I HAVE spent these last several years processing through the UK immigration system: student visa, post-study work visa (when there was such a thing), temporary partner visa, permanent residence permit and UK citizenship. I worked as an arts administrator, critic, bookseller and latterly, wrote the first PhD on the work of poet Tom Leonard. During all that time, my immigration status was ticking away in the background and I have explored the experience in a poetry collection called Settle, which is published this month.

I was a regular visitor to the intimidating UKBA building on Brand Street in Govan where much of the visa/settlement business is transacted. There I sat with people from all around the world, some herding their children while clutching numbered tickets. And I am acutely aware that my migration to Scotland wasn’t nearly as difficult as that of some folk I met in Govan and elsewhere. I recently spoke at the Declaration Conference at the CCA in Glasgow. The subject was the Declaration of Human Rights #15 “The Right to Nationality” and my co-panellists were originally from Palestine and Zimbabwe. The former is accustomed to being pulled aside at the airport when he returns from trips abroad; the latter has no money, is not legally permitted to make any and had his room raided by the border agency. My airport exchanges with officials often consist of them telling me about their relations in Canada and I can’t imagine having my room turned upside down by anyone other than me. The one thing I have in common with my fellow speakers, however, is that I am not white. Vancouver is where I was born and raised, and it is a thriving, multicultural city. In Scotland my mixed Filipino and Spanish background means I stand out and there have been occasional incidents that hurt. My sister-in-law is deaf and blind and her taxi driver felt it would be helpful to inform her that a “Chinky” was waiting by her door. That was a first for me. So too, was the term “nice tan” which was flung in my direction from a pub doorway to guffaws of laughter from the smokers who were gathered there. Later I tried to work through the humiliation by using the incident as the basis for a poem called Skin.

Standing out from the crowd is something I have had to come to terms with. My natural inclination is to blend in, but sometimes Scotland won’t let me. When I attended my first Burns Supper the Provost of a Scottish town asked my partner, “Did she enjoy her haggis?”, even though I was sitting two feet away. On another occasion, a man in the library in Dumfries interrupted my work to ask if I was from the Far East. “Yes, I live in Edinburgh, “ I replied.

However, the welcome I’ve received far outweighs the odd wound. If this wasn’t the case, I would have given up on the immigration system long ago. I’ve survived a process that has claimed friends who either capitulated or received a letter telling them to go back to where they came. And I’ve come to realise that standing out from the crowd doesn’t always have negative consequences. A pal jokingly called me “the Asian for every occasion” and I appreciate the manner in which my difference gets me invited to the Declaration Festival and others like it. In the National Library of Scotland a stranger said that he had just been given a flyer with my face on it. The flyer was from Women for Independence and I laughed when I saw that my picture appeared under the heading “Welfare”. Sometimes I even get credit for things I haven’t done. After a chamber orchestra concert I was congratulated on the quality of my musical abilities though the pianist was a Chinese-South African woman, and I a humble audience member. At some point, the racist comments mysteriously melted away and were replaced by kindness.

I racked up huge bills in an immigration system that is – contrary to the impression media reports give – quite expensive. And though I am pleased about living in the UK, I imagined holding a Scottish passport in 2014. In a poem called Referendum Day, I tried to discern what I missed when I anticipated a Yes vote that never materialised. Was it my North American optimism? Or, more obviously, the pre-referendum bubble I lived in with Yes-inclined friends and Yes-voting audiences? I see now that there were subtle hints and wee No signs that I chose to ignore.

I felt I was looking forward to a different possible future in Scotland, but I’m happy to embrace the one that’s on offer. That said, life in Scotland has not been without challenges; one example has been my PhD in Scottish Literature. Getting to grips with the Glasgow voice, politics, religion, the work of James Thomson and radical Renfrewshire poets was the biggest intellectual challenge I have faced.

Equally, there was nothing in my previous life experience that prepared me for interviews at Brand Street. At times I felt like an intruder in the predominantly white-male world that surrounds Leonard’s poetry, and fulfilling the requirements for my various visas has been a worrisome process. However, as the wonderful new Makar, and my hero, Jackie Kay says: “How blazingly alive the past is”; so too the future.