We human beings need to feel a sense of belonging. Being part of a group, knowing how we fit in seems necessary to our well-being, to our very sense of self. I suppose one of the reasons why we want to trace our past is that very need to understand the group, or family, we came from and what has made us into the person we are today. And perhaps to use that comprehension to heal things from our own past which may have been holding us back in some way.
Which sets me thinking about orphans, refugees, the displaced. How much harder must it be for someone who has been forced, or has chosen, to flee from everything and everyone they hold dear, and start again in a new place. To create a new story, find a way of belonging in an alien place. A place that is not always very welcoming.
A case in point – imagine being part of the “Windrush Generation”, invited by the “Mother Country” to leave the Caribbean and come to the UK in order to help with post war reconstruction. Only to be met by hostility and signs like this one. And NOW, more than half a century later, our contemptible Government is the instigator of new regulations which have questioned whether the Windrush immigrants and their children have a legal right to stay in Britain, to be treated on the NHS, stay in employment, be able to keep their homes. I cannot express just how shamed and disgusted I feel that this is happening to these people in this day and age. All the belated grovelling apologies just don’t seem enough.
Until 1965 (UK Human Rights Act), it was not illegal to put the above notice in your window . It occurs to me that my own Irish mother could have seen signs like that as she went about her business in 1950’s and 60’s Glasgow, though it’s my impression that Glasgow saw less of that kind of racism due to its strong links with Ireland over the years. But still, my Mum, the alien! She who became more Scottish than the Scots, whose love of her adopted land ran strong and deep and true. Here are her own words as she was approaching home after one of her Russia trips.
It was lovely to see our first glimpse of Scotland, dear old Scotland, so green and small! And do you know all our roads are curvy and the walls around our fields, and our houses and farms and hills. Lovely.
In some ways displacement from Ireland to Scotland might not seem such a huge distance to travel – not like someone coming from a faraway land where faces are a different colour, tongues speak a different language and the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life so different as to be almost unrecognisable. It’s no wonder that migrants, whether fleeing from war and oppression or just looking for a better life, tend to gravitate together in expatriate communities. They often struggle in the face of what can be a suspicious and hostile new world.
I find it sad that instead of welcoming the stranger with open arms, so often backs are turned, excluding them and even turning them into scapegoats for the ills of society which have nothing to do with them. Our present British Government tends to pander to these prejudices. And as to the current American President! He seems to have forgotten the wonderful words carved on the Statue of Liberty.
We all belong to one another. The more I explore my family tree, discovering yet further distant relatives, the more it is brought home to me that families, in fact humans, are really just variations on a familiar theme, sharing the same basic feelings and instincts. I can’t imagine there’s a single person whose heart doesn’t break at the sight of that wretched little body on the shoreline. It helps me to remember that whether we are high born or low born, rich or poor, a rogue or a saint, we are more alike than we are different…