Name: Elmedina Baptista-Mendes
Occupation/Job: Specialist Lead Nurse
Moved to the UK in 1995
Nominated by: The 3 Million
England is not less racist than Portugal, but I was not prevented from studying, or working or renting a flat to live in, all the things I had struggled with back home.
I call it home even though it did not treat me like its citizen, you see my parents had also been immigrants before. They went from the ex-colonies to the “motherland”; Cape Verde Islands to Portugal to be more precise.
‘I was not accepted’
Life was hard as a black kid living in the shanty towns that surrounded Lisbon back then, but I was happy, I had the “village” that raised me, the community I belonged to was tight, close, compassionate and generous. But as I grew and tried to achieve my dreams I realised I was not accepted or wanted and considered less than, so like so many other Portuguese before me I packed my bags and left.
In London I found many communities that accepted me, student groups, language-based groups, local resident groups and realised that I could belong to as many communities as I wanted.
‘We have the same rights’
Community to me means unity, common values, respect and acceptance, my communities are my spheres of life, and they have different purposes, but are centered in the value for human life, compassion and care for one another.
I love people, all ages, all races and creed and I believe we have the same rights, be it access to healthcare, education or a fair judicial and political system, so most of what I do is towards achieving that for my communities.
Learning and evolving
I worked full time during the pandemic as a Lead Nurse and in my free time I delivered and participated in webinars and online meetings with grassroots and NHS organisations to support the rights of my community, educated them about their Post Brexit Rights, voting rights and how to stay safe during the Covid pandemic and vaccine adherence.
It has been full-on and I have become a jack of all trades, learning and evolving as I went on this journey. I am very proud for having done that, in fact I am still doing it, I am now officially registered with NHS England Bureau of speakers for community events on health.
‘London made me feel at home’
Why do I do all this? Because this is home, this is my community. Yes, racism and xenophobia has now become loud in England also, but I am not packing my bags this time around, I am stronger and wiser and will stand for mine and my community rights.
London made me feel at home very soon after landing, the cold beat me but I had never seen representation of myself like I saw here. I was just a human being walking down the street. I could go into Selfridges or John Lewis and ask for a job as a young student. I felt embraced and as if I was allowed. I was free and accepted in college, at work, later at university and companies from the MET to the NHS. I had no doubt I was home.
‘This is who we are’
I wanted to be an Ambassador for International Migrants Day so I could share a bit of my story, my achievements and how much I give back to my community. I am an immigrant who is a Londoner and who is giving back and gave back since I arrived in 1995. I am the dream of many immigrants, I have a safe place to live, and the possibility to study and work, to feel accepted and at home. This is who we are.