There is a lot of fuss in the UK about immigrants at the moment. This is because (a) we are in a recession and people are looking for a handy scapegoat and (b) there is a general election coming up and it’s a useful lever for manipulating public opinion.
The general feeling seems to be that there are too many immigrants in Britain and the government needs to place more restrictions on them. In this one-sided debate very little mention is made of the fact that our public services are being held together by immigrants, or that immigrants are doing many of the jobs that indigenous British people don’t want to do, like working in the food-processing industry.
My parents were immigrants. They came to Britain because there was no work in their own country. They were not warmly received. My mother told me that when she went looking for accommodation she repeatedly came across signs that read, ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs.’
As the child of immigrants I was always conscious of how my parents saw a different reality to other people. The world around them was less real than it was for me. Beneath the thin and shabby world in which they earned their money, glittered the more substantial geography of Home, just out of reach.
I grew up listening to sentimental songs about people leaving home, dreaming of home, returning home. But for me there was no such thing as home. My parents’ country wasn’t home but neither was England. Home was something I had to carve for myself out of my imagination. It’s a project I’m still working on.
Whenever the voices of those who feel with complete certainty that this is their country begin to be raised in righteous indignation, I always think of my parents, keeping their heads down, working hard. My father, whose name was Jack, putting up with being called Paddy by everyone he worked with. My mother cleaning the altar in her local church, taking her troubles to God.