“The problem tended to be couched primarily in terms of 'helping the immigrant to adjust to the host society', despite the fact that sections of the 'host society' were acting in rather an un-host-like fashion towards the new arrivals” ― Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities
As a black person born in the United Kingdom, I have always felt an intense sense of diaspora. My parents and sister were born in the Caribbean, with my sister moving to the UK with my mother when she was eight years old. With my family dispersed throughout the Caribbean and America, I felt more connected to being British than to being Jamaican or Grenadian. I had heard stories about my home country and yearned to visit and reconnect with aspects of my culture that I could not find here.
My mother raised me to be a loving person, and my nature has always been empathetic, but my background and longing for connection has always made me sympathise and feel for every untreated immigrant, immigrants dubbed "taking our jobs," and people who have simply come here for a better life. We finally visited Jamaica when I was 13, and it was everything I had hoped for and more. The food was just as amazing as promised, the weather sweltering but homely and I had the big family I had always envisioned and seen other people have.
I have not been back to Jamaica since then and returned to the same feeling of aloneness. Of course, I talk to my family on the phone all the time, but with only my mother and me at home, especially since my sister left for university, I have often wondered where I fit in. My mother used to take me to ethnically diverse areas of Birmingham for food shopping as a child, and it reminded me of how much I loved being from my home country, and how much I admired and recognised the bravery of coming so far from various places around the world to settle down in somewhere so unfamiliar.
When I was 16, I was studying sociology for A-Level and came across the term "diaspora." Diaspora is defined as "any people's dispersion or spread from their original homeland." Studying sociology caused me to look at things in a deeper way and read between the lines. So as someone who missed the Caribbean aspect of myself, it caused me to read more into diaspora and social justice regarding immigration and people like my Mum who just wanted to come to the UK for a better life, facing a lot of hatred just for setting up a better foundation for themselves and their children.
When my mother came to the UK to study nursing in the 2000s, she encountered racism and bigotry in Newcastle before relocating to London. I sometimes think that if this had not happened, she might not have moved and met my dad in London, but I feel deeply for every immigrant who has moved here and had a similar experience.
When I discuss this with my mother, she acknowledges the struggle she faced, but I feel she has lost the fight in her, simply accepting this is how the world is. Many immigrants are exhausted by the struggle to be accepted in the UK. Regardless of societal progress, institutional racism and white supremacy remain a grave issue that must be addressed in order to ensure that all people are treated fairly and equally.
My mother used to tell me stories about working at the NHS and how different it can be as a black woman. When her friends came over to talk, I would stay upstairs in my room and listen. It is strange, but hearing them speak about their nursing struggles in the Uk versus Jamaica made me feel sad but connected. My mother once mentioned a friend who had come here illegally to work, and my mother assisted her in opening a bank account, and this has already reminded me that legality does not equal morality.
The immigrant experience is vastly different from that of non-immigrants, and it breaks my heart to see people like my mother and father deported and sent back, never experiencing the richness of our community and how welcoming and understanding it can be. The book 'The Lonely Londoners' by Sam Selvon is the best way to describe the community that defines me as a Caribbean. Written during the Windrush generation in the author's native language Patois, it was both humorous and serious in how it dealt with diaspora and connected the reader to the main character's home country. It quickly became a favourite of mine because it perfectly described how I was feeling.
"Sometimes, after they gone, he hear the voices ringing in his ears, and sometimes tears come to his eyes and he don’t know why really, if is home-sickness or if is just life in general beginning to get too hard" Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners
Even though I sometimes dislike aspects of myself, I will always love where I come from. I am working on unlearning this and enjoying where I am at right now. It can be difficult, especially if you live in a predominantly white neighbourhood and attended predominantly white schools, but the subjects I studied have made me more politically aware and awake, and I have been coming to terms with the differences between myself and my peers.
Hearing about black trauma, such as the Stephen Lawrence and George Floyd cases, can be difficult and traumatising, and it can feel as if social change is extremely thick and slow. The struggle has been and will continue to be difficult, but we must learn as a collective to love and welcome everyone.