I’ve been an immigrant abroad and in my country of birth.
I was born in Oxford, England. I spent my first twenty-five years in England, though speckled and dotted with holiday visits to my mother’s birthplace, Croatia (for much of that time part of the now ex-Yugoslavia, with all the paranoia and casual terror that 20th century Communism implied).
I was therefore, even in my childhood, fully aware I was only half-inside the culture of my father.
That I was between cultures.
That, in fact, the culture I felt a greater affinity to on many occasions was neither one I spent much time in nor one I was allowed to luxuriate in.
People who lived there saw me, I think (later on anyway), as a free-loading touristy type who had a chocolate-box view of life in the Balkans.
Everyone, anyone, can love a place when that place is the location of glorious summers.
Then I went to work, live and love in Spain; brought up a family; gradually felt quite Spanish in many respects.
Things happened which weren’t very nice; even as recently as last year.
But you can’t stop loving the countries you’ve worked, lived and loved in, can you? That’s just against human nature, and I’m not planning to go against that.
One Christmas, the Spanish king gave a beautiful Christmas message. It praised the historical contribution and importance of immigration in Spain.
I felt immediately embraced.
I felt touched and so happy.
Life continued on its merry – or less than merry – ways.
My wife and I both lost our jobs.
Dreadful illness hit the family.
Eventually, we returned to England to find work. And that was when I discovered it was possible to be an immigrant in the country of one’s birth.
We were in the fullness of Blair’s New Labour. Five-a-day health exhortations; overarching learning targets; even parental fines for new parents (in fact, the very first letter we received from the local council was one which warned of fifty quid punishments if children weren’t taken to primary school! No welcoming message; no “lovely to have you here”; just woe betide the fifty quid! Because we’re watching you, we don’t trust you, and don’t doubt that it’s the case …).
This was culture shock. This wasn’t the England I’d left sixteen years before.
I was just as much an immigrant in my own land as my Spanish wife and children.
When Ed Miliband tells us today …
Immigration makes us stronger, richer and more powerful as a nation.
… I remember all those years before and what the Spanish king said in his time, and how those words made me feel.
And so today, tears also came to my eyes – still – of hope.
Not all good news, mind.
Ed’s next paragraph was a typical piece of wonkish triangulating politics:
But making immigration work for everyone and not just a few, means people should contribute before they claim and we should never, ever allow companies to undercut wages and conditions of workers here by paying slave wages to those brought in from overseas.
But the rest of the speech shows he’s working his socks off to provide a ravaged and battered country like mine with the tears of hope the whole nation needs.
And for doing just that, even if imperfectly, you have my vote already.