With the current government controversy surrounding those who came on the Windrush, I am minded to remember the stories of my grandparents’ and my parents’ arrival into the UK. Both my paternal and maternal grandfathers came first at the call of the Commonwealth to work on rebuilding the infrastructure in Britain, living with multiple others in accommodation that was neither sanitary or appropriate to house so many and found great hostility amongst the indigenous against them. Again, when my grandmother, mother and her siblings came to the UK, my mother recalls a comradeship amongst the Asian and West Indian migrants but living an insular lifestyle as assimilation and acceptance from the wider community was slow given the language barrier and cultural differences.
50 years on and it seems that there is a perception of assimilation and acceptance but the rise of the far-right across Europe perhaps indicates otherwise. The need to close borders metaphorically and tangibly indicates that we are not opening our arms to migration. Human nature is of self-preservation and a perceived threat (whether justified or not) to such preservation is to close ranks.
Enoch Powell’s “River of Blood” of speech incited much racial hatred and gave a sheen of acceptance to physical aggression against minorities. Is there any truth in the message of the speech? One would hope not but given the fragility of Europe currently and the inward migration issues, the race rioting in the USA, perhaps there is a grain of truth in the rhetoric. My father and certain of his friends fear that one day there may be cleansing of ethnic races in the UK – as a first generation born with mixed race children, I cannot fathom that this would ever be a possibility, and certainly was never brought up to believe that either my race or gender would restrict me from working in a professional role or achieving my goals and neither of my own children seem to see colour of skin or religion and are certainly not aware of their cultural mix and those of their friends, however the spectre of the unknown does remain.
Migration will continue, and movement of people has occurred for generations – without it, we become a very singular entity. It is the differentials between us that make us more interesting and I have to applaud the courage of those who transition from far. A recent visit to Ellis Island made me consider the need and desire that people must have in order for them to leave their homeland and travel to a brave new world and what incredible strength it would have taken to go into the unknown, as is the case with many migrants of today, but where there is a necessity, there is strength.
As my grandmother once told me – she had left the bosom of her family, childhood and everything that was familiar to go to an unknown, where it was required, where she could make a better life for her family and even though it was hard and people had not always made it easy to integrate, she had always known it had been for the best for her family and the generations that followed.