I stepped out of Leeds Civic Hall and into the glorious sunshine, holding the citizenship certificate firmly in my left hand and I felt a rush of joy running through my body.
I raised my sunglasses to the blue sky, inhaled the present moment and felt the accumulated worries and uncertainties slipping off my body and disappearing into the ground - like mud dissolving in a warm shower.
It. Is. Done.
Done. Done. Done echoed into my ears for what it felt forever.
I have matched my daughter’s dual citizenship: we both have the same rights in the UK, in Italy and in the EU – what a relief.
I ask another brand new fellow British Citizen to take a photo of me and I saw my happiness reflected in her eyes.
The ceremony in itself was entirely underwhelming, only lasting a handful of minutes: I walked in, read an oath to a picture of the Queen in front of a man who didn’t even bother introducing himself and walked out alone, as I came. Solitary life in the times of Covid.
Sitting on a bench waiting for my friend, a storm erupted out of the clear blue sky: anger and loss quickly took over the joy and relief.
How is it possible? I’ll soon have two passports not one, how can I be feeling loss?
My legs wobbled like jelly as I crossed the road to meet my friend. I hang off his arm and grasped for words.
I was losing my identity both as Italian and as a “Foreigner”.
Almost as if I had turned my back on my beautiful and delicious home country. Almost as if I had betrayed my family and friends by choosing to commit to this country.
A friend half-jokingly told me I had ‘sold my soul’ and another that I “didn’t need to say I do this or that because I’m Italian”. My jar dropped open both times and a chilling shiver ran up my spine, externalizing the feeling of loss of my “Italianess”.
I also lost the contested & non PC status of ‘foreigner’. Again, my legs wobbled, the ground had been lifted under my feet.
Who wants to be described as a foreigner in the country they live in? No one. A discolored sticker on my front door in Milan made it clear to all the by passers: “Nella mia citta’ nessuno e’ straniero/ No one is a foreigner in my city” so, what am I missing? Being discriminated against, on the basis of my origins?
An example of ethnic micro-aggression was fresh in my mind, just a handful of hours before during the Citizenship Ceremony. The lady handing out the Citizen Certificates said with a sugar coated smile to the young black man preceding me: “Try to read the oath in proper English if you can. I’ve heard all sorts but please do try, will you?”
I felt a punch in the stomach, nausea rose quickly. The weight of my own privilege slammed on my face: White. European. Well dressed. I will not receive that treatment.
I strangled a scream in my throat, pressed my nails into the palm of my hands and resisted the desire to ridicule her. Aiko Bethea’s interview playing loud in my head on what it means to be an ally to black people versus a protagonist. Don't get angry on his behalf... I pulverised the woman and found the young man afterwards, I asked him how did it find it, held space. All I could do. He left in a rush needing to return to work, just like me.
My head felt light and words like ‘foreigner’ and ‘aggressions’ started swirling in circles, faster and faster. Then I caught it: in ceasing being a foreigner, I had lost the privilege of being detached from internal politics, national procedures and costumes. The Us and Them divide was broken down. I could still ignore the small and big Politics, of course, and yet by joining the majority, I had lost my critical and detached perspective. I am involved now or at least I can be.
I can vote now. I. Can. Vote.
After 15 years of not being able to, now I can.
Everything and nothing had changed. Like marrying your life long partner.
In your day-to-day life though nothing changes: you still live in the same house, wear the same clothes, eat the same breakfast.
Everything changes and nothing changes, like marrying your life long partner and yet the motivation behind this change is drastically different. My motivation to formalise my relationship with this country was born out of fear not love. And this will forever sadden me.
Fear of what life in the UK without a British passport would be like since this country was invited to express its opinion on its relationship with Europe. The Brexit campaign offered the opportunity to express anxieties around financial powers but also immigration and multi-culturalism. Brexit has lacerated the country by way of an apparently binary choice between identifying as a Leaver or a Remainer.
Since the Brexit referendum I have watched the increasing proliferation of lies told and the slow erosion of European Citizens’ rights*, for instance, with European Citizens deliberately not being resourced with any paper documentation proving our indefinite right to remain, live and work in the UK.**. Is not by accident, is the expression of an hostile environment which needs naming and challenging.
Find below the practical steps you can do to support EU Citizens in the UK.
I have decided to become a British Citizen out of fear, rather than out of love and yet I have so much love, gratitude and pure joy for the life I have built for myself in the UK. Would like to thank all my closest friends who have listened to the unraveling of my thoughts WITHOUT shutting down the conversation by either offering me a cup of tea or apologising for theirs or others’ referendum vote. I know how hard it can be to listen to someone else's trouble that you share so deeply.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
I am slowly expanding and relaxing into my new identity, my new new dual citizenship. The only question is how can I share with you my privilege of dual citizenship?
PRACTICAL STEPS TO SUPPORT EU CITIZENS IN UK
Learn why Settled Status is discriminatory
Settled Status is the immigration status specifically designed for European Citizens staying in the UK after Brexit. Differently from any other Permanent Residency card or Green card or is not a paper document but a code matched with your passport or National Identity card that requires entering in a database every time you want to make any sort of move.
This creates a new and unnecessary barrier to everyday life tasks. Imagine the anxiety of applying for a job, trying to open a bank account, renting a house or re-entering the country after a family visit and not being able to show a document, a card or a passport-like everyone else, but instead having to provide a code for officials to input online -all while hoping that Home Office website hasn’t once again, crashed or not updated the information yet.
SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE 3MILLIONS GRASS ROOT ORGANISATION
Read the extensive and up to date website of the 3millions and sign up their campaign to ask the Home Office to provide a physical document (rather than a code stored in a fallible database) to the European Citizens granted the right to remain, live and work in the UK
See their website here.
Follow their FaceBook page here.
Women Beyond Borders booklet is a summary of a two year project by Jill Mann and Fra Panella, born out of the desire to listen to the voices of EU women who had no right to vote in the Brexit referendum.
We discussed the emotional, practical and logistical impacts of this change in our personal lives
Download this booklet and find many ideas and suggestions to deepen your understanding ranging from tools on managing the uncertainty, to 10 top tips on how to be an ally to EU Citizens and much more.
Please share this link with anyone who you think might benefit from seeing their personal stories reflected in others' dilemmas.