Raised by an Immigrant: My Grandmother’s Memoirs

“The future is yours!” – A quote by my Grandmother…

Having just spent the bank holiday weekend in deep conversation with my Grandmother about her life prior to and following her arrival in the UK, I felt inclined to share not just segments of her experience, but a few of the key ‘qualities’ she’s gained and shared with me.

Firstly, with the constant talk of Brexit currently in the UK and the uncertainty of what that could mean for many Brits and non-Brits living within the UK, chucking in the term ‘Immigrant’ is metaphorically like adding fuel to an already grueling fire. I personally think there is a lot of privilege associated with being a “second-generation immigrant” and whilst some might raise their eyebrows to this, I’m going to explain below as to why that is…

Over the weekend I sat with my Grandmother over a cup of Kenyan Chai, discussing what she classifies as the three most prominent qualities she’s gained having moved to the UK in the 70s – not just once, but twice.

My Grandmother quite fondly stated ‘Patience’, ‘Wisdom’ and ‘Tolerance’. This conversation for me was quite nostalgic. It reminded me of my childhood and my early teenage years in which my Grandmother was the pioneer for my success at School and College, often reminding me how fortunate I was to even have the ability to be educated – for free, whilst her childhood required the exchange of her cleaning services to afford her a day in school. This alone screams “I’m privileged!” in comparison to the ordeal my Grandmother faced so regularly, as a school girl from a village in Central Kenya.

Focusing on this past weekend, again sitting comfortably in my Grandmother’s living room now with room temperature Chai, I asked her why she felt her three biggest qualities gained from relocating from Kenya to England were ‘Patience’, ‘Wisdom’ and ‘Tolerance’ which she summed up so eloquently….

PATIENCE 

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Originally my Grandmother moved to the UK, with a Husband and three young Children, practically broke and with strong conviction knowing that the UK was not meant to be home for her and her family at that time. My Grandmother managed to persuade my Grandfather to purchase printing equipment, ship it back to Kenya and return there to start up their printing company which was massively successful. If the quote “Behind every strong Man is an even stronger Woman” doesn’t spring to mind then I don’t know what does! The lesson in this was, ‘My time will come’, and with patience, it did.

WISDOM

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During my Grandmother’s second time relocating to the UK in the late 70s (she’s stayed put ever since) she knew what to expect, what the area was like, and with many bumps and hiccups along the way she grew wiser through the struggle.

My Grandmother was wise in knowing what to expect; very few black people (five she’d encountered in her first year to be precise) and a minimalist lifestyle to ensure that poverty didn’t become a regular acquaintance. I took so much from this personally. Being that I lived with my Grandmother whilst at School and College, she’d often remind me to ‘live close to the poverty line’, which in the most humble way possible means to live within your means. In fact, this saying was said so often I became frightened of it, fearful that it was being spoken into existence, so as soon as I turned 16 and received my National Insurance Card, I got straight to work – alongside education, of course!

TOLERANCE

Image result for racial tolerance

This in particular stood out the most to me, and a trait I still see so comfortably in my Grandmother to this very day. Interestingly, this is also the trait that my Grandmother and I disagree on the most; she believes I should be more tolerant of people’s opinions whereas I feel that ‘tolerance’ can be used as a revolving door leading many People of Colour to fall victim to discrimination.

My Grandmother remarked that during her second time living in Suburban England in the 70s, she’d encountered five black people; she also noted that this was more than she’d expected. Of the five none were African, so to an extent there was a level of ‘tolerance’ required to culturally adapt. Equally, tolerance was required being that the area she lived in was consumed by well-integrated white families – some who’d previously had very little contact with black people in general. Whilst my Grandmother joked timidly that she hadn’t experienced racism during this time, I know that she had as my Mother has previously recalled some horrific accounts. With this said, my Grandmother has also experienced racism whilst Kenya was under British colonial ruling so the extent of what I might find racist and what she might, has always been relatively based on this.

A level of tolerance is also required inwardly; my Grandmother commented that being tolerant of who you are and where you are in life will only bring the best out of you and your current circumstances, which ties in nicely with the two other traits she’s become so fond of – patience and wisdom.

One thing I’d assumed prior to our conversation was the expectation that my Grandmother would remark on more negative experiences than positive. In actuality she was quite humble about her migration to the UK, because her life in England had afforded her some great things, one of those being able to put her Children AND Grandchildren into really successful educational systems, allowing us all to achieve University Education or higher, which is something my Grandmother had always dreamed of for herself.

Rounding up our conversation, I ended our three hour chatter with “So what do you think is the greatest benefit to my generation, specifically those who are categorised as second or third generation immigrants?” to which she replied “The future is yours!

As the Granddaughter to such a wise, gracious woman I felt and still feel truly inspired, realising that I often take for granted the lifestyle I’ve been afforded by the resilience, patience and hard-work completed without complaint by the women – immigrants – that came before me. In talking with my Grandmother it reconfirmed that as a ‘Second Generation Immigrant’ I have a duty of care not only to the generations before me, but most importantly to myself and the generations that follow – never forgetting who I come from, and how hard they had to tirelessly work to create the opportunities that I’ve been given abundantly!

 

 

 

 

 

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