A primary school teacher who has worked and lived in Jersey for ‘half her life’ has expressed her disappointment at not being able to run for a seat in the States – because she is Portuguese.
Graca Ramos has spent 22 years in the island – two decades as a languages teacher, eight years helping a charity that supports parents, carers and children, and months supporting prisoners’ families.
She had hoped that the experience and values she’d gained from her work – respect, tolerance, organisation and the important ability to listen – might help her secure the backing of the local community when she stood for the role of St. Helier Deputy in May, but one thing held her back: a British passport.
Under current laws, the Portuguese national is unable to stand for a seat in the States in May’s General Election on the island that she fondly calls “home.”
The news was a bitter dash of irony, as she had hoped to inspire others from the island’s Portuguese, Madeiran, Polish and other smaller communities to take an interest in politics or even stand for election by “opening the gate” for them. She’s now happy to apply for a British passport, but the process will take months, involving plentiful paperwork and an exam – dashing her hopes of running this time round.
Pictured: Mrs Ramos had hoped to become a St. Helier Deputy, but will have to wait four years until the next election.
“From a legalities point of view, I had to accept it… But I feel I had become part of the community,” Mrs Ramos told Express.
After completing a university degree in languages, she came to Jersey “out of curiosity.” But what started as “curiosity” developed into an affection for the island – she “set down roots”, bringing up her son here, who is now studying Law at university.
“Obviously it’s not a long holiday – you live here, you belong here, it’s where you set your roots. My son was born here. I’m not just here for the time to pass – I probably know more about Jersey than I do about my hometown!” she joked.
Along the way, she got stuck into community life, working as a languages teacher across island primary schools and volunteering with charity Brighter Futures. More recently, she’s been assisting another charity, Caritas, through which she helps the families of convicts adapt to life when a member of their family leaves.
“I help [the families] in any situation they might need. It’s life-changing - all of a sudden you have a whole family, and then you become a sole parent. You need to do things you never dreamt of doing. You need to be strong for everyone. And the children are obviously affected because someone who used to be there isn’t there anymore. To explain that to a child is not the easiest job in the world. It’s very rewarding work that Caritas is doing,” Mrs Ramos explained.
Pictured: Mrs Ramos supports the families of prisoners in her spare time through a Caritas project.
The long-term community helper’s interest in politics started last summer when a member of the States Greffe asked if she would like to help hand out flyers encouraging the Portuguese community to vote at the Portuguese fair.
Despite her enthusiasm at the stall, which led some to believe she was running for election at the time, she was met with “disappointing responses.”
“They said, ‘Why should we vote? There is no one to represent us.’ That is the main thing that really struck me – people didn’t feel the need to vote because they didn’t have anyone to represent their voice.”
It was this moment that set the idea of running for the States firmly in her mind. “If they knew that someone was there, they would feel that their importance was higher. They’d think, ‘Actually, someone speaks the same language as we do’, therefore they’d be able to approach that person to bring what they feel, what they need. They would feel heard through my voice.”
Deputy Montfort Tadier had previously brought forward proposals to amend nationality requirements so that candidates from different nationalities would be able to stand, but these were recently voted down by the States Assembly.
While that has meant that she is not eligible to stand in May’s election, Mrs Ramos has made plans to run in four years’ time, and says she’ll be spending the lead-up to 2022 trying to educate others about the importance of voting and learning more about the different issues affecting St. Helier.
Housing is already one that is on her radar, and she says that she’d like to “learn more” by speaking to people about how high rents and overcrowding in the parish might affect them. “We can only assume, but they know the true facts. We need to listen,” she said.
So what kind of candidate will she be voting for in the interim? For her, it is important that they are visible – “politicians are often in their cocoon” – and actively try and engage with the community. “We know their faces from the posters, but we rarely see them.”
And, of course, showing respect to people from all communities: “Respecting people, listening to people – to me, that is paramount.”
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