Archive for the 'DiverCities Features' Category

“Why are we here, dad?”

Sara Wajid reviews her family history as told by official archives.

As a child, parents and primary school teachers gave me completely different answers to the question “Why are we here?” I preferred my dad’s answer because it extended me some dignity: England needed doctors. But as a child, I needed a multicoloured explanation, a bit more ammunition to bolster my internal resources and answer the “Paki go home” playground taunts. A poster of the proud Asian suffragettes marching in 1912 might have helped. Or one of cricket star Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, who came to England in 1888 to attend Trinity College, Cambridge, and became the first Indian to play cricket at county level. Or copies of the historic letters between Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah and Mountbatten negotiating the terms of Indian independence.
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Mediating intercultural dialogue at what price?

Sara Wajid and Mike Jempson

“Any kind of harmony in a local community is deeply shaped by the character of the media.”
Bhikhu Parekh, 1 May 2008, Intercultural City Conference, Liverpool.

“If media keep highlighting ugly practices and situations of tension then a mood is created where people say ‘Immigrants are never going to settle and its never going to work’,” the author ofThe Parekh Report, the seminal work on multi-culturalism, told DiverCities . “Media plays a very important part.”

Professor Parekh cites the local media in Leicester as an example of good practice. “The city fathers said (to local media during a period of racial tension) ‘Let’s agree about the kind of Leicester we want; a Leicester in turmoil is not good for anyone’, so the media committed themselves – the editor of the Leicester Mercury in particular – to certain minimum principles, and that helped a great deal.”

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Culture shock

Histoires de choc culturel (le premier et le dernier de votre vie)

Effy Tselikas records first and last encounters with difference
Liverpool 01/05/08


« C’était à Sofia, en période communiste où j’ai passé mon enfance. En sortant de l’école, je voyais souvent des jeunes enfants, des femmes vêtues avec de longues robes bariolées mendier. Je ne comprenais pas ; comment dans mon univers aussi normé, il y avait des gens qui échappaient à la conformité : ne pas travailler, ne pas être habillés de façon sobre, faire la manche, … J’ai demandé une explication à mes parents. Je ne me souviens pas de ce qu’ils m’ont répondu, mais sûrement la même chose que ce que tout le monde pensait à l’époque : ‘Oh, ce sont des Tziganes, des paresseux, des parasites…’ Ce fut ma première expérience de la différence.

« Ma plus récente expérience est plus légère. Lors d’un voyage d’étude dans un pays voisin du mien, qui me semblait appartenir à la même sphère culturelle, la Pologne pour ne pas la nommer, je me suis rendu compte qu’ils n’avaient pas du tout les mêmes horaires de repas que nous. Les séances de travail se succédaient sans fin, j’avais une faim de plus en plus terrible et personne ne semblait vouloir s’arrêter. Finalement, la pause déjeuner est arrivée vers 14h30 de l’après-midi, heure toute à fait méditerranéenne pour un pays situé beaucoup au Nord que le mien (la Bulgarie). »

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Websites I have known and logged

Sara Wajid realises her professional interests coincide with the DiverCities agenda.

As a writer and editor specialising in the history of minorities in Britain, I was excited about the working at the Intercultural Cities Conference – not least because it also gave me a chance to view Liverpool’s much-hyped International Museum of Slavery at The Maritime Museum. The last decade has seen a radical revolution in the heritage sector. Museums and archives are rich resources for stories about nationhood. And, if you ask the right questions and know where to look, they are surprisingly redolent repositories of stories about the long history of immigration. While communities of new and settled migrants are urgently recording their own oral histories, places like The Maritime Museum have begun, imaginatively and creatively, to discharge their duty to tell previously untold histories. The national narratives we choose to recall directly informs our futures together. This shift has coalesced neatly with advances in new technology leading to a tsunami of shiny new mega websites available to all who know they are there.
Here are my intercultural favourites.

Med Voices
The Mediterranean Voices project commenced in June 2002 and represents a three-year ethnographic investigation into the cosmopolitan oral and social histories of 13 historic cites across theMediterranean region, and in particular, certain urban quarters within them.

Moving Here
Discover how and why people came to England over the last 200 years – you can also trace your own roots.

London history told through the eyes of its cultural minorities. Search London museum collections by the diverse ethnic origins of the city’s inhabitants.

Refugee Stories
Stories taken from interviews with over 150 refugees now living in London.

Hidden Histories
Eastside Community Heritage tell the story of the last fifty years of East London


Stories Of London’s Refugees
Oral Histories from the Museum of London’s recent exhibition.

Port Cities – Unearthing Britain’s Maritime Heritage
This packed website offers a great starting place for anyone looking to explore the diverse cultural history of Britain’s great maritime cities, including Liverpool.

Reaching out gets results

by Sara Wajid

Municipal services in the UK are designed for the whole community and the responsibility lies with individuals to make use of those services.

But what happens when one size does not fit all users and vulnerable groups don’t take up badly-needed services thereby increasing their isolation?

In South Tottenham, London there is a well-established Orthodox Jewish community which typically has big families and small incomes. Local property prices have escalated steeply in the last decade, facing the new generation with a serious challenge. Their religion means they must live within walking distance of their special synagogues, but they can ill afford to buy in what has become a prohibitively expensive area. Haringey Council has taken steps towards engaging with the local Orthodox Jewish community. The secret to their success was simple – start by employing someone to whom the community can talk.

As far as she knows, Sara Leviten is the only community worker in the country focussing on the needs of Orthodox Jews. She feels her traditional Jewish background was key to gaining the trust of the community and conceiving successful culturally-appropriate community projects. Initiatives like the pre-Passover creche and extra disposal services during Passover, when Jewish households have a clear out.

Leviten learned her skills as a youth worker within the Jewish community in Liverpool. “Doing the practicalities yourself – from leafleting, to walking and talking – and spending as little time as possible on the policy and strategy, and boxes to tick, makes all the difference,” she says.

Although not from an Ultra-Orthodox background herself, she knows that the Charedi and Chassidim grow up in very enclosed isolated environments. English is a second language for many, they don’t own televisions, read general newspapers or tend to use statutory institutions or engage with the council. So an intimate knowledge of Jewish culture is vital to making urgently-needed services accessible to them.

The average family size of Orthodox Jews in Tottenham is 5.9 and only 22 percent of adult members of the community are in full time work. The demand for youth provision is growing but the community cannot rely does not have the resources to continue relying on the old system of self-help community benevolence.

In 2005, a one-year €90,000 South Tottenham Community Development Project was established with Neighbourhood Regeneration Funds from central government. It followed an arson attack on a local synagogue in 2004. Some 3000 people participated in 12 community activities, including homework clubs, holiday schemes, and a toy library, and attendance of Orthodox Jews at public meetings increased.

The strong Jewish tradition of ‘looking after your own’ and officialdom’s conventional thinking ‘They’re not asking for anything so we don’t need to go knocking on their doors’ has created serious barriers between the community and the council. These have been broken down thanks to the project, says Leviten.

Copyright Sara Wajid


Conversations with Conference delegates

2. Bhikhu Parekh

“Multi-culturalism has been a great success in India and Canada. In Britain it served us well in the 1980s and 1990s but it took a slightly disturbing trend when it became a way of supporting minorities that meant we couldn’t criticise. The Rushdie affair played a big part in that shift because the country was so shaken. White society didn’t want to create problems even though the Muslim community were perfectly prepared to hear criticism, but we created a climate where ‘hands off minority communities’ became the common policy…

“I would say multi-culturalism has been fairly successful policy, but it certainly needs changing. Every 10 or 15 years we need to take another look at it and move in the direction of a more responsible culture; a version of multi-culturalism which is open to common values.

“I don’t know what Inter-culturalism means. If it means we want people to be talking to each other, my immediate question is that they do that anyway.

“It could be a step backwards towards assimilation, because interculturalism could be another form of mono-culturalism, which is ‘We will not tolerate differences because we want everyone to be talking and engaging in dialogue.’

“So if you have a person who is perfectly happy to say ‘I live in my tradition and I am happy to interact with other people, meet them in market-places, cinemas, sport grounds, but by and large I live my life in my own tradition,’ the Interculturalist would say: “Oh you blighted man, we’ll have to come and civilise you.”

As someone from India I know the danger of a ‘civilising mission’ and we should avoid that. Interculturalism, in my opinion, could be very claustrophobic.”


Conversations at the conference with Sir Bob Scott

“Multiculturalism is important insofar as it breeds sympathy and a sense of belonging and welcome – so everyone is respected with their own background.

“We encourage the building of mosques and temples, for example, so you don’t lose your character by being in this country. We also expect you to obey UK law but we are keen to encourage the notion of people living under one roof.

“But it has also led to the creation of ghettoes. In one northern city, for example, 20,000 people from North India and Pakistan all live close together in one area. So there is a problem for the second generation living a terrible double life – with their parents who may not have learned English and going to an English speaking school. So they live a very difficult life…

So inter-culturalism has become more important – because people feel they can genuinely participate in every conceivable way and become British first without losing their Indian identity

Something like 50 percent of the population of Liverpool claim an Irish background – so we have always had the notion of Liverpool Irish. And like any big port, we have small but well-established maritime communities of sailors and merchant seamen from China, Somalia and Sri Lanka as well as Italy and Spain, for instance. So we have always seen ourselves as ‘the world in one city’.

Liverpool has great cathedrals and one of the great synagogues in the country. In 2004 we had a faith community year with Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews all working together and participating in their own ways.

We’re trying to develop inter-culturalism here without it being painful or unnatural. The worse thing we can do is make such an effort of political correctness that people get very put off by it.

What we believe passionately is that what leads to riots and real unhappiness is a multi-culturalism that leads to real ghettoes. We need inter-culturalism that develops respect for other cultures – living cultures talking to each other.”

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