Making visible the experiences of young Latin Americans living in London

Published 8 December 2020 / By Domiziana Turcatti & Claudia Lopez-Prieto

Back to Articles

Forging collaborations to understand and make visible the experiences of young people of Latin American heritage that came to London via Spain.

In October 2020, we organised two focus groups with students of Latin American heritage studying at Saint Gabriel’s College in London who grew up in Spain and recently migrated to London. During the focus groups, the topics of migration, family and identity were discussed with students. We present here the reasons behind these focus groups and why we believe collaboration to be necessary to understand the lived experiences of young people of Latin American heritage who came to London via Spain.

The focus groups aimed to gain an initial understanding of how young people of Latin American heritage who were born and/or spent some of their childhood and adolescence years in Spain made sense of their migration to London. Their perspectives form a central aspect of Turcatti’s doctoral research on the experiences of the families of Latin American migrants who settled in Spain in the early 2000s but then onward migrated to London after the 2008 financial crisis.

In Ms López’s EAL classes, there are several Latin American students who came to London via Spain. As a school, Saint Gabriel’s College is committed to making appropriate provision of teaching and resources for students for whom English is an Additional Language so that they can succeed. All students need to feel safe, accepted and valued in order to learn. For EAL students, this includes recognising and valuing their home language and background. This is why Ms López includes in her EAL classes workshops delivered by Latin American organisations and members of the Latin American community in London. The objective is to show students of Latin American heritage that they can and will succeed and who, as Latin Americans, they can become.

Ms López observes that Saint Gabriel’s College has gone from a handful of new students of Latin American heritage coming to London via Spain in an academic year to now having six plus in a term. McIlwaine and Bunge (2016) estimated that between 2012 and 2013 19,400 Latin Americans aged 18-59 moved to the UK with European passports, mostly from Spain and Southern Europe. According to McIlwaine and Bunge (2016), in 2013 there were slightly more children (19,820) than adults (19,400) among onward Latin American migrants in the UK. As the case of Saint Gabriel’s College shows, there’s evidence that onward Latin American migration from Southern Europe to London did not stop since then.

Yet, there exists little research on Latin American onward migration from Southern Europe to London and on the experiences of Latin Americans in the UK more broadly. Scholars, the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK (CLAUK), and the many NGOs run by and for Latin Americans attribute this to the absence of institutional recognition of the Latin American community in the UK. The government has still not included the category ‘Latin American’ in the British Ethnic Recognition Scheme used by institutions such the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to collect census data and other information.

Yet, there is a need to understand the experiences of the families of Latin Americans, including those who moved from Spain to London. The move to a new country is not easy and is filled with different challenges for parents and their children. While parents learn to navigate, among other things, a new labour market and housing sector, their children face the challenges of learning a new language and being thrown into a new educational system characterised by a foreign language, a foreign culture and environment. As Ainhoa, one of Ms López’s students, commented when she was told about this article:

“There needs to be more research done on the feelings and emotional struggles that young Latin Americans face when migrating from Spain, we need to jump over many hurdles, adapting to a new country, school, language and society it is not an easy journey”.

This is why for young people is fundamental to remember where they come from, how rich and diverse their heritage is, and continue to celebrate and appreciate this.

By continuing our collaboration, we hope to contribute to make the voices of young people of Latin American heritage and their parents heard. Despite the lack of institutional recognition, there exist numerous scholars, NGOs, parents and youth groups in addition to media platform run by and for Latin Americans advocating and advancing the rights and recognition of Latin American families in London (and beyond) - including Empoderando Familias, the parent group founded by Liliana Torres with the institutional support of Citizens UK and Kings College London’s Widening Participation Program, which is where we met.

We believe collaboration to be the key word. As Ms López says, “without research we are going to remain invisible, our stories and our voices will not be recorded”. Research is one way in which the wider community comes to understand the genuine struggles that are faced by the Latin American community. However, collaboration between researchers and community leaders is fundamental. As researchers produce recorded material of the content and knowledge that the community provides, which can later be used as reference and for historical purposes, cooperation is what allows researchers to build trustworthy relationships with community members. Only then, the obstacles, contributions, and lived experiences of families and students can be understood.

Collaboration is even more important in the current context. The pandemic might make it more difficult to hear the voices of students and their families, understand their perspectives and the impact COVID-19 has had on their life. Even in our case, we had to organise the focus groups online and that required a lot of coordination but also the effective mediation of someone who knows well the students. It is clear then how without collaboration, there’s no understanding.


The authors: Domiziana Turcatti is a DPhil candidate with COMPAS and Ms Claudia López-Prieto is an English as Additional Language (EAL) teacher and leader in the Latin American community in London.