“But if Poland played England in a football match, who would you support?
“Hah! So you’re not really English!”
“Poland, if the game was in the UK. England, if the game was in Poland.”
You can take those statements two ways: they either indicate the schizophrenic life of the child of immigrants or the gift of dual cultures. I and all my second-generation friends view our upbringing as positive. Not only has it enriched us, it’s allowed us to be open to the traditions, history, and idiosyncrasies of other nationalities. We’re all different; we’re all the same.
Organisations such as Britain First, EDL, and UKIP fail to understand this complexity. A few years ago the writing on the wall seemed to get more distinct for me. I lived in a rural England where activism didn’t appear necessary, and yet I still felt a need to have my say. I did it the only way I knew how. I wrote a novel.
What I aimed to bring to readers unfamiliar with the struggles of refugees or immigrants is that the route to the UK wasn’t easy and the journey wasn’t undertaken by choice. The characters in my book are multi-ethnic; they live in Manchester. Some have been through a horrendous six year war. I don’t want to minimize what the British suffered in World War 2; the UK lost so many of its brave men and women both in battle and in the bombings in the cities. But when an elderly English lady raised in the countryside told me how dreadful it was because a doodlebug might appear on the horizon, my jaw dropped. That was her main wartime worry? Meanwhile, the citizens of Poland were being herded into cattle trucks either to end up in slave labour camps in the Soviet Union and Germany, or concentration camps in Nazi German-occupied Poland. These are the people I remember when our government ignores thousands of refugees now dying in the Mediterranean. We aren’t in the 1940s when people could say, “Oh, but we never knew.”
This week I attended the funeral of a Polish survivor of WW2, a man who came with nothing and built a thriving business. His greatest success, however, was his children. The I Am An Immigrant campaign rightly focuses on recent arrivals who contribute to society. Still, when I looked at this veteran’s children, I realized there’s more to the story than that. Immigrants “pass it on.” These are the people his children became: one joined the Royal Artillery at 16, serving his country in Germany, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, and then in the Second Gulf War in Iraq with the Territorial Army. Another joined The Greater Manchester Police Force and served her community for years before becoming a teacher. Another got a first class degree from Oxford, became an ESOL teacher, then Head of Department. Another completed a Diploma in Business Studies and German and became the manager of an ophthalmic clinic. The youngest studied Politics and European Studies then worked as a criminal lawyer until she started a family. She is now a respected food writer.
I am a British Pole, born British, bred Polish, and I, too, am an immigrant.