Friday, 22 April 2011

Diaspora at Home

People find it amusing to find someone born and bred in Willesden Green, which amuses me in turn. I'm sure there are quite a few of us, and really, it needn't be such a surprise.

I went to the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival in February. Its theme: 'Crossing Borders'. In one lecture they came on to second generation diaspora and my ears pricked up. It was about the thread of diaspora, and the fact that it  doesn't stop with the person who sails. They mentioned belonging, completion of the self; something we all want to do and which are complicated by diaspora. I identified with this, and thought of it the other day when I saw two teenagers with cockney accents in hiqabs on the 98 bus. I also thought of an Irishman my mum used to talk to, and when she asked him what part of Ireland he was from, he said he was born down the road.
     When I say to people that I'm from Willesden, the usual reaction is,
     'Oh! So you're actually from London, then?'
     Well, yes, I guess I am.
     Though it took me a long time to get to that bit. I am just like the kids I see now going to school, with their mums in hijabs, or a scarf, or whatever they might have on. My point is, my parents are from somewhere else, too. So it took me a long time to think I was from here when I used to have an Irish accent myself, when I thought I was from somewhere else. I've argued the point a lot, but I don't bother so much now. When I live in Spain, or should I say Catalunya, then I'm English. But then they say I don't look English, so I say my parents are Irish, and then the reaction is, 'Oh! So you're Irish?'
     Well, I guess I am.

In Ireland, I am English. At University, I was the Irish girl. In Willesden, I'm from Willesden. Sometimes, people are more extreme nationals of their own country when they are out of it. Home is always home, even when you've been living in another country for fifty years and at home for seventeen. Someone asked me the other day why second generation Irish want so much to be Irish? ... Interesting, I said. Maybe it's because they grow up hearing about another place called home. They go home every year. Their extended family are at home. Then you grow up and realise your home is not the same as the one you've grown used to hearing of.

So, in my home, Willesden Green, there are the following places, to name a few:
  • Irish pubs (Angie's, Lula's, McGowan's and more)
  • A Church, with a Polish congregation
  • KD's (A Caribbean take-away shop)
  • Mandy's (an Irish shop)
  • Liquid (used to be an Aussie place, maybe still is?)
  • Red Pig (a Polskie butchers)
  • The Charcoal Grill (Kebab shop)
  • The Central Mosque of Brent
  • The Queensbury Pub (used to be The Green)
  • The Queensbury Deli
  • Nest, a cafe by Willesden Green station
  • Foxtons - a big disappointment. Pizza Express should have got it...
  • Pomegranate - a Thai BYO
What we used to have:
  • The Spotted Dog - an Aussie hub, gone now apart from the fa├žade
  • D & G's - that great family-run Greek
  • Shish - never quite as good as D & G's but a lot better than Foxtons
These places tell me that so many threads, textures and colours meet here, and I think of a line of a poem: 'Wherever I hang me knickers - that's my home', by the Guyanese - British poet Grace Nichols.