“This is where the party ends. I can’t stand here listening to you and racist friend.” That line from a They Might be Giants song played in my head after a friend’s birthday party. At the party, I spoke in Icelandic with a couple I knew and in English to my partner and our kid. At some point, I zoned out because of the party noise. My ears perked up when I heard her say something like, “we didn’t want to rent to foreigners” in Icelandic. Noticing me, she amended, “I mean the kind who don’t speak Icelandic, like the Poles.”
This speaks volumes about how immigrants are perceived and how immigration is understood in Iceland. I have to follow immigration laws, particularly those about people from outside the EU. I am an immigrant, but somehow, I am not.
But I am an immigrant to Icelanders when it suits their purposes. In the same week as the party, Mike Pence came to Iceland. People who hardly speak to me at work asked: “Why aren’t you waving the flag to welcome your vice president.” They were taken aback when I answered that, instead of flag waving, I would be speaking at the party against Pence that afternoon. “Are you coming?” I asked, to which I got a litany of excuses about why they couldn’t.
How it is for anyone who does not have whatever it takes to be considered a model immigrant, I can only imagine. Refugees and asylum seekers bravely arrive for a better life only to be met with accusations of gaming the system and deportation. This is beyond my experience, but I believe their words and actions in protest of their treatment.
It isn’t always negative. I went to the anti-neo-Nazi rally and met others who braved the downpour to stand against hate. My neighbours expressed outrage over the flyers they handed out. Icelanders and immigrants were all worried about Pence spreading his brand of populism and militarism here. These interactions matter as much as the jokes and comments. It all matters, so why not make it matter for the better?
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