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Brexit Through the Lens of an English Woman Living in New York

Man Repeller’s Account Strategist, Jasmin Aujla, offers a first-hand account of what it was like to receive the news…

07.02.16
Brexit-Man-Repeller-Feature

Like any awful break up, I’ve gone through the range of emotions this past week; shock, anger, heartbreak, fear and — though I’m not there yet, I’m sure it’ll happen with time — acceptance.

In my final year of high school, I took a class called “Government and Politics,” of which an entire module was dedicated to the European Union. Our class spent a lot of time discussing the UK’s role in the EU and ultimately how we felt about our sovereign powers becoming more entwined with the European parliament. A referendum was a hot topic then — and now, eight years on, here we are.

I’ve lived in New York for the past few years and with each month, it becomes easier to overlook what’s going on back home. I get caught up in my own day-to-day and US news can be overpowering, so it seems natural that my grip on UK affairs has loosened. I think I joined many people in believing that we wouldn’t actually leave the EU. It always felt like an empty threat that we had no intention of following through with, so waking up to the Brexit result on Friday morning really hit me like a ton of bricks, as they say here.

My immediate thoughts were of my European friends living in the UK, who have not only forged great careers but have contributed so much good to the country, and how unjust it would be for their lives to be uprooted. I’m a better, more informed and empathetic version of myself due to the diversity of cultures that surrounded me growing up and for that diversity to melt away is a shame for future generations.

Making sense of different cultures merging together is everything I know. I grew up in the UK with Indian parents and I spent years battling with myself internally about being both Indian and British, but not fully committing to either side. However, living in London and being surrounded by people from everywhere made grappling with my own self-identity that much easier. I didn’t feel the need to put myself in a box. It made me comfortable with what should have been uncomfortable — and I have the diversity of the UK and the freedom of movement of the EU to credit for that.

But the honest truth here is that it really hurt to watch my home country make such an impactful decision that was so profoundly against my own personal view. It’s a feeling that is extremely foreign to me, and not one I ever expected to experience so strongly. I feel helpless. I worry for how this will impact my family and friends who live there and wonder if this will influence my decision when it comes to moving back (pending the results of US presidential election, of course). And on an entirely selfish note, it sucks that my option to live in any of the 28 EU countries without any visa restrictions has now been reduced to no choice at all.

For now, I’m still processing the shock. Not only is this a decision about the UK leaving the EU, it brings to the surface much deeper issues about race and class divides that I felt, as a country, we were making effective progress to overcome. The UK is no longer my everyday environment, but I certainly do not feel removed and unaffected by what’s going on — my personal belief is that nothing and no one is better off by isolation — and I hope, during a period of so much uncertainty, we don’t lose the defining qualities of acceptance and inclusion that make Britain truly Great.

Feature photograph by Roberto Machado Noa / Contributor via Getty Images. 

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  • Ana

    Jasmin. You have put into words my exact feelings. As a Brit who has lived her entire life in different European countries and just recently moved to the US. I have always rejoiced in the feeling of being diverse and multicultural, without the need to define myself. Now I’m not so sure what to feel, but here’s hoping that tolerance and understanding will be the underlying driver of people’s behaviour.

    Really enjoyed reading this.

    Thanks,

    Ana

    http://www.bananacloset.com

    • Jasmin

      Thank you Ana! I really hope so too!

  • olivia george

    i was away from my home city on the day of the result and it was shocking. on a trip with lots of other young people, we collectively decided that the vote would have been impacted had under 18s had the vote – I certainly would have voted for a different outcome, and to know that I have been both powerless beforehand and after the referendum was depressing. even more importantly – although I can’t speak for the whole of the British youth – it frustrates me to know that a 70 year old man with a discriminatory agenda has more say in my future than me. many people who voted to leave will not have to deal with consequences in the same way that I and my friends will.

    • Jasmin

      I hear you – a kind of silver lining to all this though is knowing that the majority of Britain’s younger generations don’t think like that 70-year old man. I hope they’ll remember this moment and make efforts towards ensuring that we’re not in this position again.

      • olivia george

        agreed – it’s a lovely sense of solidarity among the younger generations

  • I am so sorry that you have to go through this. I can’t imagine how “up in the air” a lot of things are right now for people – and how deeply a decision like this will impact your younger generations.

    I’ve taught students from all over the world, and have seen firsthand how hard it is to learn/work/live with a visa, and feel concern that many young adults will opt out of traveling, going to college in a new country, or live somewhere new and exciting because now, it’s going to be so much more of a pain.

    Though I will say that if Trump gets elected, I might opt for the pain in the ass of having a visa just to get away from that. 😉

    • Jasmin

      It is getting increasingly harder (and more expensive!) for people to study/work abroad which is such a shame. Not only is it a great life experience, but it makes us all a lot more understanding. Oh and no visa could ever be more hassle than a Trump presidency ?

  • Kristina Sahleström

    It s heart breaking when the old generation (with their life behind them) has so massively crippled the options for the ones with their life ahead of them. Fear of “immigrants taking our jobs” was basically the reason for ppl voting out, hailed from buses by demagogues like the ukip leader. Whenever in history has this lead to anything good? As a European I m sad to see uk go, but maybe Scotland will vote in and leave the uk? Then at least you have that option (Edinburgh and Glasgow are wonderful cities)

    • Jasmin

      I feel like in hindsight, history should have taught us everything but in the moment it’s easy for that to be forgotten and for modern-day propaganda to sway opinions :/

      • It’s also very easy to become myopic :/ Even in the US I know several people who would consider themselves socially liberal but would vote for more conservative (and in turn more discriminatory) politicians on account of income tax percentages. Money makes the world go around…

    • Paul Bloodworth

      Hi Youngsters All. Just to say, in defence of those older people who voted for “Leave”, along with a substantial minority of youngsters. If the young people who wanted to stay had voted in substantial numbers, the Brexiteers would have lost. Just as much the fault of indolent non voters among the younger set as it is positive leave votes by the people who feel threatened by the low wage incomers, and the “Old Guard”.

  • Alice

    Was really happy to see an article like this on Man Repeller for all us Brit readers, thanks! I agree with all of the above. There’s a HUGE feeling here at home that the young have not been listened to and the older generations are playing roulette with our futures. After all, Brexit will predominantly effect millennials already facing much bigger debt than any generation before. An overwhelming 75% of 18-24 years old voted to say IN the EU. Any future government it going to have to face the uncertainty and distrust event my pure Tory blooded friends now feel with our Parliament. Probably the two things which make me saddest at the moment is the racism and intolerance we seem to have reverted back to since the result last week. There have been so many more hate crimes etc have been reported since. Furthermore there is a feeling of a ‘lost identity’ particularly among my friends. It’s sad but I feel like an exile in my own country, a country which I have always been fiercely proud to belong to.

    • Jasmin

      Couldn’t agree with you more Alice – it’s scary to see how this result has created deeper divides amongst the country. Whilst we can’t change the outcome of the referendum, I do think responsibility will fall to the Millennial generation to band together, restore morale and reinforce the importance of tolerance and inclusion so it can once again become a country we’re proud to belong to.

      • Alice

        Totally. On Friday I woke up to so many messages from European friends with basically two main points. 1) “Don’t worry, we know you wouldn’t have voted for this and are not a racist” (makes me v. v. sad that people felt they had to add that at all) and 2.) “I have faith in our generation to do the right thing.” Whilst I don’t agree nor support the outcome of the referendum at all I do think the British ‘Keep calm and carry on mentality’ must prevail. We have to make the best out of a bad situation, as it were. It IS a scary time to be in Britain. After all, we all know what happened the last time there was a combination of ultra nationalism and economic unrest in Europe. I do have faith in our generation. Fromage not Farage!

  • As an Asian-American I feel this mix of misery-loves-company–okay so we’re not the only country that has an embarrassing family member *coughcoughTrumpandallhissupporters*– but also obviously discouraged, that progress seems reversible.