Latin American Community Under Threat in the UK

The Latin American community in the UK has for too long been invisible, despite the approximately 250,000 individuals of Latin American descent who live there.

Most of the community reside in the capital city of London in which the majority are either from Argentina, Brazil or Ecuador or are refugees from Colombia.

Latin American protest
Campaigners from Save Latin Village protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice [Image by Victoria Alvarez].

Yet while there is a wealth of information regarding migrants to and from North America, there is little focus on this community in Britain. In fact, this lack of visibility is acknowledged by the Trust for London, Queen Mary University of London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRs) in its joint report, Towards Visibility which details research attaining to this group including population sizes and barriers the Latin American community face.

However, despite their large presence, concerns are resurfacing for the community as ‘gentrification’ poses its biggest threat to Latin Americans living all across the UK. Gentrification is considered to be a ‘reparation’ in so-called ‘deteriorating’ areas but often comes at the expense of poorer residents who are displaced and forced to relocate.

Gentrification poses its biggest threat to Latin Americans living all across the UK.

Pueblito Paisa, or Latin Village as it is known locally, is the Seven Sisters Indoor Market in Haringey, North London. It is home to many traders of Latin American or Hispanic origin and functions as a vital community and resource for all those of Latin American heritage. It has been at risk of being ousted due to regeneration plans for ‘luxury’ flats for over 15 years, having lost the appeal to prevent the demolition just before last Christmas.

The demolition of what has become a sacred place for many of the community in Haringey, combined with a nationwide lack of recognition, makes for complicated issues around identity for thousands of Latin Americans in modern Britain. And it isn’t the only community hub under threat: property firm, Delancey, won autonomy over Elephant and Castle shopping centre in March last year. The centre has become home to many Latin American businesses and the change is expected to bring disruption to many traders.

Sociologist Patria Roman-Velazquez of Loughborough University and Chair of the Latin Elephant Campaign Group says of the centre: “This is a rare indoor space where you can circulate without buying another. For disadvantaged groups – older people, ethnic minorities, if you’re someone who struggles with the language – these places are a real haven.”

“There’s a dehumanising effect when you’re not able to see yourself in the census.”

Javie Huxley, British-Chilean illustrator

But there is yet more injustice for the community: Latin American ethnicity is not recognised as its own valid form of identity in the national census and is rarely listed on personal information forms. The result is that many within the community feel unrepresented, and this lack of data has a knock-on effect since national and local services remain unaware of the existing Latin American community and their cultural-specific needs.

British-Chilean illustrator Javie Huxley says of the omission: “There’s a dehumanising effect when you’re not able to see yourself in the census. It has a really negative effect on your self-esteem.”

Artist Oscar Murillo, born in Colombia and raised in North London, joined his fellow nominees in accepting the Turner Prize together to symbolise unity in the face of an anti-immigration political climate. The four winners said of their decision to refuse a singular winner that they were protesting “the Conservatives’ hostile environment that has paradoxically made each of us and many of our friends and family again increasingly unwelcome in Britain.”

Community, heritage and geographical location are all intrinsically linked. The value of each – and of course, many other societal and personal factors – can’t be dismissed when creating or implementing governmental or company policy.

[Header image by the Institute of Race Relations].

Written by
Xan Youles
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