British By Inconvenience

The British passport has always been one of the better, if not the best, passport to be packing in your travel bag. Easier access to former colonial territories. Friendly relations with the US. And the benefits of being part of the EU. My British passport may not, one day in the future, be the one I want to use though. It’s an EU passport too, and as an EU citizen (for the moment…!) I actually have more rights. Even in Britain, as a British citizen. Us Brits have become second rate citizens subjects in our own country. Why? Where shall I begin.

Mrs P came to the UK in the summer of 2011. The date is important. Had she arrived after July 2012, I would have needed to prove that I have an income in excess of £18,600. Like nearly half the UK population, that’s an income level I do not boast. In one swift stroke, nearly 50% of the UK population were forbidden from marrying a foreign person and living in Britain. You can do one, or the other. Not boast.

I understand the need to regulate immigration. Some of it is easily solved. Asylum seekers? Well, we could stop bombing other countries to smithereens. The ‘hordes’ of Eastern Europeans that ‘invaded’ the UK when Poland joined the EU? Well, perhaps we should have followed most of the rest of Europe and put a block on them. Although, quite frankly, I find the Poles to be a much nicer, harder working and integrated bunch than an awful lot of Brits. Illegal immigrants? We’re an island for goodness sake. We have it a tone easier than the rest of Europe. We just chose to be lax. Skilled foreign workers? I’m not aware that anyone’s claiming they are a problem.

And then there is Mrs P, and the tiny teeny fraction of immigrants in the UK who have married a British citizen. It was already ridiculous that we had to pay an extortionate £1000 for her initial visa. It’s outrageous that an Indefinite Leave to Remain visa is another £1000. And that a year after that it’s another £1000 for naturalization. There’s no justification for those sort of fees, especially given the absolutely awful level of service you get.

It’s a combination of knee jerk politics and a culture of ripping off anyone who finds themselves at the mercy of the state. If you are the citizen of a country and you wish to marry a foreign person, there should be a streamlined and sensibly priced procedure in place. Not barriers deliberately designed to keep families apart. Even as Mexico is moving away from an archaic immigration policy and towards a  system designed to keep families together, the UK goes in the opposite direction.

But I am not just a British citizen, but also a European citizen. As such, I can move to any country in the EU and live and work there. The rest of Europe is more in tune with humanity. In Europe, I can bring my Mexican wife with me. There are treaties that are enshrined into law to give me this right. And there are laws to ensure my wife and I can move freely around Europe. If we wish to move from another European country to the UK, then the UK Border Agency cannot stop us. I just have to show I worked in that EU country for three months.

On arrival, she can get a five year Residence Card and legally work here. The cost? As far as I can see, the cost is entirely measured in time and patience. We could simply bypass the ridiculous, exorbitant and unfair processes of the UK Border Agency, and have a three month European adventure to boot. The biggest cost has already been paid. By the wonderful Surinder Singh. There always has to be a test case. For a test case, you need a person on the wrong end of an unfair law to stand up for himself and take on the state. Good for you Surinder! Does any of this matter to us? We are going back to Mexico, right? But who knows what the future holds…

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To Bear A Grudge

I was warned before coming back to the UK, by acquaintances, forum users and media, that the UK has been overrun with ‘damned foreigners’. You couldn’t turn 180 degrees without bumping into one of them, apparently. Taking over our jobs, the health service, the housing….and by golly if you didn’t watch out your own wife would have a foreign infestation growing in her belly. It seems to me that these warnings were a little….exaggerated?

Having said that, there are a lot more non-British folk in the UK. Noticeably more. Many of them east and central Europeans. Many of them, Poles. It is, quite frankly, a blessing. I have grown to appreciate their hard work, good customer service and general friendliness to the point that I will actively choose to shop in stores with Poles working in them, and to sometimes even avoid stores with Brits behind the counter. Great Britian has not, sadly, been ‘overrun’ enough for my liking. A little more would only be a good thing.

In London there are more Asians. Some of them are even, and I say this with a virtual whisper, are Muslim. Actually, a lot are Muslim. It makes me giggle a little bit when Little Englanders go on about how the ‘Indians are an alright bunch’ based on their experiences in Indian restaurants, seemingly oblivious to the fact that most Indian restaurants in the UK are run by Muslims.

There’s another thing I’ve found that’s noticeable. Especially when compared with the 70’s, but this also applies to the 80’s and 90’s. There’s more tolerance. Which goes very much against the claims of those who say too much mixing breeds intolerance. Heavens….even the recent rioters joined together, black and white, to go on a multicultural looting spree. I would put some of this down to a national campaign that has been work in progress for decades. Some would call this campaign ‘political correctness’. I would call it ‘good manners’.

Another noticeable difference is that there’s far more of Latin America here. Mexico in particular. I was often asked when I lived in Mexico, what made me go there in the first place. Accident and happenstance was the answer. Mexico had never really been on the British radar. There were very few Mexican restaurants to be found and just as few Mexicans. Mexico is definitely on the British radar now, and food is leading the assault. We’ve  been watching a new weekly TV series,  Mexican Food Made Simple.

However, there was a much earlier pioneer of immigration to the UK from Latin America. A famous Peruvian. Who won a place in the hearts of all Englanders, be they of the Little or Big variety. He was unashamedly an illegal immigrant. Who sent home money to his family. And generally caused culutral mayhem. He was one of my childhood heroes, and was so fondly remembered by my generation that he made it back onto our screens just a few years ago. Paddington, everyone’s favourite stowaway.

Rip Off Britain

Rip Off Britain was a phrase that entered the vocabulary in the late 1990’s. I remember it quite well – I went to the car show the year they had the ‘protest’ stand set up, bemoaning the high price of new cars in the UK compared to the rest of Europe. And the phrase has continued in common usage to this day, with plenty of organisations ready to point out and publicise any large price differences for the same products that exist between the UK and Europe / the US.

You’d think that I’d have left the Rip Off behind me along with Britain when I left the country in 2005. Not a chance of it. The tentacles of bureaucracy reach far, and the Atlantic is no barrier at all. The rip off in question today being Paola’s immigration application. The cost is, in my opinion, extortionate and fails to reflect the actual cost of processing her application. It’s in dollars, naturally. One thousand two hundred of them. Or just shy of 15,000 pesos. Seven hundred and sixty three of her Majesty’s shiny pound coins.

But I’d accepted that. It’s a cost I’d known about for sometime. It turns out, however, that there is now an additional cost. From the end of November 2010, it was declared that applicants seeking settlement in the UK need to pass an English language test. A very basic IELTS test. At a cost of a further 2,000 pesos and plenty of trudging about to test centres. You might think that assessing an immigrants ability to speak English isn’t a bad idea, and you’d be right. Partly.

The thing is, this is a basic English test. Paola is a fluent English speaker. Hell, her spoken and written English is better than a good chunk of the UK’s native English speaking population! And what if we wanted to move to Glasgow? She could pass their test by filling her mouth with rocks and sand and saying three Hail Marys.

The point is, Paola will be interviewed at the British Embassy, where her English level will become immediately apparent. If an applicant is able to effectively and coherently complete an interview in English, how about the test requirement be waived? It would be, by that stage, clear that the test was just a waste of time and money and a completely unnecessary burden. Even if the interviewee struggled a bit but was capable of answering all the questions, then they’d pass the very basic IELTS test with flying colours.

If the applicant, on the other hand, is unable to complete the interview in English, then by all means send them along to take the test. It’ll be the first step of many in a process of fun and games where they will get to encounter many delightful characters. Although it should be noted than us Brits haven’t always had such a ‘hostile’ attitude to immigration. It all depends on direction.

I’m quite sure there’s more to the new English test requirement than fleecing applicants of a bit more cash though. There’s some twit sitting behind a desk in Whitehall with not enough work to justify his existence as an employee of the state, so he just made up some new work. And it appealed to his overlords in Westminster who want to be seen to be ‘doing something’, even if that something is a waste of time and money. It was probably the same team who dreamed up the British Citizenship test.

I’ve taken the test. A practise one, anyway, on the official website. I failed miserably, scoring 12 out of 24. And, if you’ll forgive the lack of modesty for a moment, I’m reasonably compos mentis, more so than mentalist compost anyway, and have a pretty decent knowledge of the UK, its history, law and culture. But I confess that I didn’t know that the UK received more immigrants in the 1980’s from the United States, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand that it did from the West Indies, Ireland, India and Pakistan. I was seven years old at the beginning of that decade and learning my multiplication tables, not counting immigrants off boats.

I also got stumped by the ‘which TWO of these are names for the Church of England?’ question. Where were the ‘homophobic dress wearing retards’ and ‘fairytale gang’ options? How many parliamentary constituencies are there? Too many, seemed the obvious answer, but no such option existed. In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband? I’m outraged! Women can actually divorce their husbands?? Next you’ll be telling me we aren’t allowed to stone them for misbehaviour any more.

The percentage of people in the UK in 2001 who said they were Muslims was 2.7% apparently. Who gives a toss? I really wanted to know how many people claimed to be a Jedi. Nearly two per cent as it happens, and oh yes, I am one of those. It’s officially recorded so it must be true. The official report of the proceedings of Parliament is called Hansard. Not Complete Balderdash, as I would have guessed.

And the stupid questions go on. They could have come up with far more relevant and ‘British’ questions. Such as ‘who won the war anyway?‘  or ‘what is the correct procedure to restart a stalled car.’ Or just give them the full Racism Test. These clips could leave you with the impression that us Brits are a bunch of racist ole buggers still basking in an Empire. You’d be right. So I recommend dressing up as a furry cat. It’s great fun, and while it won’t entirely save you from abuse, the British public are far more likely to jump to defence of a helpless animal than a helpless <insert word of choice according to origin here>.

 

 

Machete Don’t Text

Machete kills. With, unsurprisingly, a machete. But he likes a bit of diversity, and puts various other sharp bladed instruments and gun powder fed projectiles to good use. It’s a movie full of deliberately implausible plots, cheesy lines, ridiculous stunts, gratuitous killings and farcical scenes.

There’s also plenty of hot chicks and nudity, which are always plus points. It’s got a lot of viva Mexico, and an equal dose of – is there a polite way to say what Arizona should do with its mother? It’s so very topical. It’s also brilliant fun. I suspect more so with the lads round and a few tinnies.

Machete is a Mexican superhero. With a moustache instead of a cape. Blades instead of lasers. Scars instead of a curly lock of hair. But with a sense of right and wrong. And a willingness to commit a few wrongs to make things right. He has his A Team moments, but unlike the TV show, his victims bleed and heads  really roll.

There’s some famous heads too. Robert De Niro, Don Johnson, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Michelle Rodriguez (the delicious Ana Lucia in Lost), and Lindsay Lohan all put in some sterling performances. It hit the screens in the US last month. In Mexico next month. Unless you wander down to your local mercado and pick up a pirata. Or else visit your online movie friend, the Pirate Bay.

Border Athletics

I watch much less TV in Mexico than I did in the UK. There’s much less in the way of channel flicking here for me. Not least because P rarely lets go of the remote control. When I watch something, it’s usually something specific that I want to watch, and often something from the UK that I’ve downloaded.

One of the programmes we do watch quite often is the Dog Whisperer, starring the legend that is Cesar Millan. Quite an improvement on the last doggy show I watched, back in the 1980’s, featuring Barbara Woodhouse. If ever anyone wanted proof that the English language has evolved in the UK….the word ‘entertainment’ clearly means something very different now than it did 20 or 30 years ago.

Another show we watch regularly is Sunday Morning. We usually watch it on Sunday mornings, more logically than ironically methinks. It’s a nice way to start a lazy Sunday without having to get out of bed. And this week, Sunday Morning and the Dog Whisperer became one, as per the video I’ve embedded below.

Cesar Millan is, as I said, a legend. He’s even been on South Park– forward to 7 mins 30 secs. To think he grew up in a poor family in Mexico with little prospect of making it big. And now he’s worth about $100,000,000 thanks to his TV shows and books. Just how does one make that jump in social and economical status?

By jumping over fences, swimming rivers and running across deserts of course. In other words, he ran over the border into the US and lived as an illegal immigrant. Naughty chap! Someone told him the streets of America were paved with gold, so he went to have a looky see. And would you believe it? They were! Thirty six carat, dog shaped lumps of gold. Shame this didn’t come up in his interview with Bill O’Reilly

He’s a full, 100% legal citizen these days. Some might be annoyed at him laughing at his tale. I fully understand why he’d go for it. There are two sides to the immigration debate. I have sympathy for both. Mexicans jump the border because they can, or at the very least think they can, make a better life for themselves. Or at least more money. Plenty of them die trying to get across every year. For a dream, or through ignorance – opinion is divided.

And their labour is needed in the north. Plus, there are, and ‘always’ have been large, strong and vibrant Mexican communities in the US. You only need to have a quick look at the map to see why that is.

On the other hand, the US has every right to protect its own borders. Illegal immigrants do cost the US in resources. Illegals make it harder for those who want to swap countries the legal way. And, if the new laws passed in Arizona mean racial profiling becomes a feature of law enforcement, it has a negative impact on US citizens of latino origin. Don’t make me breach Godwin’s Law to explain why.

Edit: Vodpod let me down, and I couldn’t in the end embed the video of Cesar Millan on the Sunday Morning show. A shame, seeing as that video was the point of this post. Such is life. Click here to go and see that on the show’s own site. Here’s the O’Reilly interview instead.

Am I being detained? (via The Mex Files)

WordPress.com has a new feature – reblogging. You can ‘Like’ a post, and having done so, get the option to reblog it on your own blog. Which is what this is….me trying out the new feature. With the most recent post on a WordPress blog I subscribe to that I…well….liked.

I don’t recommend doing what checkpointUSA does without a lawyer and a video-camera in your car (and a car), but I wonder what is going to happen when local police (in places, like, oh… Carefree, Arizona) decide to check out “suspicious” pedestrians.

Sombrero tip to Bender’s Immigration Bulletin. … Read More

via The Mex Files

Frijolero

I’m not the worlds biggest music lover. Sure, there are bands I like, but the new songs or groups that come along and appeal to me are far and few between. I don’t like nightclubs or modern pubs that blast out music at a deafening volume, because quite frankly, I’m deaf enough as it is thank you very much. I’m much happier in Starbucks, with a bit of easy listening stuff being played discreetly in the background. And I’m much happier in Mexico, where there is almost always the sound of a mariachi band in the distance, or the sound of some old crooner coming out of a window, gently singing a traditional ballad.

There are exceptions of course. The metro is ‘plagued’ by CD vendors with their large, yet somehow portable speakers blasting out all sorts of distorted sound. But as far as distortion goes, the microbus drivers have that award wrapped up. But every now and again I get introduced to a piece of modern Mexican music that I like, and for that I thank the microbus drivers and CD vendors of Mexico City. Although forgiveness for the other rubbish won’t be forthcoming.

Because I don’t pay too much attention to the music scene, exposure to Mexican music in public places is pretty much the only way I’ll get to hear it. I’ve grown to like Mana, particularly Mariposa and Si No Te Hubieras Ido. But more often than not, I’ll hear a song I like, over and over again, without ever finding out who sings it or what it’s called. To be fair, I only try so hard, which is not very,  so the lack of answers is not terribly surprising.

In 2003 I backpacked across Mexico, and wherever I went I heard this pop/rock song being played. It was coming out of everyone’s speakers it seemed. Couldn’t get away from it, although I kinda liked it so that was no problem. But when I crossed the border at Ciudad Juarez/El Paso into the United States, I was still none the wiser as to who the artists were, or what the song was called. I referred to it as the ‘Pinche Gringo’ song, as that much I could make out. Turns out, I probably shouldn’t have been wandering the streets of various Mexican towns, villages and cities humming the tune and singing ‘Pinche Gringo’ to myself.

I came back in 2005 to find it was still being occasionally played on the radio, and I finally got a name for the band and song. It’s a pretty famous tune in Mexico, so anyone who has spent any time here, or in Mexican communities in the US, will be well familiar with it. And this post is just all old news. But still. The song is Frijolero by Molotov. The lyrics are pretty unprintable on a nice, family friendly blog like this one though!

But if you take the time to look up the words, and translate them if need be, you’ll see that the drug and immigration issue has been a hot potato since long before O’Reilly declared Mexico out of bounds for his kids, or Arizona started passing suspicious immigration laws. Can’t be bothered to look all that up? It’s still a catchy song worth listening to, and the video is pretty good. It is still the one song that reminds me of those couple of months travelling around the country.

Raising (Hell In) Arizona

Mexicans are outraged! Everyone I speak to has some choice words to express their ‘discontent’ with the new law that’s been passed in Arizona, the crux of which means that police officers will be allowed to stop anyone who looks ‘foreign’ and demand identification to prove they are not an illegal immigrant. If they can’t, then off to the slammer they go.

I fully get why the estadounidenses are up in arms. But Mexicans? The situation regarding illegal immigrants in the US is a touchy subject, but at the end of the day it’s not any business of Mexico’s as to what the US chooses to do or not do within its borders, providing the basic human rights of Mexican citizens, legal and illegal, are maintained. By that, I mean that they shouldn’t be abused, beaten, starved or otherwise mistreated.

I don’t even have a problem with the wall they were building along the border. I think it was a silly project, and their immigration policies in general leave much to be desired, but so long as they do it within their own borders, what business is it of mine? Or Mexicans? Or the Mexican government? I can have an opinion, but neither I nor the Mexican government, have much in the way of any right to make demands.

I do, incidentally, have many opinions. On many subjects. And one of them is regards Mexico and immigration, and it involves a huge dose of hypocrisy. Whilst the news of Mexicans running, swimming, climbing and jumping over the border to the north gets lots of media attention around the world, the plight of Central Americans, illegally within Mexico’s borders,  gets largely ignored. Some of the stories are horrific.

They have no rights, are often preyed upon by kidnappers, gangs and narco groups, and if they get caught by the Mexican police, it’s a toss up as to whether they’ll be robbed or worse, or sent straight to a detention centre to await repatriation. Or both. For these people, the new law in Arizona is the very least of their problems. Civil liberties can suddenly seem very unimportant when contrasted with human rights abuses.

There’s a fairly good movie which more than touches upon this subject, called Sin Nombre, which can be found on Pirate Bay. I believe Ch4Cal’s upload is the best choice for English subtitles. There is another reason I’m writing about this story though, besides offering a little personal opinion and a movie suggestion. I found the image below, with a generous Creative Commons license, that I thought looked just great! Imaginative design, although the central feature less so I guess…can an image be considered a breach of Godwin’s Law? The credit for the image goes to  DrCuervo.