Dear world, welcome to my Malmö

By Kai Teo
Cover photo by César Ortiz

An immigrant lesbian, Vladica Culic, posing with a burnt car in Malmö, Södervärn.

An immigrant lesbian, Vladica Culic, posing with a burnt car in Malmö, Södervärn.

Hello citizens of the world, I live in Malmö, the third biggest city in Sweden. You’ve probably read on Fox News and other “reliable” networks that our 330,000 inhabitants live daily in a crippling fear of either being raped, bombed by terrorists, caught in a crossfire of a gang war. You might have also heard Trump describing what had happened ”last night in Sweden” in crystal clear detail. He’s probably referring to us, the most “dangerous” city in the country.

To paint you a picture of why Malmö might seem dangerous to you, 43% of our population are either first or second generation immigrants from 177 different countries. 11,000 of us were from Iraq, 8,000 from former Yugoslavia, 7,700 from Denmark, 7,000 from Poland, and 6,000 from Bosnia and Herzegovina. To you, this might mean that 43% of our doctors, our engineers, our school teachers, our colleagues, could all be terrorists in disguise. 

Well, let’s talk numbers. 98% of American citizens have non-native roots, and 34% of these households own guns. So yea, go figure.

I am an immigrant. I’ve lived in Malmö for almost five years now. And I’m extremely thankful for a chance to live in another country, experience a different way of life, and build deep, meaningful relationships with my Swedish friends. 

For me, the people of Malmö are amongst the most beautiful in the country. Besides Swedish, our people speak a colourful mix of languages from all around the world. We buy our morning coffee at the corner shop owned by a former businessman from Iraq, hop on the bus driven by a father of three from Serbia, go to a dentist who lost his entire family in Afghanistan, eat at Indian, Chinese and Thai restaurants, and drink craft beers from the Czech Republic. And of course, Malmö’s official number one cuisine is the humble falafel roll.

An immigrant butcher carrying meat in Malmö, Sevedsplan. Photo credits: César Ortiz

An immigrant butcher carrying meat in Malmö, Sevedsplan. Photo credits: César Ortiz

Our 43% isn’t a statistic for the xenophobic media to use as a scare tactic to restrict immigration. Our 43% are loving mothers, caring fathers, hopeful children, helpful neighbours, romantic partners, lifelong friends, and an integral cornerstone of the open-minded melting pot of possibilities we call Malmö. 

Our 43% are warriors who refused to give in to the circumstances of war and moved to seek a better future for our families. We are fighters who gave up everything at home to find a life of peace for our children. And we are lovers who moved across the globe to be reunited with the ones we’ve fallen in love with.

Malmö taught me to fight for gender equality and LGBTQ rights. Malmö equipped me with the courage to stand up against racism and fascism. Malmö showed me the possibilities of a future in creating music and art. Malmö danced with me at underground raves and colourful festivals. Malmö gave me room to grow into who I am today.

During the European refugee crisis, I saw Malmö rise up as a city to help in whatever way everyone could. Malmö volunteered days and nights at refugee centres so that our friends fleeing from war can finally have a soft bed and warm food. Those of us who couldn’t volunteer donated clothes, money, and blankets. And then there were the tens of thousands who marched the streets demanding that the government kept the border open to our fellow human beings in need. 

An immigrant playing music on the streets of Malmö, Möllevångstorget. Photo credits: César Ortiz

An immigrant playing music on the streets of Malmö, Möllevångstorget. Photo credits: César Ortiz

My Malmö never saw an immigrant as a threat. My Malmö saw an immigrant as just another human being. My Malmö is the one city in Sweden I could walk around in and feel completely safe. Men with makeup, women with girlfriends, beautiful beings who don’t define themselves as either of the genders, refugees with painful stories, immigrants with success stories, or countless others with our love stories – Malmö is our home, our safe haven, our future. 

Yes, our immigrant communities have not yet fully integrated with our hipster circles. But integration isn’t really about where we’ve come from, it’s the cultures and subcultures we feel more comfortable in. Relationships take time to build and flourish, so of course, communities too, take a while to fall in love. We’re all still learning from one another, we’re all still trying to break out of our shells and bond through our similarities. We’re trying. And hell yea, at least we are. 

What mainstream media tells you is a Malmö that’s made up of numbers. But the fiery soul of this city can’t be measured by statistics.

And if there’s a model city for a future without discrimination, racism, sexism, or borders, my Malmö is what the world can look to as a starting point.

Malmø by Buddha Wear.

Malmø by Buddha Wear.


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