By: Akash Ghai
Last night, I stayed up to find out whether the UK was going to stay in or leave the EU. I live in the States now, and as you can probably guess – I didn’t get much sleep. I could spend hours analyzing the situation, the impact, the struggles, the fact that voters have to now work together to find common ground. Instead, I’m going to reflect on immigration.
I was born in London to immigrant parents of Indian origin from Mauritius and Kenya, respectively. Their parents told them to take a risk, go to the UK and experience the world in a way that they couldn’t. As if written in a romance novel, they met in a launderette in Chelsea in the 70s, embraced and got married shortly after. They sought opportunities to demonstrate their worth, value and commitment to the UK. A by-product of which was improved lives for themselves.
They did whatever it took to integrate into society. Initially, living in the East End, they ate sausages and mash, embraced the vibrant music scene (they still talk about the time The Three Degrees came to town), Dad took up smoking (thankfully, he quit later on in life), they watched Only Fools and Horses religiously all the while working their fingers to the bone, they had to make ends meet.
“Rent was bloody high!” – Dad.
…he of all people knows fully well that today’s rent in London is astronomical!
They were and still are the strongest advocates for helping others I know, they are the reason for me doing what I do for a living.
Moving the story forward a decade, my sister and I come along. My parents set up camp (something for the UKIP folk) in Streatham, South West London. They instilled the need to respect British morals and the status quo while maintaining and understanding our Indian heritage. We were taught not to impose our beliefs on others but embrace rightly or wrongly those who did this to us. Absorb and learn. Absorb and learn.
Growing up in Streatham in the 90s was an interesting experience. In a predominantly white society my sister and I had to do as our parents did. We adapted. We were embraced by the majority but there was always a lingering minority. We knew and acknowledged who they were but chose not to react. For instance, once we went to Streatham Leisure Centre to renew our family membership, we’d only been in there for 10mins when someone had slashed all 4 tyres on my dad’s car, and etched “Pakis go home” into the bonnet. It made me understand that although my parents had British passports, owned a British home and paid British taxes they were only about 95% British.
Here you have my dad, someone who isn’t a murderer or rapist, someone who worked just to support his family and did what British society told him to do, being targeted because of the colour of his skin. My parents didn’t sit us down and explain that things like this happen, they just let it happen. They wanted us to see that although we were born in the UK, we aren’t entirely British. A lesson well taught.
Shifting forward to today, the day the UK voted leave in the EU referendum. Friends of mine, some of whom who’s parents are immigrants or they themselves are former immigrants to the UK voted to leave the EU. Friends who I thought were rational and understood that we were stronger united, cited EU immigration as the main factor in their decision. The very same friends, who said to me:
“Donald Trump is going to win the US presidency and fuck that country up!”
“You’re gonna be caught up in the Donald Trump storm!”
“All American politicians are puppets, everyone knows that!”
…voted to leave the EU because of immigration, something Mr. Trump is a staunch purveyor of. That could very well be the case but as the saying goes…people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
I hope when I return to England later on this year that this has not been in vain and some sort of progress starts to take place. Leaving the EU was not the right decision. As the child of immigrant parents who committed their lives to the UK and England, I cannot express enough gratitude to the country that has helped shape who I am. I do not want this generation’s children of immigrants to let this event sully their image of a nation that can provide opportunities if you are willing to give back. But it will, I promise you it will.
Disclaimer: The use of Zs instead of Ss, and lack of Us in some words is not of my own volition. I just can’t be bothered to adjust my grammar settings.