The Magda Incident from Another Immigrant’s Perspective

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It’s an old story; immigrants come into your country, steal all the jobs, drink too much, eat strange smelling food, have sex with all the local women and get them pregnant, do things differently, and then when the economy breaks down they sit around claiming more than their fair share of benefits. Dirty bloody immigrants.

And so a narrative for something like this appeared from Ireland recently. ‘Magda’, who lives in Donegal, is an immigrant from Poland. She survives on government welfare because she lost her job in the recession. She was approached by a Polish magazine to report on how she was surviving in Ireland during said recession. Apparently this publication was running a series on Polish emigrants’ lives in recession ravaged European countries.

Ireland’s most read daily, The Irish Independent, decided it would be appropriate to translate and run a story on the insults paid to Ireland, its people, and to reinforce the robust belief that all immigrants are stealing our jobs and welfare money.

Now, first things first, due to the accuracy of the story, this happened. So, to get a sense of what really happened, you will have to visits the nation’s testing space, Broadsheet. Broadsheet is very good a copying down what people say verbatim, as in this case here where they have managed to listen to the translation from an actual Polish person who speaks  excellent English, as opposed to running it through Google translate, which it seems is how the Independent did it. Before the actual article was properly translated, this senator managed to run his gob a bit too quickly, and has consequently made a fool of himself. Madness. Only in Ireland, right? Well, I will leave that answer up to the reader.

While all the right-wing immigrant hating Irish were off sharpening their slash hooks readying for a Pole hunt, it turned out that the Bindependent was wrong. It was actually so wrong that they had to retract the story, and in the process not even whisper an apology to the lady whom they vilified, nor attempt to calm the storm. In the meantime, the Polish Ambassador was decent enough to offer a translation to the newspaper, and rightly called the newspaper to account. Since then the rag has been on the retreat, and even more so when Pat O’Mahony actually did some journalism, tracked down ‘Magda’, interviewed her, and found out this; Meet ‘Magda’: ‘I Don’t Want to Stay on the Dole. I Want to Work.’.

I saw a lot of this unfolding on twitter as both Broadsheet and some journalists kept me updated on the proceedings. This can be kind of fun sometimes, but it was also a bit scary to see what had actually come about. I couldn’t believe that this story had come to light. In fact, I thought that it had to be hatched from somewhere because it fitted into the anti-immigrant agenda too perfectly.

What’s peculiar about this situation is that I don’t think that Ireland has a large anti-immigrant agenda. There are some casual references, but most people are smart enough to know that a lot of immigrants work hard in Ireland and do their best to get along. Yes there are abusers of the system, but if there is a system in place it should be expected that someone is going to abuse it. If you don’t think that, and it upsets you that people actually abuse the system, and especially people who move specifically to a place to abuse this system, move to a desert or a forest where nobody lives. Why? Because the shocks will continue. Next shock; Irish people abuse the system too, and guess what? More of them do it than immigrants!

I have been relatively happy with the outcome so far from this incident. I hope nothing escalates, and I hope the Bindo loses several thousand readers for their troubles (although in all likelihood they’ve probably gained some). But, at the same time I’ve been seriously bothered by this outcome.

I’ve always wondered where Irish anti-immigrant attitudes come from. Sometimes you can feel them stronger from different sources, and sometimes they are hidden under the surface. There’s no explanation for them, and even worse, there is no understanding them given the fact that so many Irish themselves are immigrants.

This is even more so the case in today’s climate. It’s easy to hear the statistics on the number of people leaving Ireland and how this is affecting families and communities across the country. Emigration in Ireland is a word that is attracting people’s attention. In Ireland it is a political word, one that is used by both politicians, lobby groups, and the media to strike fear in each other so that each is moved to the impression that the entire social structure of the country is approaching destitution. Emigration starts the sharing of horror stories and imaginations running wild picturing sons and daughters boarding coffin ships to Australia.

This is the thing, in Ireland the story is always about the departure. There is rarely any story about the arrival, the adjustment, the learning process, the alienation, the racism, the difficulty of finding anything resembling a home comfort, and the distance from everything. If Irish people considered this aspect more then there would be much stronger understanding of the plight of immigrants.

Immigrants move into a country for all kinds of reasons. The most popular reason is usually financial. This probably doesn’t help reduce the stereotype that immigrants are there to steal the money and jobs of the working classes. There are also those fortunate enough who may immigrate if they are looking for a new worldly experience, or, as I once did, left Ireland for Korea basically to get the hell out of Ireland, but this may have been tied in with a lack of and desire for more worldliness. It’s often said that immigrants often leave for a bigger slice of the cake. But, if you ask me, the more cake you eat the more likely you are to find egg shells in it.

Immigration is hard. It is not, overall, a pleasant experience, although that being said some people can have positive experiences immigrating. Why is it not a pleasant experience? You always know that you are different, and you always get the feeling that people look and interact with you differently because you are an immigrant. You are not from the place you live, and there is a good chance that you possibly cannot function in this society properly, from buying bananas in the supermarket to crossing the street or opening a bank account. Life is different from where you come from, and if you don’t speak the language properly, and even if you do, life can be even more difficult. There are things that don’t matter to you, but then there are things that affect you every time you walk outside the door.

The process of immigration is made more unpleasant by the rules you must succumb to before living in a country. Yes, there are the legal rules, but then there are also social rules also. Korea and Ireland have very different and distinct social rules which determine how you must act around family, strangers, in work, when out drinking, or even in the supermarket. Learning these can be more taxing an experience than getting accustomed to more obvious differences, such as the food, the different kinds of money, and even driving on the opposite side of the road.

Prejudice against immigrants is an international trait. There is no country where people do not treat immigrants poorly for whatever reason. Often this factor can be most difficult to deal with, and as an immigrant you can do nothing but deal with it.

But also as an immigrant you become part of a new community which is now yours to be a member of. You spend your money in the local shops and restaurants. You pay taxes and use the local facilities, be they parks, museums or public transport. You are part of the economy. You invest in the place you live and you have a reason to be involved and to care about how decisions are made and how your taxes are spent. With that, you have a right to be angry when you are treated differently for doing what everyone else does, like taking the bus.

As difficult as immigration is, for most people who move to a new country and invest themselves into their new homes, their new homes matter a lot to them, and they care about them. Not everyone does this. For many, immigration is just a source of income. But equally so, the immigrants who spend more and more time in a location care more. The longer people stay away from their home the more difficult it can be for them to return to normal if they return. I know that this has been the case for me.

Being an immigrant is difficult. It is humiliating to line up in the immigration office with yourself written out on a form hoping that the person you speak to is in a good mood when they deal with you. It is demeaning that, despite working for a living and doing your best to become a law-abiding and functional member of society, still people look and treat you like you might, if given ample opportunity, open their mouth and urinate into it. It is demeaning that you find out that despite their being openness in the place where you live, you find it increasingly difficult to settle in and feel welcome as the amount of experience and skills you need seem to be set higher for you. Being an immigrant is even more demeaning when you consider that regardless of how much you work hard, how good you job is, and regardless of how good the home you have worked hard to provide for your family is, you are still looked on as an immigrant.

I’m privileged enough to have a favourable skin colour. Black, Asian, and South American immigrants have it a lot harder than I do. I don’t doubt that this post would be a lot angrier if I were from South East Asia and I was living in Korea, or if I was African and living in Europe, or Mexican living in the United States. Inside these brackets even there are differences; individual national identities are narrowed down to black, Asian, white…

But, you know, despite what they feel and experience most immigrants have had the resolve to travel and settle, change their life, fight for a job, get a job, work their arses off, and continue on living to the best of their ability.

Magda is one of these immigrants, and her story is a perfect example of all that is good about real immigrants. Magda will stick around in Ireland, and she will keep fighting and keep looking for a job and stay living in Donegal. Her interview, the real one and not the mistranslated one obviously, is a testament to all those people who have had to leave their home to make a better life for themselves.

Magda has put a big smile on my face because I know that because of people with an attitude like hers ,the world is a better place. The more we tell our stories of the truth the more the truth is known, then the more stereotypes change. People understand that the people with different colour skin and strange accents are people who, despite not being from the same place, have worries, dreams, and lives as important and troubled as everyone else.

Lives are never relative. We all live through different existences. But, our lives are all related together by sharing our existence with another 7 billion people. The better we can exist together, the less we’ll have to worry about the things which spurred me into writing this post in the first place.


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