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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Living in Sheffield by Livia Barreira

Reflections on 'Living in Sheffield - Our Journeys as Migrant Women' by Livia Barreira

The book is touchingly dedicated to 'all those migrant women around the world who, every day, need to find the resillience within themselves to rise to the challenge of adapting to life in a new country' which I think aptly emphasises the struggle and difficulties which migrants face 'in order to feel like we truly 'fit' within our own individual experiences'. I believe migrants deserve respect and admiration for overcoming this challenge, however media narratives frequently demonise them resulting in hostility and racism towards migrants in the UK. My research project is intended to celebrate the complex identities of migrants with the intention of exploring how we can foster a more inclusive society.

In the foreword by Amala Anyika, she writes, 'Through her Instagram platform @livinginSheffield, Livia has created a space where newcomers to the city can find out about their new surroundings and people already living in Sheffield can start to see their city in a different light' (page 20). I have been so inspired to see how Livia has created such an inclusive and welcoming space in response to her own experiences as a migrant woman. She is such a generous and kind individual, I was especially grateful that she welcomed me into the community and the International Women in Sheffield WhatsApp group, despite the fact that I am not a migrant myself. I've spoken to Livia about my research project on intersectional identities and she has offered her support in organising a textiles workshop with the International Women in Sheffield community to explore their relationships with flags.

Livia writes in the introduction, 'The women portrayed in this book are all female migrants from different backgrounds and countries. They are all absolutely unique' (page 23). This statement is pivotal in reframing the media narratives around migrants which often depict them as a "cultural monolith". The mission of this book to celebrate the identities of these migrants as individuals with unique stories, each capable of contributing their skills, experience and knowledge to enrich society - is incredibly valuable and something which I hope to do through my research project.

In her own story, Livia writes about the process of 'Losing my Identity... and Finding a New One!' (page 31). I would contend that this title is inaccurate since she never "lost" her Brazilian identity, as I have seen her many times celebrating her country of origin through her work. What I think she means is that her identity developed, perhaps even fragmenting and reforming a new identity which incorporates elements from her past. 'For quite a long period of time (I would say my first 2 or 3 yeas in the UK) I fet insecure and disconnected from my identity for one simple reason: I didn't know how to express myself in another language' (page 33). She describes in detail her struggle to learn a new language and the efforts she made to overcome this barrier, in this sense the book serves as a practical guide to other migrant women, with tips and advice for gaining confidence. I found this idea that she couldn't develop her new identity as a migrant woman in the UK until she could properly express herself in English fascinating and something I would like to explore with my research participants most (if not all) of whom are multi-lingual.

Another topic which I want to focus on in my research interviews with participants is that of home vs belonging. I am particularly interested in this topic having spoken to individuals who have dual-nationality and feel like they are othered in both places which they sconsider to be their homeland. Livia writes, 'A huge number of people who leave their country of birth experience a sensation of not completely belonging to a specific place in the world: a feeling of not being totally connected to where they are from or to their new home' (page 58). I think a large part of the disconnection which Livia describes is, as a result of community acceptance and the behaviour of the local community. If migrants are othered and made to feel like outsiders, who don't 'fit in', then this can lead migrants to feel a lack of belonging and inclusion within the society.

One of the inspiring women featured in the book is Angelina Abel from Angola, who says, "As artists we have a duty to share messages to transform the world" (page 86). I passionately support this statement and hope to discuss my research project with Angelina. My intention with this research project is to make a small contribution to reframing narratives around migrants in order to celebrate their uniqueness and the contribution they can make to our society. Like Angelina, I believe art is the perfect tool to foster a multi-faceted and inclusive dialogue which can shift narratives and perceptions.

At the end of the book, Livia offers 10 tips to other migrant women. The tip which really stood out to me, because I think it applies universally, is 'respect your own rhythm and never compare yourself to anyone else. In today's society we see a lot of supposed 'perfection' on social media platforms, but the behind-the-scenes lives of these people can be far removed from the amazing ones they project on Instagram or Facebook' (page 130). Although I intend outputs of my project on my website and social media (and I have included consent for this purpose in my research proposal), I hope to create artworks which have an autheticity to them, which circumvents the superficial images often projected on social media. To achieve this , I am conducting video interviews which will explore the challenges and difficulties my participants have faced as well as their successes and achievements. I am also intending to work from photographs which show the participants "in action", unposed and as their authentic selves.

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