Lara is a young political activist who moved from Brazil to the UK as a student in 2014 and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2020 during the pandemic. She now lives in West London and is one of the Co-managers of the Young Europeans Network.
Migrants’ belonging to the UK and migrant communities are the topic of political discourse, media debates, and even conversations amongst friends and neighbours. But sometimes the term can be used without carrying real meaning. It’s not until you think about what community means to you that you are reminded of the value of your community and how it shapes belonging.
Different communities, different purposes
My community in the UK is diverse. In fact, I belong to different communities serving me with different purposes. I belong to an activist community of political organisers fighting for change. When I am with this community, I discuss political theory, policy ideas, and campaign for change. Without this community, I would not know so much about the UK, the political system, or the history.
Through this community, I feel like I truly belong to the UK as my chosen home. I know about the system, who represents us, and I am encouraged to stand as an elected representative in the near future as well. By now, I know more about politics in the UK than about the politics of the place I was born in. Being part of this community is of great value to me. Through this, I gained a political voice and felt able to advocate for myself and my rights in the UK.
I also belong to a community of migrants like myself. We share lived experience of immigration and understand the struggles we have collectively faced to stay in the UK. Shared experience of learning a new language, of working in the cleaning industry and gig economy with very little knowledge of our rights in the UK, of living in shared accommodation before saving enough money to have a bit more personal space. Not only do we have shared lived experience of life in the UK, we also have shared experiences of life back in Brazil. The music we listen to, the shows we grew up watching, the food we love to eat, and the shared jokes only we can understand.
These two communities are essential to me. One allows me to advocate for myself and for other migrants and the other keeps me grounded on the migrant experience in the UK. Community, to me, means belonging and gaining the support and strength to explore life outside of that community.
‘I ended up gaining a new community’
When the first lockdown in 2020 became real, I realised I would have to be distant from both of the communities I was most familiar with. After the immediate pandemic passed, I decided to use my time and will to organise communities to set up a mutual aid group in the Cambridge neighbourhood I lived in. Through all the pandemic struggle, I ended up gaining a new community. For the first time in the UK, I got to know my local neighbours and be “neighbourly” like I used to be in Brazil.
I set up a WhatsApp group and shared the joining link on various Facebook groups. Soon, over 200 volunteers joined the group and offered to help. I found myself organising leaflets, leafleting rounds, and spent months taking calls from local residents needing help with shopping and prescription collection. I spoke to over 150 residents during the first lockdown and assigned local volunteers to meet those residents’ needs.
I met so many new people and felt proud to be part of something that helped so many local people. It was gratifying to provide that support which, in return, allowed me to make new friends with neighbours, the local church members running a foodbank, and even the pharmacists. During a period of intense isolation, I gained a new community.
Feeling at home means different things
All the above experiences incrementally lead me to feel at home in my communities and in the UK. I believe this will be a process in constant development. In politics and activism, I keep learning about the systems around me and how I can make changes to improve my life and that of my friends, family members, and other migrants. In my migrant community, I feel energised and refreshed to fight for what I believe in. In my local community, I learn about my local area, my neighbours, and can give back on a personal basis. Collectively, I am at home.
As I understand more about my own communities, I want to show others in other communities who migrants in the UK are. Migrants are not a monolithic group. We are diverse and belong to different communities as well. We contribute to these communities in different, but equally valid, ways. I wanted to be an IMD Ambassador to show these different realities and to show that migrants like me do feel at home in the UK but feeling at home can mean many different things and it can look a million different ways. There is no one way of being a migrant. We are who we are based on different interests. And that’s exactly what we have in common!