Farewell to London

I am saying goodbye to Brexit support groups because I am saying goodbye to the UK and London, to my chance to live there. It’s a damned website, but these groups have been extraordinarily valuable to know ‘what’s going on’. The number of times I have quoted them to explain the situation or situations that have led me to take the decisions I have taken.

Samuel Johnson said that anyone who gets tired of London is tired of life. I didn’t get tired of London at all. I left thinking it was a temporary absence, but while I gave some love to people who needed me around, Brexit happened, and now I have to decide, and despite the pain it causes me or precisely because of that pain, or perhaps to end it, I am forced to say goodbye to London, to the possibility of returning other than the sporadic visit to friends still there, fewer and fewer, because the “hostile environment” worked, and it is not only immigrants who, like me, felt at home in London who are leaving. Also native-born people, with their British passports, disowned their nation and are, I am told, desperately begging for the right of residence in some country with less xenophobia, a welcome like the one we once received from our beloved perfidious Albion. Today I seek peace in a farewell, because it is not possible to have one foot in each country, like we could before that incredulous night and that morning of shock. We spent four years in disbelief that all of that was for real. There was no sane adult person who could even consider that thing that was soon to be called Brexit, we thought. Poor old us. Because as it turned out, not only there were such people; they were in power. We thought that the economic interests to stay would be stronger than those to leave. The power elites underestimated the strength of the capital flight to tax havens that would mainly benefit from the exit from a European Union that was preparing to eliminate these ‘off-shore’ peculiarities. We trusted, we relied too much on human sanity. Immigrants with the privilege of not being illegal, and of having a guaranteed holiday destination back home, full of loved ones. We forgot about the precariousness of a native population that had not had the privilege we had ‘at home’, a practically free university education that allowed us to fly and pretend to be middle class in a strange but still European country. We underestimated the rage of some of the lower classes, whiter and more desperate than us, who couldn’t even afford a Benidorm holiday, and if they visited their parents they slept on the floor or on the sofa because their room had been converted into a workshop when they left home at the age of sixteen, or the flat of their childhood had been sold to buy a smaller one and live a little more comfortably with the difference, while we went back to mum and dad’s house on holiday, to the same room where we had studied our university degree, because our parents would never have thought of touching the baby’s room, even if she had already got married in London. And all those privileges that the migrant generations before us didn’t have, to be able to look for our first job legally, to be able to receive benefits if we lost it, to live with first class citizenship at least on paper, all those privileges, were pulled out from under our feet. Before all this hecatomb, the paperwork to get British citizenship started at eight hundred pounds, just to receive the application papers; then we heard that the figure could be as high as three thousand. Now it’s dancing around eight thousand And yet so many European people have fought for citizenship, only to swear fist in fist that they will not stop until Britain rejoins the EU, now that they have the right to vote, which they did not have in the first referendum. And yet even more British people are fleeing a country they no longer recognise as their own, so xenophobic, so racist, so mean. And in the process, broken families, and broken hearts. Cruel farewells otherwise unnecessary. What need to say goodbye forever, my dear London, that ever since I set my foot on your streets and parks, and my eyes on buildings and rose gardens I swore that one day I would live in one of those streets, even if it was a rental or worse, a vow I have more than fulfilled. And you delivered too, because you gave me things and experiences I would never have dreamed of. You treated me very badly at times – after all, you were, and I’m sure you still are, as disgustingly capitalist as any other European capital. But it was your pubs and your squatted social centres and your carnivals that brought together the most wonderful people from Europe and its surroundings, and in them we quietly conspired to change the world, and some of us even succeeded. What need to drive us out on the basis of racism and intolerance. What a need to separate us, and condemn us to these video calls or short visits that finish with an uncertain “see you online”. What a need to scatter us all over Europe, go back where you came from, but not only us who fell in love with you because we could, but also those who were born in you. What a need. What pain, I don’t know if you know it well. I don’t know if you are bleeding inside as much as the hearts of those who can’t even escape and see us go and say goodbye in silence. But we can’t go back, my dear London, because you have changed beyond any … as we say in my land, not even the mother who bore you knows you. Well, that would be understandable, you are so old. But your radical change, the change that makes people want to run away from you, has happened in less than ten years. I bet you have twice as many empty homes as before. And now it’s illegal to squat them. You always had whole empty buildings waiting to be demolished, at the whim of the speculator. Now many people willing to fight to keep them standing have left you, never to return because the madness continues, the Brexit continues its course in the face of all attempts for sanity to prevail. And so, my dear London, I bid you farewell from my heart in the hope that, by turning my back on you, the skyline, becoming less pointed and more mountainous, will hurt less.