Category Archives: diasporas

Englandesh project

Here’s Sam Strickland’s fascinating photography project about migration from Sylhet to the UK.


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Pilgrim State and Motherland: From Migration to Homecoming

This is an essay from guest writer for Intersections, Jacqueline Walker, the author of Pilgrim State.

In 1959, as a five year old, I arrived in Southampton from Jamaica having experienced periods of separation from my mother. Like many Caribbean parents of the time, my mother had been working away, in her case in Canada, to save enough money to take her family to Britain. As children we were being united not just with our physical mother but with the country we had been taught to think of as the Mother Country. Many years later, when I began research into the construction of British Caribbean identity for a postgraduate thesis, it became clear that the confluence between Caribbean notions of mothers and Motherland with experiences of separation and reunion were not just part of my personal childhood history. The work of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy, amongst others, has explored the response of Black British people to migration and colonialism. My intention here is to examine one strand of this thinking, with particular reference to a number of literary works, Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners and my own book Pilgrim State in order to better understand the ways that the experience of migration and settlement for people of Caribbean descent has changed over the last sixty years.


The effects of enslavement on the relationship to ‘self’ has been commented on by writers such as CLR James and Franz Fanon. For more than two hundred years people of African descent had their bodies and minds enslaved through a number of violent and subtle stages that internalised oppression, making bearable what was, in reality, insufferable. However, people will always subvert oppression and Africans were not passive victims; they never have been, they rebelled, not just through acts of open revolt, such as those which occurred in Barbados or Haiti[1]. In every day life enslaved peoples subverted the power of the plantocracy, developing coded, highly mobile language systems, casting spells, corrupting food and saboutaging work schedules. However, one of the most effective and least known modes of resistance was the action taken by women in relation to their own reproduction. Control of fertility was, not surprisingly, a central arena for conflict; the issue being not simply how many children a woman would have, but when they would be born, who the father would be and the eventual fate of those children. Continue reading

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Home and Away: Romanian Film Festival

Home & Away, the 5th edition of the Romanian Film Festival in London is a national festival with a twist, which lines up films from Romania and films which are not  ‘technically Romanian’, being signed by Romanian film-makers based elsewhere in the world. Dislocation, longing and belonging provide the connecting tissue of the programme, which invites a reflection about homelands and border-crossings – geographical, identitary or aesthetic.

More info on the festival concept and full programme available at

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Death: The Price to Pay for U.S. Citizenship

Not a day goes by in the media without horrendous and tragic stories about the consequences of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. By the title of this post you are probably wondering where “citizenship” comes into the entire debacle of the Afghanistan and Iraq War? Well, apparently in the Washington Post, there is an excellent article on how the U.S. military is offering an incentive, by way of citizenship to thousands of foreign-born, and often poor, immigrants. Essentially, “Jose” is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the U.S. in the hopes that his “patriotic” services will be returned in kind with full U.S. citizenship. Well of course, “Jose” does get U.S. citizenship, but only after he is six feet underground in a coffin! These “green card” soldiers are part of “tens of thousands of foreign-born members in the U.S. armed forces. Many have been naturalized, but more than 20,000 are not U.S. citizens.”

As the article mentions, the U.S. has a history of using immigrants to fight wars. During the Mexican-American War, many Irishmen, escaping the Potato Famine, were recruited to fight, lured by the promise of salaries and land. The Saint Patrick’s Battalion, largely made up of Irish immigrants to the U.S. fought and were instrumental in helping the U.S. army during the start of the war. However, things began to change for the battalion and many of them deserted to fight with the Mexican army. Possible theories for this large scaled desertion are many: mistreatment towards them by other nativist soldiers and senior officers, not being allowed to attend Sunday Mass or to practice their own religion freely, among other motivations. However, the main reasons for the battalion’s desertion was because of shared religious sympathy with the Mexicans (also Catholic) and recognizing the similarities between the situation in Ireland and Mexico.

Bringing up the history of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion is not to say that immigrants cannot be trusted and are not loyal, but to show how the U.S. army manipulated citizenship so that Irish Catholics would be fighting Mexican Catholics, i.e Catholic vs Catholic fighting. Yet again, citizenship is being manipulated so that disinfranchized ethnics and would-be citizens of the U.S. are having to prove their patriotism by fighting Bush’s (and Blair’s) corporate, unjust, and dirty war. Case in point, the article mentions a father of a deceased immigrant soldier-

Fernando Suarez del Solar just feels angry- angry at what he considers the futility of a war that claimed his only son, angry at the military recruiters he says courted young Jesus relentlessly even when the family still lived in Tijuana.

His son was just 13, Suarez del Solar said, when he was first dazzled by Marine recruiters in a California mall. For the next two years Jesus begged the family to emigrate and eventually they did, settling in Escondido, Calif., where the teen signed up for the Marines before he left high school.

Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez Del Solar was 20 when he was killed by a bomb in the first week of the war. He left behind a wife and baby and parents so bitter about his death that they eventually divorced.

Today, his 52-year-old father has become an outspoken peace activist who travels the country organizing anti-war marches, giving speeches and working with counter-recruitment groups to dissuade young Latinos from joining the U.S. military.

Fernando has a valid point to be extremely upset at the U.S.military. Most of those recruited during the early days of the Iraq War came from disadvantaged or ethnic backgrounds. I never saw the U.S. army recruiters in posh or upper middle class neighborhoods, which are of course largely white. Most of the recruitment I witnessed was in lower middle class, largely ethnic neighborhoods. I believe Michael Moore made a point about this in film Fahrenheit 9/11.

As the Washington Post articled mentioned, “Immigrants are lured into service and then used as political pawns or cannon fodder, said Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project, a program of the National Lawyers Guild. It is sad thing to see people so desperate to get status in this country that they are prepared to die for it.

Yes, indeed it is sad, but it makes me outraged to see immigration manipulated in such a tragic manner.


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Identity Within Politics

As the election season kicked-off throughout the U.S., more than ever issues over identity and gender are being commented in the media on both sides of the pond. An article in the Canadian Globe and Mail highlights the obvious sexism that Hillary Clinton seems to be facing by both male and female commentators in the election race. After 24 years since the last female to play a prominent position in a presidential election, Geraldine Ferraro, it seems that traditional views on gender are unfortunately still strong. Much like experience that Clinton has received by the press recently, Ferraro also had to endure sexist treatment from the media and fellow politicans, most notably when after the vice-presidential debate, George Bush Sr. declared that he “kicked a little ass”. No longer can a female candidate be just that- she now has to be yummy mummy and/or MILF, a fashion plate, a caring and understand wife, a professional- you name it and the list goes on.

Futhermore, if you are a woman in control, the media plays the lesbian card to imply that because of her supposed sexuality as a lesbian, this allows one to assume masculine modes of success. In addition, by dallying with the lesbian card, the media, both liberal and conservative can play one off as being somewhat anti-male, anti-family, and anti-femininity. There is much speculation that Hillary Clinton has been deceiving the media for years- that her marriage to Bill is a sham and that she is a closed lesbian.Whatever the case may be, why are female candidates presented by denigrating them sexually? I don’t know if Hillary is a lesbian or not, but at this point I don’t care- it should be about the issues and not about what goes on behind the sheets.

However, it isn’t Hillary Clinton that has been questioned and criticized for about her identity-specifically gender related. Likewise, Barack Obama has also had to content with Islamophobia within his presidential bid. Obama represents an emerging segment of the U.S. population- diasporic, bi-racial and one exposed to different religious traditions, namely Islam. Although Obama has stated repeatedly that he is a practicing Christian, there are those who feel that he is still a threat to the American people because of his Islamic middle name, Hussein, and because he spent his early years in Indonesia- a predominately Muslim country. In light of 9/11 and anti-Muslim feelings (on both sides of the pond), it seems that Obama is having to constantly reiterate his Christian faith, by down playing his obvious Muslim background. Naomi Klein, has recently written a good piece on this issue, and one that I agree with: for Obama the best thing to do to tackle the Islamophoic feelings within the media and with political rivals is to simply acknowledge that there is no shame in being or coming from a Muslim background.

The politics of identity within the U.S. elections has much to do with the evolutionary ideas of what it is to be American these days. Exactly, what is American these days? The ethnic and religious make-up of the U.S. is transforming in addition to the fact that women have a powerful role politically and economically in today’s society. The rise of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama point towards this. Especially in light of Obama, I have always said to friends that it won’t be his race that will be dissected as much as his multi-cultural background. Unlike Clinton, Obama does not hail from a predominately white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon background that for the most part has been the standard in becoming president of the U.S.

Meanwhile the push and pull of identity and politics are not tied to the U.S. alone. The 20th of April will mark 40 years since the Rivers of Blood speech given by Enoch Powell. Sarfraz Manzoor has investigated the affects of Powell’s speech in Birmingham in a piece written in the Guardian. It is odd that someone like Powell, who encouraged immigration during his period as Health Minister would warn in the Rivers of Blood speech of the impending doom and the eventuality that “In this country in 15 or 20 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.

Remember, when Powell encouraged greater immigration, the National Health Service was woefully understaffed. I don’t doubt that Powell came from the colonial mind-set that those employed from the immigrant, and largely from the former colonies would “know their place” within society and behave accordingly. The main fear for those like Powell was that these immigrants would gain and have a higher position than the native white population. Coupled with this, was the greater fear that these new immigrants, coming from the all parts of the British Empire, namely South Asian and Black, would change the racial landscape so much that it would cease to be British.

Much like the U.S., as seen with the presidential election, the main issue is again, what is British? Like the U.S., the U.K. is coping with coming to terms with a changing ethnic and religious landscape, while trying reconcile and put together elements of what is considered British identity. The themes of the River of Blood speech are still echoed today especially with regards to the new Polish immigrants and with the general mood of xenophobia in the Daily Mail as represented in Zrinka Bralo‘s article on her experiences as a refugee in the UK.

Of course, the easiest people to dissect are those who are immigrant, refugee, and diasporic. Nevermind the fact that the economic infrastructure of both U.S. and U.K. are less American and British these days and no one is up in arms over that. However, it is pathetic that in this day and age being an immigrant or having bi-cultural status still makes one seem “dodgy” and deserve more scrutiny.


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Filed under diasporas, gender, identity, Islamophobia, refugee