during that period of my life, which he was very aware of.

During this time, I would be told I was practically British, because I was the self-hating token Romanian friend who wished to fit in

Growing up in Romania, we never talked about the British Empire or the atrocities it committed. So when he would make a joke I didn’t understand, I’d laugh along in ignorance thinking “what even is [insert serious subject here]?”. During this time, I would be told I was practically British, because I was the self-hating token Romanian friend who wished to fit in. My whole life was a wish. Many immigrants experience this wish, I think. However, I would never quite achieve that level of Britishness, because I still had my “uncivilised” and “annoying” Romanian quirks. If you’ve ever experienced this form of self-hatred, you know what it’s like to have your identity slowly beaten out of you.

And the sadness that comes with that… You’re clinging so hard to it, your nails digging in deeper and deeper into the remnants of that abused identity, so hard they start to break off and bleed, all the while thinking… Why… I can’t even have this? Not even this small thing? And the answer is again, of course:

NO. No. But I reject that answer. I rejected it and it blew up a storm of:

“maybe you should go back to Romania, then”
“this land doesn’t want you anymore”
“how come our whole friendship all you’ve wanted to be is British and now you disparage it?”
“you’re changing yourself to fit in with the immigrants”

I am “the immigrant”. I have always been “the immigrant”. Why should I wish to be something I am not? I’ve grown up here. The air around me has changed. Not British, not just Romanian. I’m learning to accept myself now. I am learning to reclaim now. I am relearning now. I am reclaiming now. My food that is “too strong”, my culture and speech that are “too weird”, my language that is “too Eastern, especially for a Romance language”, my personality and mannerisms that are, indeed, Romanian. I’m leaving out the “too”.

Photo by Katie Moum, Unsplash

I am not “going back to my country”. I have as much of a right to be here as every member of every non-white country that your nation has pillaged and colonised, every minority you exploit and then send back to “their” country. This is my country. And I’m here to stay.

His hatred is not singular, it is very much shared by the people of this country who voted against their own benefit as long as the dirty immigrants leave. You can see this in The Sun’s article which disparages the Romanian community of Burnt Oak in which my abuser lived, which was one of the only ways for me and my mum to buy Romanian products and the only way for Romanian immigrants to meet and communicate away from their homes. The language used in the article directly vilifies and demonises my community, even uses a “token Romanian” who says “I am Romanian and I voted for Brexit” as if to say, “see guys, Romanians can be decent if they hate themselves!”. Many articles targeting Romanians use the words “invasion”.

Is it an “invasion” or is it help? You should be thankful Romanians are doing the jobs your own people don’t want to do. Thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian seasonal workers came to the UK because there weren’t enough (if any) British workers who wanted to do it themselves. Next time you go to the grocery store, think about that.

2 thoughts on “‘Go Back to Your Country’: A Romanian Immigrant’s Journey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *