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'Living in Sheffield' goes from Instagram account to debut book

Sheffield-based author Livia Barreira shares her own journey, and those of eight other migrant women of colour, through her debut non-fiction novel. She told us more.

A debut non-fiction novel from Sheffield resident Livia Barreira, Living in Sheffield explores the experiences of migrant women of colour in Sheffield. Livia interviews eight women from all over the world about their journey to and current lives in Sheffield. I spoke to Livia about the crowdfunded book, which came out of the popular Instagram profile of the same name.

How does it feel now that Living in Sheffield is out in the world and people can read it?

I think at the first moment, I felt quite nervous, anxious. But now it's such a relief to see the book out there, reaching more people each day. And also, I quite enjoy receiving the feedback as well. And all the discussions we can have around the feedback.

What kind of response have you been getting from people who've read the book?

For many migrants, it’s the first book in English they are reading. I'm quite happy about that. Because if you don't speak a language, in a high level, it can be quite intimidating to read a book in that language. I'm quite happy because people are finding my book a little bit more accessible in comparison to all the books in English, written by non-native speakers.

Living in sheffield book
Living in Sheffield

When I was reading it, I was interested to see how this book fits in with other books that talk about immigration and migration. It made me think of Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant. On the back cover of that book, it reads, “What's it like to live in a country that doesn't trust you and doesn't want you unless you win an Olympic gold medal or a national baking competition?”

Do you have any thoughts on this narrative of how migrants have to be exceptional, and they have to over-achieve? It's a lot of pressure when some people are just trying to establish their families and find a home.

When I decided to start this project there was also something for me as a professional, because I know I need to be even better than everyone else for people to actually respect my work. So I'm doing this every day in Sheffield. I think now I'm actually starting to reach a point where people actually can see me and respect me.

The book came after my Living in Sheffield [profile] on Instagram. So the name of the book is Living in Sheffield as well, because it's a brand and a community I started to create in Sheffield four years ago. I wanted to connect Living in Sheffield from the internet to something in the offline world.

It seems like a big hope of this book is that it will connect women of colour that have come from very different backgrounds. I'm wondering if class figured into when you were writing this book, because when people are coming from other countries, they have a class system in their home country and then they come here where there’s also a complex class system.

The thing is, we only have eight stories in the book. It is a small amount of stories, if we think about how many migrant women we have in Sheffield, and also in the UK.

But my idea was to start the conversation as a starting point for the conversation that is much bigger. And I can see from my years living in Sheffield, many, many migrant women, including myself, we are passing in silence for so many struggles.

I think the press in general is sharing a lot of negativity relating to migrants in the country. I wanted to reach other female migrants who are in their homes, feeling lonely and feeling they are now capable with those awful negative feelings because as well as showing us every day on the press. I hope this can be a turning point for many women in their homes. I want to move migrant woman from the invisible position to a protagonist position.

I think part of that protagonist position is maybe telling different types of stories and also allowing migrant women to talk about themselves beyond media narratives of migrant women. When it comes to talking about migration, what do you think is not spoken about? What’s missing? Do you find there’s an issue about diversity within migrant groups?

I think we can’t put every migrant in the same group. We are migrants – yes, okay – but we have some things that are completely different. Maybe the reason we came to this country is very tough. If you are a refugee person, for example.

I feel quite privileged. I know the colour of the skin can be a struggle for many more migrants. If you have children as well, so many other aspects we could think about, where it would be easier or more difficult for someone who came from another country to adapt.

What was something that was important to you about the writing process of Living in Sheffield?

I could have written this book in Portuguese – that is my native language – and it would have been easier and faster because it's my first language. But I actually wanted the challenge to express myself in my second language, and also I wanted to show people what we are capable of even when we don't have English as the first language.

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