Exploring Our Cultural Identity

The Journal (Newcastle, England), October 28, 2003 | Go to article overview

Exploring Our Cultural Identity


Writer Bettina Gracias is to work with schools and groups from Berwick to Middlesbrough in a project called Home, dealing with cultural identity and the 'Englishness' of our heritage

As a mixed race child of Austrian/Indian 'immigrant' parents, born in Austria and raised in London, the issue of 'home' is close to my heart.

To someone born and bred in this country 'home' is probably either quite simply the place where you live or the house you grew up in, if your parents still live there.

For someone like me 'home' is a more complex and multi-layered concept. 'Home' is both where I live and my parents' house and much more.

London is my home. But despite being brought up here and having a British passport, England isn't.

Both Austria and India represent facets of feeling at home, in relatives' houses that I know from childhood holidays, certain smells or foods which evoke nostalgia, idiosyncrasies of language or a particular sense of humour.

Even a different aspect of oneself that emerges in different environments is never whole without them all.

With all the media hype concerning 'migrants', people can mistakenly be lumped together in one camp both literally and metaphorically.

The reason I put my parents' description as immigrants in inverted commas was because it would have felt alien and demeaning not to do so.

By labelling my parents as immigrants I feel as though I am removing their humanity, their individuality.

When one is labelled, one becomes other, separate, different, categorised as a part of rather than a whole.

This enables people to see through filtered glasses that block out the humanness of us all. It enables people to view others as 'numbers', 'leeches', a 'problem'.

When I walk down the streets in my local area and I hear different languages, see people from all over the world, see food that I don't recognise in the shops, I feel excited, alive; the world is on my doorstep and it feels like an adventure. But not everyone feels that way. Why?

I heard a white English woman speaking about being on a bus one day where no one spoke English and she felt lost, in fear and certainly not at home.

She said she wasn't racist but she felt like a minority in her own country. Why? For once she saw herself as other but in her own home and surely that's not right.

I have heard of people leaving cities and going to country towns because they felt their children were being swamped by others, other cultures, other religions, losing their sense of Englishness.

I've heard of people being outraged by the idea that other religions from other countries can carry equal, if not greater weight, taking away from Christianity.

The cry is, we're not racist but that doesn't mean we should release our Englishness, be drowned or swamped in otherness, not know who we are any more. …

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