I was six years old when we arrived in Sweden with my family – as refugees from Kosovo. It was difficult for me to live because as a child, I did not fathom the gravity of the situation, nor why we had to leave our home and I felt sad to leave my relatives behind. We were welcomed but even then, Sweden did not have the infrastructure to deal with refugees. We lived in tents at first until the government gave us an apartment and although we lived in a segregated area, it felt homey, because that meant even though I was a minority, I still belonged to a community. It got trickier in high school. As a teenager, people started putting labels on me and would refer to me as ‘the immigrant girl’, probably because I have an Albanian name. Why, since people kept on labelling me as ‘the other’, I became ‘the other’. I never minded that; I didn’t mind being different.
But once, I went to a party after school and this guy, Mattias, came by and started insulting my Albanian friends, so I stood up to him. He grabbed my neck and yelled “you immigrant whore, get the hell out of Sweden!” until his own friends pulled him away. At that point I thought: Oh, it’s not that cool to be ‘the other’ after all. So yes, I had phases in my life when it felt like I didn’t belong, but I never let these limit me.
It took me twenty years to say: I am Swedish. What changed my mind is that I went to Kosovo, where I did an internship at the Swedish embassy and there I actually as Swedish as I felt a Kosovar. It made me realise that I’m not simply ‘the other’. I’m a hybrid between cultures.
This made me be proud to be different.
(Blerta has worked as a policy advisor at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium and is now a politician in Sweden.)