Recently, I shared a post that created some conflict in a local Facebook group.
I live in a coastal town called Lagos, in the south west of Portugal, the economy of which is widely driven by tourism.
As we ease our way out of the darkness that the last couple of years cloaked us in, many small businesses in the hospitality sector are facing another setback. Our town has become flooded with demand for accommodation from people who can afford to pay much higher prices than those on a local wage. Thus, the average monthly rental has doubled.
People aren’t coming to work in our town because there is nowhere affordable for them to stay.
I’m not a business owner.
I’m not looking for accommodation.
These things aren’t affecting me personally.
But I’m also not a person who will stand by and watch while people I know start struggling without saying anything.
My post received a lot of feedback, and I became aware that landlords are taxed much more heavily for renting long-term than they are for holiday lets.
Businesses are heavily taxed and can’t afford to put their wages up too high.
Reading all the comments, I realized that this is a problem that needs to be solved from higher up in the food chain.
The comments that stuck with me though, were from the couple of people who decided to attack me personally.
One proclaimed that I didn’t have the right to complain, as I am not Portuguese, and went on to say that I should go back to my own country, or at least “move out of town” to make room for “real” locals.
“Go back to where you came from.”
I feel it’s important to state now that these comments did not come from the Portuguese community, and I believe they stemmed from defensiveness more than malice, as my post could have been perceived as an attack on the more wealthy expats who are investing in property to let here.
I value everyone’s opinion, and I always consider what they have to say. So, I thought about what they implied. That I don’t belong here.
And as I write this, I feel incredibly sad.
My whole life is here.
I’ve lived here 18 years, most of my adult life.
I have had two children here who are integrated into the Portuguese education system.
I speak the language and receive a Portuguese salary.
I’ve paid taxes and social security into the Portuguese system for 18 years.
In contrast, I contributed to the British system for only six years.
“Where are you from?” has always been a complex question for me.
It’s easy to just tell people I’m English.
But, I don’t want to completely disregard my mum’s culture.
My mum is Chinese and was born in Singapore, as was I.
She was in her 20s when she moved to England with my dad and two young children—me and my sister.
“I wonder if anyone ever told her to go back to where she came from?”
I was born in Asia and raised in Europe.
I got made fun of and called names in my English primary school for being a foreigner, yet if we had gone back to live in my mum’s country, we would have still been foreigners because my dad is English.
I started to wonder if I’ve ever really belonged in any one place.
Go back to where you came from.
My children were born here in Portugal and have never lived anywhere else.
Where are they from?
My parents no longer live in the town I was raised in. There is no home for me there.
My home—and my children’s home—is here in Lagos. We are not Portuguese, but we are very much locals.
Local: noun. An inhabitant of a particular area or neighborhood.
During lockdown, a group of people in our town got together to provide food for those in need. People of different nationalities and from all walks of life banded together to help our most vulnerable members.
Although I have divided them up with words, the Portuguese and international communities are in no way divided…they have blended together, through relationships, flatshares, friendships, and blended families.
This is my local community.
We are one.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
There is a problem in our town, and I don’t know what the answer is.
But together, as a community, no matter what we do here or where we were before, I hope we can come together and find ways to help each other.