UK’s 200,000-strong South American community 'needs ethnic recognition'

Campaigners say South Americans should be seen as a distinct group

Two men sit locked in combat over a chessboard to a lively salsa soundtrack. Couples tucking into chilli-laced pasties and mango juice argue animatedly in Spanish. It could be Buenos Aires or Bogotá. But this is sultry south London.

Welcome to the Tiendas del Sur shopping arcade, a bustling slice of Latin America in the heart of Elephant & Castle, where Ecuadorians, Bolivians, Colombians, Peruvians and other members of Britain’s burgeoning Hispanic population come to relax among the sounds and flavours of home.

But this hidden gem, a tiny ghetto of Colombian hairdressers and Ecuadorian grocers, is emblematic of a wider issue plaguing Britain’s 200,000-strong South American community – a lack of wider recognition that campaigners say has left nearly half its number trapped in menial jobs, cut off from services and forgotten by policy-makers.

This sense of “invisibility” among Latin Americans has now sparked a campaign by community groups, diplomatic missions, MPs and academics for the population to be recognised for the first time as a distinct ethnicity and added to official forms, including the census, to boost its socioeconomic standing.

Despite a work ethic which sees 85 per cent of Latin Americans in employment – compared to 61 per cent of Londoners as whole – and a population which outnumbers Poles or ethnic Chinese in the capital, so far only one borough (Southwark) has declared the community a separate ethnic category.

As Miriam, 49, from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, who with countless others rises at 3am to clean offices in the City, put it: “London without Latins would be filthy.” Despite 70 per cent having education beyond secondary school level, nearly half of Latin Americans living in Britain – some of them trained teachers or accountants – work in low-skilled and low-paid areas.

A combination of language difficulties and the fact that 19 per cent of Latin Americans are “irregulars” in the country on expired visas means the group is vulnerable to exploitation such as arbitrary wage cuts and broken contracts.

Lucila Granada, co-ordinator for the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK, one of the groups leading the campaign, said: “Everybody knows a good Latin American restaurant, a salsa club or where to learn tango, but we remain invisible as citizens, as part of the community.”

With only 20 per cent of Latin Americans receiving any form of benefit such as tax credits, and four out of five never having visited a GP, they are also at pains to point out the light burden that Latin Americans place on the welfare state.

Claudio Rojo, consul general at the Argentinian embassy, said: “The British do not dislike Latin Americans. But we are a community which can contribute so much more – it is not just football players or cleaners.”

Stefanie Quishpe, 21, is sitting outside the grocery store owned by her Ecuadorian mother. “I will raise my daughter like I was – to speak English and Spanish, and know all about Ecuador,” she says. “But England is my home and this is where I will make my life.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: HGV Fitter - Technician

£16 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity for someone ...

Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

Ashdown Group: Account Payable Assistant - SW London

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Account Payable Assistant - SW Londo...

Recruitment Genius: Bathroom Showroom Customer Service / Sales Assistant

£14560 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Even though their premises have...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence