A week ago I received a call from a friend of a friend. It was in regard to one of the jobs we do. She wanted a hook up. We spoke and organized to meet up so that I could take her to the address. As we are all proud Africans, she decided to embrace hers on the wrong day. She was late. I had to keep time to make it in good time to pick Bernie. The distance between the address and the highway where she was, was about 20 minutes. She was not very conversant with the google maps which took her 40 minutes further. Later, we met and on our bus ride home she opens up to me that she was illegal here. “No person is illegal,” I was quick to answer.
See despite us being labelled immigrants, aliens, foreigners, illegal immigrants, refugees and so on, we are human beings first. Moving to a different country has its challenges especially when it is from the Global South to the North. In these countries, you first lose your value as a human being in the society and acquire titles like some African immigrant… It is a place where you stop being an important member of a society and accept to be generalized. So there is this day we are watching news with a friend and a famous Danish female footballer is featured in the news. When I inquire about who she is, my friend tells me about how much inspiration she is to other immigrant girls.
This comment triggers a discussion. So I ask her why to the immigrant girls and not the younger Danish girls? She goes ahead to explain its because her parents are immigrants which means to the Danes, she is not a “real dane.” So basically thats where our children fall. See, when ‘immigrants’ do what is actually ‘ordinary’ from where they come from, it is regarded as an achievement. For example, taking a masters degree is normal in Kenya, but here, it is an achievement for me as an immigrant. This is an effect of a single story as Chimamanda puts it.
A single story that categorises immigrants as dumb and victims of war and poverty. One that generalizes Africa as a ‘country’ with beautiful landscapes, healthy animals but with starving children. See what the media fails to show about most of us immigrants is that we actually come from functional societies with thriving careers. However, some of us fell in love and followed their love story while others just wanted more or even better. To view the World from different lenses.
We love living in Denmark, UK, US, France and all these beautiful countries. It is convenient. The consistent flow of electricity, fast Wifi, organised public transport and accountability when it comes to the taxes we pay. Yes most of us work even in the casual jobs and pay taxes and we love seeing that tax being put into social welfare where we are able access healthcare and education freely. Nevertheless, we are not expected to be deeply thankful for living here. We add value to our societies. After all is done, we would love to add value to the societies that got us here, for me, my ‘overly romanticized’ Kenya.
Let’s get back to my ‘illegal friend.’ I have come across two of them now. I cannot help but wonder about what this does to their souls. Waking up to the title of being illegal. What if we adopted the ‘undocumented’ title as opposed to illegal? Just before she shares her undocumented story, I engage her in encouraging words that things get better after you get used to the system. However, things will not get better for her, not without proper papers. I mean, she doesn’t have access to Danish classes which is the first step to integrating. From her story her family is stable and she can just go back and try the luck again. But no, that’s a choice most of ‘them do not make.
After all is said and done, “there is actually no person who is illegal.” With resident papers or not , we are humans at first.