North East woman proud to be part of ‘I am an immigrant’ national campaign

A North East woman has become a poster girl in a campaign to combat prejudice against immigrants.

Wendy Dirks is one of 15 people selected nationwide to feature in the “I am an immigrant” initiative launched by the Movement Against Xenophobia.

Their pictures, taken by Vogue magazine photographer Philip Volkers, can now be seen at 400 London tube stations, 550 national railway stations and other sites across the UK.

Explaining the thinking behind it, the group said:

“Immigrants are part of the fabric of our society. It’s time to celebrate, not vilify them.”

The poster with Wendy on it
The poster with Wendy on it

Wendy, 62, is originally from Chicago in the US but has lived and worked in Newcastle for nine years with her husband, Gateshead-born Dr Don Reid. She is a lecturer in Oral Biology at Newcastle University.

She said:

“When I first saw the picture of me it was absolutely surreal. This and the fact it was taken by a photographer from Vogue.

“But it’s a fantastic idea to let people know that immigrants have contributed so much to British society, particularly when the issue has become so toxic in the run up to the general election.”

More than £44,000 was raised in a crowdfunding drive to back the campaign.

It feature the likes a fire fighter from Poland, a stand up comedian from Somalia, a barrister, a teacher and a bus driver, people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world who have one thing in common. Living and working in Britain.

Wendy revealed how a run in with British immigration officials indirectly led to her involvement in the campaign.

She said her son from her first marriage and still living in the US had lost his job which resulted in health issues. As a result she and Don wanted him to come and stay with them in Newcastle for six months to recuperate.

Wendy said:

“He was in a bad way. We looked into it and thought he could come for six months without a visa.

“But he was stopped at the airport, put into a cell and sent home the next morning because they decided as he had no job here he had no reason to go back to the US.”

As a result of the incident she was in touch with the UK-based Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which is behind the Movement Against Xenophobia. One of its emails asking for volunteers for the ‘I am an immigrant’ campaign found its way to Wendy.

She said:

“I put my name forward straight away and was chosen.

“The campaign is definitely not saying that there should be no immigration controls. But the way people talk about immigrants, it’s as if we’re to blame for all the ills, as if we don’t make a contribution to the country, which is very wrong.

“I love it here, especially the North East. I love Newcastle and Northumberland is gorgeous.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Apr 2015

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