New Scots: Juliana da Penha, the Brazilian working with Roma in Govanhill

Juliana da Penha Picture by Yvonne Zhang

What’s your name?
Juliana Cristina da Penha.

Age and family?
I am 36, I have a mum and a younger brother. He has an 11-year-old daughter who is the love of my life. My father died 14 years ago.

Where are you from originally?
Sao Paolo, Brazil.

When did you come to Scotland?
In February, 2014, with my husband Pietro.

Why did you come to Scotland?
We came here looking for new opportunities and life experience.

How’s it been in reality?
At the beginning, it was really complicated because of bureaucracy. It was a really stressful and sad time. I was not allowed to work, study, or leave the country because my documents were held by the UK Border Agency for a long period, while they were processing my request for residence.

I got depressed because I am usually an active person, but, during this period, I was not allowed to do anything. So, I started studying to improve my English, volunteering in charities and I became more confident.

After I got my residency permit, I started working as a seasonal worker in some charities in Govanhill, Glasgow, where I live, and I was working with ethnic minorities, especially Roma communities.

Last year Pietro and I decided to do a master’s degree. I studied MSc in Human Rights and International Politics at Glasgow University, and it was an intense year.

After that, I got as job as a project development worker in Friends of Romano Lav, a charity working on development of Roma communities in Govanhill.

I am also a co-presenter in a radio programme, Africa Live on Awaz Fm, the Asian radio station.

What is Scots’ best quality?
I am amazed by how friendly and communicative people are. They often strike up a conversation in bus stops, pubs, streets – and I love it. When I arrived in Glasgow I though how can people be so nice with this weather? I thought the weather was related with mood, but people here are nice even with the grey sky, wind and cold.

And the worst?
The institutional racism and inequalities. It is good that there are equality policies and organisations working to create a more equal society, more opportunities for ethnic minorities, and trying to improve the life of disadvantaged people. However, things need to be changed in people’s minds, behaviour, and hearts too. Some situations here showed me there are many issues behind the scenes.

What’s the funniest story about your time in Scotland?
When I just arrived, I was desperately looking for a job. I was not confident with English, so imagine with Scottish! I sent many CVs around and one person contacted me asking to do a telephone interview. I was shocked because even today I prefer to speak in person because I still have some issues with understanding people, and it is worse on the phone.

The woman called me and started asking questions. I didn’t understand the things she was asking and, after many times saying sorry could you repeat, please, I became [too embarrassed] to repeat it again. So, I pretended I understood what she was saying and answered according to what I thought she was asking. Conclusion: she never called me back.

And the future – will you stay?
I leave it open. Life is dynamic, things change, minds and people change, the world changes, and I want to change too. So, I hope to have different experiences in different places, and we will probably move again.

But now, I am really focused on what I am doing here. I want to enjoy as much as I can everything here, especially my friends.

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