Despite growing up in Spain, I have been an Anglophile ever since I can remember. My passion for all things in English has been a constant in my life, come rain or shine. But since last year, this love faces a threat. Brexit has become a shadow that haunts my life, but also my career.
As an English philologist, how am I supposed to spend long periods of time visiting the libraries, locations, and authors that I work on? And if I were lucky to get a working VISA, what will be my situation in the UK? Will I be able to live there? Or will it be a mere exercise on survival?
With these thoughts lurking on my mind, I made the decision of moving to the UK for three months as soon as I could, not because it would be great for my career, but because on June 23 2016, I saw this long dream of mine of living in the UK shatter right in front of my eyes.
I might as well admit now that I ended up living in Bristol by pure chance, as previous accommodation in another city did not work out for me. Much like a stray cat, my lovely friends Sam and Joe kindly took me and my two red suitcases into their gorgeous Bristol house, and it was then that I realised it was the perfect city for me.
Within a week, I had moved into St Werburgh’s, and, from the hippiest of Bristol’s neighbourhoods, a love affair started. During my first day in the city I was feeling a bit homesick, so I decided to stroll around. My first stop was Bristol Cathedral, where I was welcomed by centuries of history (and death), and whispers in more language that I could understand. From there, I moved to the Watershed and into the Arnolfini, where I remember listening to so many conversations in Spanish I was fooled for a second about my whereabouts. It felt like home.
As I settled into a city that welcomed me with open arms, I discovered little corners that were built by the many international students and immigrants that make Bristol a proud and diverse city. During a visit to The Galleries, I found a small, indie coffee shop that would foster me during my weekends of study and work.
The Crazy Fox offers high-quality coffee and tea, two floors where reading and studying are encouraged, and the most lovely team of international staff to welcome you. My visits became frequent enough so that the international staff got to know me – a long dream of mine as I grew up watching Cheers and Friends – and Charlie, Alicia and Vlad always had a smile and a large iced latte for me (three brown sugars, please).
But there is more to cities than coffee shops, and I could not miss this opportunity to highlight the amazing work that public institutions like the NHS and the public libraries do in offering an equal treatment and welcoming all new immigrants into the city. As a bookworm, I realised very soon after my arrival that I would need to borrow books. Once I discovered the historic Central Library and their fantastic crime fiction section, I was made a member on the spot, and I was invited by the lovely Polly to join their weekly reading group.
I experienced the same kindness by the NHS when I suddenly took sick and needed immediate medical attention. This experience actually brought me some anxiety, as I did not know whether my European Health Card would be valid, or whether a doctor would actually see me. But after some online research, and some help from local clinics, the Broadmead walk-in centre got me the medical attention I needed. Once again, no passport needed. No questions asked. Just plain and immediate help. The joys of the NHS.
And the joys of being European, I must say. Except for the Euro-Sterling exchange, travelling to the UK has always been an effortless and easy transit for many young people like myself, until now.
As Brexit evolves from terrifying nightmare to an unbelievable reality, I worry that the UK will become unreachable for young people like me, or if it will turn into a policing state where our passports become our shields.
I worry about the people who may decide to stay: will they get the essential healthcare that every human being deserves, despite their age, gender, nationality, or legal status?
Above all, I worry about the destruction of a multi-cultural city that has so much to offer. So, for now, all I can say is thank you, Bristol. From my European heart to yours.
Elena Avanzas Álvarez is a freelance writer and reviewer. She is the founder of Bodies in the Library, and she is currently finishing her PhD on American crime fiction written by women. Follow her on Twitter at @ms_adler.