Stay Human

Stay Human

On the 24th of June 2016 I woke up early to read the results of the referendum. I stared astonished at my laptop screen. I felt like I wanted to cry, but shock prevailed over everything else. I could not believe that the majority of people had preferred division over unity.

I am what Mr. Nigel Farage would describe as an “economic migrant”. I moved to the UK from Italy in 2008, after studying Politics and International Relation for three years, to find a job and to learn English. But more than anything else what led me to leave family, friends and sunshine behind was the excitement and the curiosity to experience life in a different country, to enjoy the beauty of communicating in a foreign language, the wonders of embracing different cultures, religions, cuisines, languages and everything multifaceted that this world has to offer us. I think of myself as a “cultural migrant”, as a person that enjoys freedom of movement and makes the most of the amazing opportunities it offers. The Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci wrote that “history teaches but it has no disciples” and I believe it is the perfect description of our times, of the way in which we have forgotten the mortal perils that lie in politically manipulating hate and fear to create division.

More and more often since the Brexit vote people I know or people I meet ask me, “what are you going to do now?” I still do not know what I will have to do in practical terms or if my legal status will change, and if so when. But I am sure that I will not change my nature, I will not give up hope, I will not stay silent. Over the last six months what has saddened and worried me the most about Brexit it is not that I will have to apply for a certificate of permanent residence that will basically state the rights that I already hold, but rather the ways in which people’s fears and hate have been opportunistically used. I was bitter and angry for days when a customer at work refused to be served by me because he did “not feel comfortable with foreigners”, and when another one complained because there was “not a British cashier in the whole store”. I controlled my reactions, and I decided that I did not want to answer fear with fear. It was time to put the anger to one side and make good use of my experience as a literature student.

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I will not forget what studying literature at York St John is teaching me: that my opinion counts, and that my voice can be heard, and that hearing multiple and different voices is the most enriching feeling a human being could ever experience. I have always loved literature, but when I was younger I failed to see its potential. I did Politics at University because I believed that was the only way I could play a part in changing the world. Over ten years later, I married my love for literature with the knowledge that it is the strongest weapon of all. The ways in which literature enables us to understand the ways in which the world can be described, criticized, analyzed is not only stimulating for my mind but it also what gives me hope and strength and the will to live in a world where love, compassion and solidarity are stronger than fear and hate.

Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian solidarity worker and activist who lost his life in Palestine in 2011, wrote these words that I have taken as my own since the first time I read them: “We must remain human, even in the most difficult time. Because, despite everything, there must always be humanity within us. We have to bring it to others.” So, to answer to everybody who asked me what I was going to do after Brexit: I will stay human and I will speak up for humanity, and I will try to bring humanity to others.

Originally posted on https://blog.yorksj.ac.uk/englishlit/ on February the 6th, 2017.