- 17 Dec 21
Diversity Officer with UCD Students’ Union, Paula Carolina Martinez Pavon, believes that Ireland has had an epic fail, in terms of embracing diversity. We need to recognise Black Irishness for a start...
Everyone likes to talk about intersectionality and to show how they are intersectional, but to experience first-hand how xenophobia and racism work together to exclude you from Irish society? I am Latina and it happens that I am also Black, whatever that means, and I have been living in Ireland for five years now.
First of all, I know how it feels to be the ‘other’ in Ireland because of where I was born. Not just for random comments on the street or at parties, but because the State reminds me every year how I need to queue for hours to get my residence permit. Then there’s being treated awfully by the workers there, and how I need to go through interviews and prove that I am studying at UCD just like my peers. How I must pay €300 for a little card that says I can be here, that it is okay that I am here, that I am allowed. Like some sick second-class citizen because I was born somewhere else.
But secondly, I experience how it feels to be the 'other’ because of how I look. Brown skin, big Afro hair, dark brown eyes. White women touching my hair with no permission, strangers screaming where am I from, kids screaming AFRO at me on the street. Friends and colleagues being intrigued by how I braid my Afro or how I ‘control’ my hair. But none of this feels as bad as seeing how Irish white people treat my Black Irish friends.
My first friends in Ireland were Afro-Irish. Yes, we bonded through our Blackness, which means through our resilience towards racism – but other than that we are completely different, unique, multicultural. Afro-Latino is not Zimbabwean roots, which is not Nigerian roots, which is not Moroccan heritage. But one thing is true, we are all the same in the white gaze.
Seeing white Irish people ask them repeatedly where they are from ‘for real’, make comments about their Irish accents and how they have a ’twist’, and so much more, has been deeply disturbing.
If here, white people cannot accept their national Black population as part of their culture and belonging, what does this mean for us? Their migrant population?
We have come here because the State wants us to. Years ago, the Irish state allowed us, Brazilians, to work and study at the same time, in order to fulfil the jobs Irish people do not want. Now all over Ireland, all kitchen porters, cooks, cleaners, meat factory workers are Brazilian.
But we are all hidden under factory roofs, inside kitchens in cafes, or cleaning when no one is left in the building. Irish people are often surprised when I talk in public panel discussions, and say there is more than 35,000 Brazilians in Dublin alone. This surprise tells me a lot: how can they claim they are trying to integrate us into society, when Irish people do not even know we are here?
Do they not even know why we are here? They do not even know that we are a multicultural State with Black, white and mixed Brazilians? Way more, when they do not even accept their OWN Black Irish people?
Black Irish people are as Irish as the next old, bald, white man drinking whiskey in the pub. This is clear to any foreign person coming to Ireland, to any New Yorker, to any Londoner, to anyone from anywhere who has experienced integration and globalisation. I could understand people being weird about actual migrants, and even then, this is so backwards for a CAPITAL – but to not recognise that Black Irishness exists and is here to enrich their culture?
I have lived here five years now. I have an Irish partner and we are building our life here. I know I deserve a life here, after Irish universities came to my country to convince parents to send me out into the world alone at 17, and pay 18 grand a year for five years – which then goes to pay for Irish students’ education.
From all that I see, it just tells me how I could never feel I belong here, and even that my children would not. Brazilians are rapidly becoming the third biggest migrant group in Ireland. There are numerous Brazilian-Irish kids I have met already. How is the Irish State going to achieve integration, when it is so backwards still?
Why has a European capital from such a ’successful’, ‘western’, ’progressive’ country stayed in the 1800s? And what is it going to take for it to change its beliefs of who can be Irish?