Last week, I was surprised by the news in South Africa that morning. Some of my friends wrote to me saying that some people were attacking immigrants and foreigners — there was an anti-immigrant movement going on. I was very shocked and was reminded about my past.
Back when I was living in Lisbon in 2005, I remember going to the Brazilian embassy to justify my vote in the national elections when I saw some protests in the street close to the embassy. To my surprise, the signs I could read said things like “Go back to your country Brazilians” or “Europe is for Europeans”! — I noticed that people were very angry because I was living there. By the simple fact that I wasn’t born there, I was not welcome in the country.
How did I feel in that situation? Hard to tell that this protest was the only event that put me down. I had experienced other daily situations in Portugal, such as people surprised by the fact that I could speak proper english or that I attended university in Brazill. In other occasions, I would hear some comments like: “Brazilians don’t know how to speak proper Portuguese” or “Why don’t you have dark skin?
But I think that out of the many stories from my two years as an immigrant in Portugal that I could share with you, the most impactful one was when I worked as a waiter in a restaurant and I was talking the owner about leaving because I got a new job. When I went to the owner to explain that I was leaving the restaurant in one month, he told me these exact words:
“You can leave, but I will not pay your past month salary”.
“Why?” I said.
“You’re nobody in this country. Here, you don’t have any rights”.
I am reminded of these hurtful words. Now I know that Yes, I am someone, and Yes, I have rights! However back then, I just went home crying. I had no idea of the magnitude of that situation that it would have on me and who I am today.
I soon understood that that situation was a huge violation of human rights. I could not stand for a situation like that anymore. When I came back to Brazil, I quit both bachelors that I was currently enrolled in at the University and decided that I wanted to study International Relations. I could not not even imagine how those situations that made me so sad in the past could be so fundamental to build my personality and the man I am today.
Now, with a degree in International Relations, I ended up working in AIESEC, that aims for peace and fulfilment of the humankind’s potential though raising cultural awareness for young people across the world.
While I was in Egypt in 2011 for an organization that aimed to raise awareness and understanding among Christians and Muslims in Egypt, the Egyptian Revolution was happening. When I was in a conference, talking about Peace and Youth leadership, a shooting that killed hundreds of students in an Kenyan University occurred and last week, I had friends writing to me that they were worried about their security because they are foreigners and people were attacking foreigners in the street. It’s easy to be traumatized by such turbulent events while you are doing the very work and trying to do your best to create a better world.
However, all those situations and reflections once again reinforced that I cannot stand for a world like that. I’m not satisfied with people living their lives ruled by fear, prejudice and judgment based on a such superficial label like “nationality”. When you start labelling the cultures, classifying people by their culture, assuming behaviours simply by the fact that someone is different is one of the causes of all these conflicts. I cannot stand for that and I will not! While writing this article, my purpose of being an agent of positive change empowering and connecting people becomes even stronger and gives me even more will to spend my life engaged in this cause and working for a bigger purpose.
We are all similar in our differences. We are all different in our similarities. That’s what unite us as human beings. No matter the colour of the skin, what you believe or where do you came from.
We are one. We must remember to strive for a world that enables anyone to fulfill their potential and respect basic human rights.
Orion Joss, Global Business Development Manager of AIESEC International
All opinions expressed are those of the author. AIESEC is a non-political and neutral platform dedicated to generating conversations around world issues and young people.