9th June 2015
Romanian stories in Britain (II) Anne-Marie Martin: ‘All roads lead me back to Romania’
My family fled Romania when I was just 6 years old and we eventually settled in Britain in 1972. Separation from beloved family members and loss featured heavily in the hearts and minds of all of us, but I am eternally grateful to the brave action of my family in their quest for a better life for all of us.
I am enormously proud to be British but have never lost my fervent interest in my country of origin. All roads have somehow led me back to Romania. My family’s socio-political interests and passions for Romania were a constant in my life growing up; my professional life eventually took me there and I have spent a great part of my adult life through my professional and personal interests endeavouring to build and promote better relationships between the two countries.
Romania has so much to offer; a beautiful country where the people are warm, creative and talented and with one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. Romania has developed since the end of a gruelling communist regime and is not the same country it was, despite the long and often arduous journey to full democracy. Recent negative rhetoric in the UK has masked the real and valuable contribution that the growing Romanian community in the UK is making to our economy and the rich tapestry of our social fabric, building on that already wonderful blend of diverse cultures and traditions that the UK has always been so proud to be known and revered for.
Previously the Chief Executive Officer of the British Romanian Chamber of Commerce, and now working to promote trade and commerce throughout the European chamber of commerce movement, I strongly believe that relationships between countries can only be strengthened with mutual social and cultural understanding.
A sense of belonging
Belonging is about building a life within an environment that is caring and sharing of common values. Having secure relationships and connections with a particular group of people, contributing to the collective wellbeing of the group, and that can be as narrow or as wide as we are comfortable with.
As a young child, growing up in Romania, and then later in other countries along the road to the country that gave me a place to grow and breath, my sense of belonging and sense of pride related initially to my family and my peers, and later when I began to understand the bigger context, to my community. I have always been absolutely clear about where I come from and where I belong but I haven’t always been terribly conscious about it.
Some people spend their whole lives struggling to find a place to belong to, whether it is religion, nation, culture, or race. A family’s lifelong struggle and fight against oppressive regimes within the country and from the outside, mixed in with social and cultural diversity have gone a long way to help me in my voyage of self-discovery. Parents of mixed religions and union, a foreigner in new lands, short stints in various countries before finally reaching the UK; New friends, new families, new schools, many heartfelt separations along the way, all by the age of 9, were character building. This experience is no different for many Romanians now looking for a better life in a new community then it was for my family and I some 40 something years ago.
I have always felt blessed to have been Romanian. As a child, growing up in the 70’s in the UK it made me interesting. As a young adult it made me exotic and fascinating. And as a grown woman it has also made me conscious and responsible. Conscious and understanding of my family’s fight for basic human rights; the right to travel and settle wherever we want; those commonplace freedoms I and my peers take for granted. Conscious and thankful for the character that being Romanian gave me – passion, drive, determination and a deep rooted sense of family and belonging. And thankful at having grown up effectively British, because it is that connection that has helped to equip me with relevant tools, giving me the power to do so much with those inherited qualities.
When I am asked where I am from, which still happens quite a lot I always proudly say that I am a British Romanian.
By Anne-Marie Martin
Chief Executive, COBCOE – The Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe