Ok, so not getting a CRB check was slightly problematic, until Dee, the head of Interface Learning pointed out something rather obvious. It went a little like this.
Dee: Wait, your an international student!
Dee: Well than you are an international woman and can come to the International Friendship Group anyways.
So, we managed to sidestep that little inconvenience, which just meant that I won’t be able to go into the crèche, which is the children’s playroom. Like that’s a problem for me. It’s really more of a gift, actually. The group gets together once a week, and while the mothers have an English class with a certified English teacher, the children are dropped off in the free childcare. The ladies cook a communal lunch, with everyone taking turns to “host” the meal. Since I couldn’t help with the children I was sort of a gopher by bringing the dishes from storage to the kitchen, etc. It was a lot of fun, and while the younger volunteers I had met at the meeting were very friendly, these women were a lot more reserved and shy with me. It was rather obvious though that many of the women knew each other and spent time together outside of their weekly meeting.
There were a couple teenagers who weren’t in class and they most definitely did not need day care, so they spent the morning in the café with myself, the other volunteers, and Dee. I was amazed by one young woman’s embroidery. She was working on a pillow while waiting for her companion, and the thread that Dee had provided was the same as the kind that I used to make friendship bracelets in summer camp ages ago. When I mentioned that, I was greeted with blank looks from both other volunteers, Louise and Faith. So when I took some of the scraps and showed them what I meant I didn’t realize that I would end up being the referee in their race to start and finish their own bracelets. Unfortunately class ended before a winner could be determined. A small sidenote, I once again had to cross the huge scary roundabout to get to the Children’s Centre, but on the way back Faith taught me a shortcut! No more rotary! Now, I just have to figure out the shortcut in reverse.
As a Law and Policy major I have devoted a serious chunk of my college education on the study of government, law, and policy management. Because of this I have seen how a piece of legislation can be traced from the Committees in Congress to the President signing a bill into law, a bill that could later drive a case through the ranks of the judicial system where it can be called into question in front of the Supreme Court, but all of that basically can be boiled down to checks and balances. I also see how issues become a sensation to the media and problems blown way out of proportion, or the focus of the issue is shifted. That was really driven home today when I was in volunteer training at the New Routes Organization. They are part of the greater program called Interface Learning. The program is devoted to long-term integration of refugees in the Norwich area.
During the training the leader of the organization shared some newspaper headlines that read, “Refugees swarm the UK like ants,” and “City Flooded with Immigrants,” as well as several others. The second quote was taken from a Norwich paper immediately after Norwich was opened as an immigration dispersal point in 2003. The first headline was written in 1900. I’m not saying that newspapers are wrong because in the end they are just a company out to make a profit, but often when it comes to immigration we see that they use dehumanizing language to make a terrified refugee out to protect herself and her family into a faceless horde. The majority of immigrants come from wealthy families looking for better opportunities and they do not need to “steal” benefits from hardworking citizens. Two immigrants that I met today were highly trained computer specialists from Iraq looking to contribute to society, and another was trained at an American institute in Kenya. She also probably speaks better English than some of my flatmates. No mumbling!
The UK is home to roughly 0.3% of the world’s refugees since many will flee to no farther than the safest place, an example is that refugees in Africa will often run to other places within the continent because they do not have the money to make it farther than the closest “safe” place. It saddens me that many British, like Americans, cannot see any farther than a newspaper headline to look at some actual statistics. As of last year the biggest refugee population in the UK was from Afghanistan, and the largest population of illegal immigrants? They were from Australia. Overall, I found the five hours of training incredibly interesting and I can’t wait to meet the other volunteers at the monthly meeting!
The meeting at New Routes that I went to was pretty surprising. The volunteers I met at the training were largely older people who had been involved with New Routes and Interface before. They were a mix of teachers, career volunteers, and several international students. The volunteers that I met at the monthly meeting were largely part of the Mentor program, and most were my age. Among them were many UEA students who served as mentors, and several mentees also came. What came as a surprise is that Dee was drafting many of the pairs to volunteer together at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, so they could both have a mentor/mentee meeting and do some extracurricular volunteer work. She also introduced the Voices Program to us, which would be conducted by the BBC. The Program wanted members of New Routes to come and tell their stories on camera. It sounded like the program was focusing on the younger set, but that could just have been because everyone at the meeting was in the teenage age group. After business was wrapped up, the group broke up to have a cup of tea (it was pretty rainy and cold) and have a kibbitz, and they weren’t shy about including me or asking me questions. After some tea and biscuits I braved the rain and cold and safely crossed the Rotary of Doom. Which I actually considered a great accomplishment considering the rotary didn’t have any crosswalks…Hopefully I won’t have to cross it in the dark again!
I’m going to combine my frustration with the CRB check with this entry, since I just found out that the UK couldn’t get enough information on me for the check to come through. I’m not sure how I’m going to get the actual volunteering part done now. Uh oh.
Call it a melting pot, call it a salad bowl, call it macaroni and cheese with some veggies thrown in, England has consistently shown to be a diverse place filled with people from many different ethnic backgrounds. At first, I thought this would just be the case in London. A modern metropolis, the nation’s capital was guaranteed to have quite a bit of diversity, at least in my mind. London certainly did not disappoint. Still, I was unsure as to whether this diversity would continue in the rural countryside. My volunteer experience in Norwich has shown me that it does.
Staffed by volunteers from Australia, America, England, India, and South Africa, led by a woman from Sweden, filled with people ranging in age from their teen years to their more wrinkle-filled years, and represented by an equal amount of females and males, the Greehouse Trust operates due to the efforts of volunteers from every different type of background. As it is volunteer work, the company does not offer pay to any of its employees; it does, however, provide an excellent lunch as well as endless cups of tea and coffee to anyone who donates their time and energy there. They ask their volunteers to be timely but understand that speedbumps occur; they ask for efficiency but understand that daydreams can happen; they ask for everyone’s best but expect to use a gracious learning curve with most people. I say this not to build up the company but, rather, because I feel it offers a good parallel to England as a whole.
One of the major points of contention in the current election is the issue of immigration. The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, and the Labour Party all agree that something must be done to manage more closely the immigration process in the country. Their platforms are quite different but all suggest that the country is worried about the number of people coming into it. The positive side of the election is that none of the parties suggest completely closing the country’s borders; England still very much remains a tolerant nation, willing to allow non-native born people to live in the country. It does ask of those people trying to enter the country to jump through quite a few hoops in order to stay here. Still, once here, those immigrants are offered opportunities to establish a life as long as they abide by certain guidelines.
I may not agree with this blog post at the end of the election but, as of now, England operates in a similar fashion to the Greenhouse Trust. The Greenhouse Trust asks that its volunteers prepare to stay with the company for three to four months and follow certain guidelines of behaviour while there. Once accepted, the volunteers are treated equally and with respect. Sometimes there are awkward lulls in conversation during which times people are searching for common ground about which they can chat. But that’s the beauty of it. People are forced out of their comfort zones and must learn about different lifestyles if they desire to work in anything but silence for their four-hour shift. So conversation happens. And the melting pot melds together a bit more.
September 13th, 2009 · No Comments
It’s taken me a while to formulate my thought about religion and identity, but I think I can finally say something on the topic.
Sikhism and Hinduism are fairly new to the UK, as Sikhs began immigrating overseas in the 1950s, after the liberation of British India (1947) and the division of Muslim Pakistan from Hindu India (this division cause fighting in the Punjab region between Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs). According to the BBC, while Hindus also began immigrating in the 1950s, Hindu immigration particularly increased in the 1970s when Indians were forced to leave many newly independent African countries, such as Kenya and Uganda. In London, these groups settled into lower class areas, such as the East End where immigrants have traditionally lived since the Huguenots. As we learned from Salaam Brick Lane and Brick Lane, this area often suffers from racial tension and violence (though the neighborhood has been gentrified a bit since Tarquin Hall’s days on Brick Lane).
If our visits to the Southall Sikh Gurdwara and the Sri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden proved to me one thing, it is that Sikhs and Hindus are clearly still seeking to find their place in the larger London society. Each place of worship we visited had numerous pamphlets and other resources for learning about their religion. Within these pamphlets (and of course the exhibition on “Understanding Hinduism”), both religions cited famous white guys praising the peacefulness of the corresponding religion. I don’t mean that sentence to sound as cynical as it might seem, but it just appeared to me that the institutions were really trying very hard to find a way to convince outsiders not to fear what is different. However, instead of simply informing visitors of their beliefs and practices, it was found necessary to justify these beliefs and practices with a white man’s approval. The most blatant example of this can be found in the “Understanding Hinduism” exhibition at the Mandir. In the section, “Hinduism for the individual,” the exhibition reads: “Hinduism, through its heroes and history, relays the real values of life. As George Bernard Shaw confirmed…” This statement raised a few questions in my mind. Most importantly: What makes George Bernard Shaw the authority on the “real values of life?” Shaw was famous for many things, but I’m fairly certain an expertise on Hinduism is not one of them. I would much rather hear the Hindus’ or the Sikhs’ own views on their religions, as I did not feel such justifications helped me to learn.
I would also like to comment on an observation made by many classmates in blogs and conversation about the relative modesty of the gurdwara when compared to the highly decorated mandir. In any religion the size and intricacy of a building of worship is determined by the community in which it is built and the amount of funding available. I’m sure none of the churches in our neighborhoods compares to St. Paul’s or St. Peter’s. In the same vein, the gurdwara we visited doesn’t compare to the Harmandir Sahib. The mandir in Neasden is much grander than mandir near my house in Somerset, NJ. The places we saw were single examples of larger religions and we must be careful when making observations about the religions as a whole.
Whenever I’m given a difficult topic to write about I try to go back to the basics. What is identity? According to Merriam-Webster, identity is the “sameness of essential or generic character in different instances” or “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” So, how can this be applied to immigrants in England?
In the various immigrant neighborhoods we have visited, it is clear that the communities are attempting to maintain some sort of “sameness of essential or generic character.” They built religious institutions, opened shops and restaurants, and created a small community that is similar to their home. In other ways, the community’s identity is forced to change when it moves to a new country. The environment is different. Ways of dress could change. New languages are learned in order to get jobs and communicate with others. A new country presents many challenges for an immigrant group and at some point something has to give, and not everything can stay exactly the same.
On an individual level, it’s much more difficult to generalize how one’s “distinguishing character or personality” is challenged by immigration. As we learned from Brick Lane, many times a person’s values can be completely transformed. When Nazneen first comes to England, all she wants is to return to Bangladesh and she never speaks out against her husband. By the end of the novel, she refuses to return with him. We’ve also learned about some of the challenges faced by second-generation immigrants. Magid, Millat, and Irie are caught between two worlds: their parents’ expectations for them and their own society. The ease of adaptation is also affected by economic status. Doctors and grad students face different challenges than do poorer people forced to live in violent neighborhoods.
Tags: readings · Sarah
September 12th, 2009 · No Comments
This post is in response to the excerpt that Professor Qualls shared with us from his upcoming book. In this introductory chapter, he raises several key points which translate into our discussions about race, ethnicity and identification in London.
First, he uses the term “identification” rather than “identity.” I feel that this terminology is much more appropriate – even somehow liberating – in that it implies a choice and agency whereas the term “identity” connotes a sense of inescapability.
Second, Professor Qualls claims that “[a]s with memory, urban identifications are both internally and externally manufactured.” This can be seen in London, especially. The language barrier and cultural difference that immigrants inevitably experience coming to a foreign country certainly play a role in this “process of identification.” It is reasonable that immigrant communities would identify much more readily with a community that theirs their cultural, religious and linguistic traditions. It is the external forces, then, that cause problems.
Indeed, Qualls mentions that “[i]dentification can be either categorical or relational.” When outsiders (external forces) categorize or imagine relationships between immigrant groups where none might exist at all*, they are essentially “othering” those populations, isolating them from the rest of society and making it virtually impossible for any foreigner to feel comfortable here, let alone the possibility of “assimilation” – which I think is a completely ethnocentric idea to begin with.
It is not the responsibility of immigrant populations to adapt to the country in which they are residing, so long as they learn to respect that country. But this is a two-way-street. Locals must also learn to respect those immigrant populations which whom they share their space.
Particularly in London, these unique immigrant communities are what makes the city uniquely “London.” Or, to, yet again, quote Qualls: “maintaining past traditions was essential to the stability and happiness of the population, which in turn would reflect well on the central regime.”
*Some of you may remember the story Andrew Fitzgerald, Andrew Barron and I shared with you at the beginning of the course: At our market in Elephant and Castle, we witnessed an altercation between a darker-skinned customer and a white, cockney fruit and veg vendor. The vendor called the customer a “Paki” and obviously had no legitimate basis for determining this man’s ethnicity. Just because the customer had darker skin, the cockney vendor “related” him to a Pakistani. This is a dangerous comparison which only serves to fuel racism.
It is strange to think that we have only been in London for three weeks. We have packed enough into our days to make it feel as though we’ve been living here all summer. I realize that three weeks is hardly sufficient time in which to study the culture of a city, especially when said city has been around for 2000 years. All the same, our quest towards understanding the cultural significance of the modern city has brought us fairly far along. We are now being asked to define the identity of the people of the city of London.
I have a few problems with this question. How can we define something that is infinitely changeable? Modern society is an amalgam of different parts; British culture is, to use a term hitherto heard only in the realm of AP U.S. History, a “melting pot” of peoples. The identity of the British people has never been a fixed thing. Whether due to the Britons, the Romans, the Saxons, the Normans, or now the influx of various Indian and Afro-Caribbean peoples, the influences that effect British culture are constantly shifting. So too are the identifying characteristics of the citizens of this country.
I believe that the people themselves cannot be identified. With influences coming in from so many different cultures how can we pigeon-hole them all into one all-encompassing character? I would rather consider the identity of Britain as a country, not as a people. The people influence the identity of the country, not the other way around. If I was asked to provide images of what I believe defines Britain’s identity many pictures would surface. Sure, Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral would all make the list. However, after many of our field trips I would add the Sikh Gudwara, the Hindu Temple, the smells of roasting food wafting out of Chinatown, and the costumes, and colors, and the sound of steel drums and rock music blasting out of the Notting Hill carnival. These brief snatches of cultural differences morph together to form the character of modern Britain while the people themselves retain their individual identities.
What interests me more than my opinion, is the opinion of the individuality of the British people. Reading Salaam, Brick Lane opened my eyes to just how differently these cultural discrepancies can be perceived. Tarquin Hall is, for better or worse, obviously fascinated by the residents of Brick Lane and the additions they bring to the identity of Britain. However, the other characters (Mr. Ali, Sadie, and some unnamed Cockney cab drivers to name a few) had wildly different opinions. The Cockney cabbies viewed all immigrants, whether they’d been in Britain for years or days, as invaders that had no right to call themselves Englishmen. Sadie considered any and all immigrants from India and Asia as not fit to live in Britain, and even Mr. Ali, himself Bangladeshi, saw all the new immigrants from his own country as ignorant, uneducated hicks. He had lived in London for thirty years and was for all intents and purposes British. His children were born in London. They are British citizens. Yet to those who had been here longer he was just as ignorant and uneducated as the newly arrived immigrants from Bangladesh. What none of these characters stopped to consider is that their ideas, their cultures, their different religions are all effecting the current identity of the country as a whole.
Whether immigrating from India or Israel, Romania or even the United States, every new person changes the identity of Britain a little. While I don’t believe the identity of the British people as a whole can be defined, we can discern the character of the country in this moment. Soon, however, it will change again, as influences pour in from other parts of the globe and other ways of thinking.
Over the past few days we had the opportunity to visit Sikh and Hindu holy places. Both were quite eye-opening in regard to immigration, identity and to us as a group in general. I have to start by saying that I won’t deny that both faiths are quite distinct and different from one another, but both also share the goal of trying to fit into life in the UK. I think this is fairly obvious enough.
Though the Sikh Gurdwara was a much simpler place than the Hindu Temple, it still cost a few million pounds to build. Like most religions, Sikhs preach helping their fellow man, but surely the cost to build a Gurdwara could have been substantially reduced to help others. One could argue that the Gurdwara brings a sense of community to the area, but what would be wrong with cheaper building? I’m sure that the individuals who donated money to build the Gurdwara were not thinking about the recognition they would receive from the community for doing so…but then again practicing what you preach has always been a problem for the religious.
Our Sikh guide, though difficult to hear at times, seemed to genuinely believe in what he said. To me, it appeared as if he was desperately looking for acceptance. Being in a country where he would probably be seen as an outsider, the Sikh guide just wanted to fit in. I found it interesting when he said something along the lines of “I wish for the day when a person can see Sikh in an airport and recognize that he is just a Sikh.” It was a nice thought, but one that probably won’t happen because it is unrealistic. People need to label things and each other; it’s part of the human condition to have insiders and outsiders.
The Hindu Temple also gave me the impression of a religion and culture trying to fit into life in the UK. Whereas the Sikh Gurdwara took a “simpler” approach, the Hindu Temple, as National Geographic put it, was a “London landmark.” Its enormous size, Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone made this quite evident. One thing that struck me was the pompous nature which seemed to pervade throughout the entire structure. The exhibition really brought this to the forefront by showing multiple times how Hindus did this or that before the person (European for the most part) we usually associate with a particular invention or discovery did. That really turned me off quite a bit and I don’t think it is a good idea to act so pretentiously if you are looking for acceptance.
One problem I had this both trips was that we went as a large group. At the Sikh Gurdwara we all had to wear scarves, but no one knew the proper way to wear them. I think everyone (jokingly and with no malicious intent) fooled around with ways to wear the scarf. For me, if I was a Sikh and saw that I would feel quite disrespected. Another problem I had was that at both holy places we had to show “respect” (i.e. bow/take part) in their prayer halls. I think if we just simply observed it would have been much more respectful.
Jumping to the BBC Religion and Ethics site, I found that internet matchmaking sites are becoming quite popular with Sikhs and Hindus and I think this is a great thing. It’s natural for a human to want to find a proper mate; the internet makes this much easier. But what I thought was fascinating was the how many people do not have a picture on those matchmaking sites. This seems like a good idea, but I feel as the world becomes more globalized and as more Sikhs and Hindus “assimilate,” the demand for a picture will be inevitable.
Tags: Andrew F
September 7th, 2009 · 1 Comment
After every major wave of immigrants that come to a country like Britain, the debate over national identity will inevitably come up. If these people are here to stay, will they affect our society in a way that changes our everyday lives? What does it mean to be British? Will these people ever become one of us, or will they always just be outsiders? For a country with such a long standing national identity, it would only make sense that the British would be unyielding to the newest members of their nation. However given England’s history, it seems that incorporating these new cultures would be the more British thing to do.
Take food for example: If you had asked the public only fifteen years ago what the national dish of England was, chances were they would say “fish and chips”. Ask that question today and you would be shocked to hear that “chicken tikka masala” is the dish of choice for the majority of British people. The origin of the recipe is the perfect example of immigrant identity in England. The (unconfirmed but generally accepted) story goes like this: A customer in a Glasgow restaurant complained that the chicken tikka, a dish Punjabi in origin was too dry and asked for some gravy. Allegedly, the chef then composed a sauce out of yogurt and spices and POOF, chicken tikka masala. Today, you would be hard pressed to find an Indian restaurant that did not at least offer the dish, and there are even some non-Indian restaurants who serve it. How was it that a dish so un-British in nature could have such a serious effect on British cuisine? Some could say it is the increasing amount of people who are either from or descended from India. While this answer is certainly plausible, that doesn’t account for the overwhelming white British population who still chose this dish over “fish and chips” (Another very plausible answer could be that fish and chips simply isn’t appetizing, but that is an entirely different debate).
What happens instead is something much more unexpected: British Identity changes. Chicken tikka masala is only one of many instances throughout British history in which England has absorbed a part of its immigrant culture and called it its own. It was Jewish immigrants from that modernized England’s banking system. Many members of the royal family throughout history have been from other countries. Even fish and chips, the pride and joy of English cuisine (which is sad beyond words), is actually French in origin. The character of Aktar in Tarquin Hall’s Salaam Brick Lane describes it best as being “Englished” and points out that despite the mindset of the English to be predisposed against foreigners joining the fold, the assimilation will inevitably happen. However, who changes who will be and always has been largely up to debate.
September 7th, 2009 · 4 Comments
Over my one-pound-fifty take-out lunch that I brought back to the garden, Megan and I discussed last week’s blog topic: identity and immigration. “I just have no idea where I’m going to take this,” I said. “We’ve done so much reading about this already, I just feel like I have nothing new to say.” Megan agreed, saying that she felt as though she had done all the research, knew all the background information, and was just struggling to “find a conclusion.” I think we both really had valid points here.
It is impossible to form any sort of thesis about identity and immigration in London because of the essence of London. It is, according to one of our Guardian readings on race, “a city with immigrants” rather than “a city of immigrants,” like New York. London is definied by its ever-shifting immigrant populations. If one were to establish some sort of grasp on what immigration means to London today, and what London means to immigrants today, it would shift within a matter of years and become obsolete. Immigration is part of what makes London London, and therefore, there is nothing new to say about it because it has always been this way, and will continue to be.
Perhaps this blog is too short, perhaps some of you will think it was ill-structured, poorly thought-out or had no new ideas to introduce to the reader. Well, you may be right. However, over-analyzing immigrant populations – identifying where the Afro-Caribbean communites or the Polish communities or the Jewish, Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani communities are located – only serves to further isolate these populations from one another and from the rest of British culture. We’ve discussed the topic to death. What we need to do now is look at the issue from a new vantage point, or even better, from no vantage point at all. If we accept immigrants as Londoners, and cease to discuss these populations as separate entities, then the possibility of a new London would be possible.