‘Solid friendships have very much shaped who I am’
2017-08-15 11:34:59 -

The Integration Question with Princess Pamela Toyin


Elena Moreo says she is an early riser and would walk by the sea every morning if she could, to enjoy its quietness and soft light. 


As a sun seeker naturally drawn to light-filled spaces and places, it's apt that these aspects of Elena’s personality are reflected in her name, which is widely considered to mean ‘shining light’. While she doesn’t know much about the origin of her surname, she thinks her ancestors may have hailed from Andalucia in Spain.


She herself hails from Concorezzo, a small town near Milan in Italy with a beautifully preserved historical centre. Elena left that storied environment for Ireland “because of a broken heart, and my love of Irish writers – Seamus Heaney, John McGahern, and Sebastian Barry in particular.”


Her original plan was to stay for six months, but that was 15 years ago and she is still in Ireland, saying she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. 


“I have encountered amazing people here in Ireland and made solid friendships that have very much shaped who I am and what I believe in. Above all, I met my husband – who’s from South Africa – the year I moved to Dublin and we’ve been together since.”


Elena, 41, was raised as a Catholic but wouldn’t define herself as religious. “My father’s faith was quite influenced by liberation theology so the type of Christian teaching I received at home was strongly imbued with a commitment to social justice and helping others, and much less concerned with devotional practices and rituals,” she explains. 


As such, she believes there is a spiritual dimension to her life and her being, which she seeks to honour in her dealings with others and through the choices she makes.


“Nowadays the Catholic Church plays a less important role that it did in the past in terms of shaping the moral life of a country, but it is still a very powerful and influential institution,” she says. 


Having worked in a variety of jobs since she arrived Ireland, which includes leading yoga classes (she is a fully qualified yoga instructor), Elena currently researches racism and hate speech on social media platforms at Dublin City University. 


“I am very lucky because I love what I do for a living and find it rewarding,” she says. “Professionally, one of the most enriching experiences for me has been working as an academic researcher on issues around racism, migration, and asylum.”


In terms of promoting inclusion and equality, Elena says the first step should be to dismantle the direct provision system and channel funding towards migrant-led initiatives, so that society as a whole might benefit from integration policies that respect the dignity and rights of individuals.


“I have learnt a lot from talking to people about their experiences of migration – having been through the asylum system, the difficulties of negotiating multiple ways of belonging, the intolerable material and emotional damage of racism and discrimination, the strength that is found in solidarity and in taking care of oneself, and the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.”


Integration in Ireland, she says, is happening from ‘below’ with participation from voluntary groups, community organisations and migrants who have set up a myriad of initiatives and projects that foster practices of conviviality and solidarity, providing key support services. 


But she doesn’t see any real commitment at a national or institutional level, except from Dublin City Council which, she says, has been quite proactive in terms of implementing its integration strategy through some innovative initiatives.


Without running the risk of resorting to gross generalisation, Elena thinks a person’s nationality doesn’t really tell much about their qualities as an individual. The majority of Irish people she’s encountered have always been supportive, generous and open-minded. 


“People in Ireland have a pretty relaxed attitude towards things; they appreciate and value the importance of friendship, family, and making time to enjoy life,” she says. “They have a great sense of humour, really know how to tell a good story, and have an uncanny ear for the poetic possibilities of the English language.”


Those poetic possibilities are what initially drew Elena to Ireland, and she speaks lovingly of the plays and dance recitals she’s attended. But the country’s inviting natural environment has also cast its spell.“While I love living in Dublin, I sometimes toy with the idea of moving to the west coast, somewhere in the Burren or Connemara,” she says. “The Irish west coast is a landscape of breathtaking beauty, really magical.”

Princess Pamela Toyin has gained experience since the mid 1980s working in various fields and interacting with people of different tribes and ethnicity. With her passion for diversity, she is propelled to report a diverse range of issues that facilitate intercultural dialogue and integration, which can change social, economic, and cultural stereotypes, and believes there are lessons to be learned from everyone. Talk to her on +353 (0) 87 417 9640 or email echoesmediainternational@gmail.com

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