I am a Gypsy by birth, but I have never been considered a Gypsy woman because I have always been in foster families and nursing homes, so they consider me a normal white woman. When I was 16, I decided to leave my community because I didn’t like the rules. I had to leave Portugal when I was 17, but my mother refused, so when I was 26, I came to England. The UK gave me the opportunity to have a new life, especially with my baby. I am a different person, I think differently. I want to explore the country more in the future. I want to raise my child in this country, in the right way, and teach him to behave with people: not to be rude, not to be violent, but at the same time to defend himself if someone harms him.
When people ask me where I’m from, my answer hasn’t really changed since I was about five years old. I’m from London and Scotland – neither English nor British. Scottish. Celebrating my Scottishness was easy. I am white. Ask this question to the Muslim boys in my class, or the Iranian family who lived next door, or the second generation Jamaican family including the son I played football with, and you will get a different answer. We have taken steps back, steps forward, in talking about identity and difference. Britain is looking to revert to some form of colonial nationalism, when Britannia ruled the waves and raped and plundered its way across pretty much the entire planet.
My experiences of being a young black woman in this country have shaped my understanding and my opinions. I think that is why I am very keen on preserving my Kenyan heritage and values in a practical and intentional way. I visit Kenya frequently, still speak Swahili and Kimbeere and keep up to date with the news. The British black population is very diverse and I think we have a lot to offer. I still feel like we are intentionally marginalized, symbolized, and disproportionately under-represented, despite our culture being ape in the Western world. I think black people want leadership: they want to be represented. This is what it means to be black British, especially in the Brexit era. When I see a British black triumphing or a pioneer, I say to myself “Wow”, because they have succeeded, probably with huge obstacles in their path. It is a special thing to be black British.
I left Jalalabad in Afghanistan four and a half years ago to come to the UK. My family chose UK for me because my brother was already there and they knew he would take care of me. I think it’s important to go with a host family when you arrive. They help you learn the language, teach you about the culture, and show you how to talk with people. Most of the people who come here want to work hard to build a new life and contribute to the country. We just want a safe roof over our heads. When I arrived, I tried to learn as much as possible, do new things and meet new people. It’s hard for us when we don’t have a family. If people gave us a chance, we could prove that we are educated and talented and that we can contribute to this country.
For me, my home was Beijing because I was born there, Toronto because I grew up there, Montreal because I found myself there, Paris because my godmother lives there, Shanghai because it’s people from my grandmother, and now Todmorden because it reminds me of my real self here. They say home is where the heart is. For me home is where the wind takes me and now it has taken me to Todmorden. It is not only where your heart is, but also a sense of belonging and contributing something meaningful to where you call your home. And that takes time, kindness and courage. I don’t feel like I’m completely there yet, but I do feel right at home here in the moors and hills. I have found love, kindness and courage in the people who live here and I am gradually making lifelong friends.
I am ethnically Indian, Trinidadian but now British. My grandparents came from India as contract laborers to replace African slaves when slavery was abolished. Contract labor is another form of slavery. It still exists today. I left Trinidad in 1960 with my wife and granddaughter on a boat, the Comillas brands, and landed in Southampton in heavy fog. I think we immigrants have contributed a lot to this country – socially, financially and above all in the health field. When we arrived we took jobs that no one else wanted to do. We’ve had a lot of people coming from the West Indies specifically to train as nurses, starting at the bottom of the ladder to get their qualifications. Nowadays the NHS receives people who come in as fully qualified nurses.
I grew up in a predominantly black, ethnically minority community in Handsworth, Birmingham. It was a time of black consciousness, and I was learning more about myself as a black woman living here in the UK. Growing up in this community has helped shape this awareness to gain knowledge about myself, my culture and develop skills. I became more interested in my African heritage. According to the British categorization, I would be Afro-Caribbean, but above all I am a proud black African. Black Lives Matter in the UK calls on the government to end racial discrimination, decolonize the school curriculum and implement measures to protect children at risk of racial discrimination and harassment, as well as investigate health disparities. These are things that obviously need to be addressed, but we need to get to the root of the problem. We don’t get to the root of the problem because we are always treating the symptom instead of the root itself. The root goes back to history. Until some brutal realizations of truth and confession begin to unravel some of the serious damage that has already been done, racial injustice will always continue.
I grew up in Ancoats, Newton Heath, just down the road from Moston to Manchester. The north has always been treated differently from the south and it is even worse with those in power now. They are detached from reality, let alone the north. I just think they’re on another planet, you know. They live in a world where it’s money above all, it’s profit above all, and they hide money. I don’t think they speak for any of us now, and I think the whole of the UK is rallying to the working class way of thinking. Not just the working class, but their own way of thinking. In the next election, these people will no longer be able to participate – no way.
I was not born rich, far from it, but my first years were spent in a beautiful bubble at the gates of London. I grew up in an intentional community, known in the vernacular as a commune. Inspired by Eastern philosophy, the founders of our community attempted to recreate Vedic-era India in the English countryside. I felt like an alien in Britain in the 1990s. My mother had felt the same in the 1950s and 1960s, being of mixed heritage at a time when racial mixing was considered a sin. And I think my Somali grandfather felt the same in the 1940s when he set foot on our shores. It was hard to get used to post-communal life in South London. As soon as I was able to leave Britain, I did. I guess I never formed a close enough attachment to the country of my birth. Britain to me is a bit like my absent father, someone I see on Christmas and birthdays, someone I don’t really know, someone who doesn’t really know me. I found some kind of comfort in being a real stranger.
I am a European Jew and my ancestors have lived in Europe for thousands of years. My father’s parents came to the UK from Austria in the late 1930s and were very grateful to find refuge on these shores. My mother arrived with the Kindertransport at the age of 10 from Vienna after her parents were murdered by the Nazis. Being a member of a minority is, to some extent, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you are seen as an outsider, not really British, even though I am a third generation. But on the other hand, being a member of a minority gives a special perspective that those one might not notice. To be Jewish in the UK is a great blessing in my opinion, as the UK is a very tolerant society in general.
My mom is from a small town in Germany and my dad was born here and moved to Scotland a bit with his family. When people ask me my nationality, I don’t know if I should say Scottish or German. I know I don’t feel British though. I’m Scottish and German but it’s a bit confusing which to say. I was also upset when I got my UK passport recently as I didn’t want it, but we decided I should have it just in case. People always say it’s really cool to have a mixed nationality and to be bilingual, and I agree: I’m so lucky because I basically have two homes. I have citizenship here but I also have one in Germany. I feel like I belong to both countries.
I was born in Poland and have lived there most of my life. I have lived in Scotland since 2007. I am constantly thinking about who I am in so many different contexts. I feel Polish because I love Polish culture and Polish music – so that’s my main ethnic background. I don’t know if I have the right to call myself Scottish, as I was not born here, but at the same time, I can call myself a Scottish artist because my whole artistic experience has been here. When I consider the question of what “britishness” means, I think the term is starting to crumble. I think: do you mean England, or do you mean Northern Ireland, or do you mean Scotland, or do you mean Wales? Because I know that English voters have different opinions than those in Scotland. I prefer to talk about Scotland, since I live here. I think Scotland is diverse in the sense that there are people from different backgrounds living here, but also there are still a lot of things that have never been resolved. Europeans look like Scots, so we blend in more easily, but darker skinned people still struggle with the lack of diversity in Scotland.