I am two people. I am Bangladeshi and I am British. The first version of my identity stems from the fact that I am the daughter of two immigrants. I say this with a tremendous amount of pride. Especially in recent months, the word ‘immigrant’ has come to be a dirty word, synonymous with images of filthy, diseased, impoverished people who ‘drain the economy’ and refuse to integrate into society. As the product of two immigrants, I can safely say that this is far from the truth.
My mother came to this country at the age of eleven: she left her friends, her beloved grandmother, her livelihood behind, because her father (my grandfather) had made the brave decision to move to England to start anew. He worked at a coat factory, laboriously attaching buttons to coats to provide for his family.
My grandfather (may he rest in peace) first came to this country when he was a teenager. Alone and almost penniless, he travelled to a country that promised work and stability, in the aftermath of World War Two. He often told me stories of how, during the coldest winters here, he and his friends would attempt to identify their houses beneath the many inches of snow, by leaving bricks beside their homes. These simple but endearing stories reminded me of the fact that my ancestors suffered for me to have this life, and for that I am eternally grateful.
My nan’s story is perhaps the most heart-rending of them all. She was born to a poor family with six other children. My great grandmother often went for days without food in order to ensure that her children did not starve. She would tell them white lies, insisting that she had eaten, to fool them into thinking that there was enough food, but there was not. Miniscule rations of rice and lentils were shared sparsely, and eventually, my nan saw through her mother’s façade of strength. The women that I am fortunate enough to be a descendant of are the strongest, most admirable and brave people I have ever heard of, and I aspire to pass their legacies on to my own children.
When it comes to my own mother, I can see that it pains her to retell her story. Her eyes brim with tears when she recounts her euphoric childhood in Bangladesh- how she couldn’t even bear to spend a day away from her grandmother, until a plane brought her to an alien country with people who would look down upon her. My mother started school here when she was in Year Seven. She was forced to learn an entire language with little support, and even then, managed to excel at most of the subjects she took (save for History, which she abhorred). My mother worked ridiculously hard, refusing to let any adversities get in her way: indeed, she was the victim of many a racist incident. Despite this, she acquired a good job, and supported herself through college and extra training. She managed to do all this without much guidance; as supportive as my nan and grandfather were, they were very limited in their English-speaking abilities, and the family’s situation quickly became a case of my mother and her siblings teaching my nan and grandfather. My mother was her own mentor, her own teacher and her own student. She raised me to be inquisitive, resilient and determined. My mother is the definition of strength; she epitomizes the type of magnificence that only women of colour can claim to possess.
My father was also rather independent in his journey. After completing his secondary education in Bangladesh, my father worked a number of temporary jobs at mini cab offices and restaurants, in order to provide for our little family: my parents had me at a relatively young age, when my mother was 22 and my father was 23. They were still finding their way around things: around their identities, around work and around integrating into an unfamiliar society and its customs. Now, sixteen years after my birth, my father owns a successful technology business in East London. He is surrounded by loving friends in a comfortable environment, however I know that deep down, nothing will ever replace my father’s true home, amidst the luscious green fields of Bangladesh. Sometimes when he speaks of his childhood, his voice breaks and he becomes teary. I know that in those moments, my father recalls his mother, who passed away when he had just entered adulthood.
My parents and grandparents have sacrificed and lost so much, in the hope of a better life for my family. The stories they tell are saturated with pain and loss and love and hope, and they have instilled in me values of gratitude, resilience and unbreakable strength. Though I was born here in London, I am the descendant of a family of immigrants. I listen to the tales of their childhoods, I enjoy the aromatic curries that remind them of their former lives, and I enjoy engaging in the hundreds of beautiful traditions that they have imparted on me. I am an immigrant, and I honestly could not be prouder of my identity.