Two generations of immigrants, Two generations of identity
This past week, in her speech on women’s equality at the United Nations, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reiterated her internationalist outlook and commitment that Scotland should remain an inclusive and welcoming country in efforts to aid conflict resolution. Scotland, she said, has the “wider ambition to be a good global citizen”.
Watching this speech in my South London flat it is easy to forget that I am an immigrant living in the UK. It is a privilege afforded to me because I am an American but, if you look at me or read my name, you are likely to assign me some other identity.
I am American. I am Mexican. I live in the UK. Yes, I am originally from elsewhere but I live, work and exist here.
I am gay. I am a writer. I am in a same-sex relationship. I am in a mixed-race relationship.
I am lots of things all at once, and that frankly is the world we live in. This is the world we must fight to maintain, a world that is welcoming, inclusive and forward-thinking, one that honours the past, but understands the need to look toward what’s ahead.
As the grandson of four immigrants who arrived in the US in the 1960s, I understand what it is to exist in a liminal place. I am also aware others insist on a society that is easy to compartmentalise, but I am proof that we can be many things at once.
I am also married to a Scot and have seen in recent years how it is possible for a country to proudly express its nationhood while also forwarding a desire for equity and cohesion.
This became particularly pronounced following comments from London Mayor Sadiq Khan in February of this year:
“There’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race or religion.”
There is a lot wrong with this statement, shared ahead of his speech to the Scottish Labour conference, but what is most difficult to stomach is the rhetoric of control disguised as unity and brotherhood. Are we really better together? Khan ultimately backtracked on some comments but his intentions remained clear.
I have always viewed Scotland as a modern and open country. So, I find it difficult to understand Khan’s viewpoint. Nicola Sturgeon has, particularly since the morning after the Brexit vote, been vocal about fighting to protect those EU nationals living and working in Scotland, which makes Khan’s suggestion hard to make sense of.
As Sturgeon highlighted in last week’s speech at the UN, is the good citizen not the one that fights for gender equality, advocates for equity, and uses her acumen to help lift others ups? I would say yes. And if so, then is this citizen not the one we should aspire to be? Is this not the citizen, and therefore the country, we should align ourselves with?
The truth of the matter is that there is a great divide in the United Kingdom right now but not the divide Sadiq Khan spoke about. The divide comes down to the nations that both England and Scotland want to be. Following England and Wales’ vote to leave the EU, we are seeing the nations of the UK emerge with very different agendas.
When an opportunity exists for change, for new possibilities, for autonomy, why would you not take it? Scotland has the chance to truly decide what nation she wants to be, and I hope that she chooses to be the better example. Independence is about self-determination not divisiveness. I see a nation, which has its problems, but is determined to be welcoming, thriving and resilient in the face of ever-changing landscapes that surround her. When my grandparents immigrated to the United States over fifty years ago, they did so in an act of choosing their destiny. Perhaps, that is why I have fallen in love with Scotland, for in her I see a nation that is on the cusp of choosing it’s own destiny.