Almost half a century has passed since I stepped off a plane with my family leaving behind everyone we held dear to our hearts, fleeing the ravages of war and stood down on a grey winter of London.
Our family journey to an unknown land is a narrative familiar to millions of others, here and elsewhere in the globe. Each person representing their own set of circumstances, motivations and reasons, be it wars, economic necessity or more simply following their destiny. I believe, each of us have one common thread, that is, searching to better our lives, hoping to give our children a better future and a safer place to grow.
As a migrant you are forced to grapple with a multiple set of complex experiences, the most difficult of which is uprooting your family. This is not for the faint hearted, even though for many, what you leave behind is usually bleak or hopeless. I have always believed that, only those with innate strengths and courage will undertake and tread such uncertain futures to another country, seeking to make a new life.
I am not sure that as a child, one arrives in a new country owning a dream or accomplishing a better life, but I am certain that many adults of my mother’s generation may have indeed believed, that no matter how difficult the journey, it would end with a safer home, new beginning, and better education for their children. I cannot imagine that many would have countenanced the stark cultural contrast, lifestyle, new language, and most significantly the blatant and brutal hostility of racism.
As a teenager, growing up in London, my own sense of self respect, valuing my upbringing, acknowledging my cultural heritage and my faith was an intrinsic asset in aiding my efforts to building our new home in Britain. Just as important was the willpower, ingrained from a lovingly nurtured childhood, which came with having grown up amongst strong, highly educated women in my family.
In every step I took, as an adult, as a community worker and later in parliament, my mother, aunts and grandmothers have always been my pillars. They have been the benchmark, encouragement for education as well as their reinforcement for a future careers. Their individual choices of some of the women have led the way for opportunity enjoyed by siblings of my all my family members, over the past generation.
Many of our peer groups often reflect about the ease with which they as children were able to adapt to their new home despite the many bitter incidents of physical and verbal racist abuse. My siblings still recall their childhood at a time when ‘paki bashing’ was rampant sports for the young thugs of east end of London. Despite such traumas, resilience and courage seems to be the quintessential common thread, which run through the many narratives I have heard and witnessed first-hand, over the past 45 years.