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December 11, 2006

Integration, integration, integration

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6219626.stm

“The right to be different, the duty to integrate, that is what it means to be British.”

Tony Blair raised eyebrows, and also some tempers, with his Downing St speech stating that people entering the UK must be prepared to be tolerant or not become part of society.

We’ve heard time and again how apparently it was because they ‘didn’t feel a part of society’ in the UK that young Muslim men went off to the Middle East and Asia to train with extremist groups and then fight for them.

It’s funny, that as a member of an ethnic minority I didn’t even think about the concept of integration until recent terrorist acts threw the issue into the limelight. I’ve never questioned my loyalties to this country: it’s home and always will be. My parents have been here since the 70s and identify themselves as British, let alone my brother and I who were born and brought up here. This doesn’t mean for one minute that we don’t hold on to the religion and culture that my grandparents brought with them when they immigrated. We’re practicing Hindus, I’ve been taught to cook traditional food, we listen to Indian music, and God help my brother and I if we dare to speak in English in the house!

But with all the fuss going on at the moment, I’m starting to wonder if I’m in a strange sub-minority of the ‘well-integrated’. It wasn’t easy for my grandparents’ and parents’ generations when they first arrived, the mindset of the time meant that there were (of course) those that felt they shouldn’t even be here. Yet, I dread to think what my life would’ve been like if my family had carried those negative experiences with them rather than moving on. Because sometimes I think that’s what’s happened with all these ‘disillusioned’ people we keep hearing about: the first immigrants into the UK had it tough and they’ve passed the hurt and resentment onto their children. The result of this is a generation who despite being born here, carry a chip on their shoulder about the country they should be calling ‘home’.

I look different, my religion is different, I speak some other languages. I still had the benefit of the same free education as the white person sat next to me. It was still the National Health Service that cared for my grandfather when he had a stroke, for one grandmother who had cancer, and for the other who had Alzheimer’s. My childhood was an intermingling of two cultures but they weren’t fighting each other. My parents saw that you couldn’t be in a country and cocoon yourself from the life it lived, so they’ve done their best to embrace it – without sacrificing anything they brought with them thirty-odd years ago. They strike this strange balance which has made things so very easy for my brother and I.

So here I am, this Hindu girl who went to a Catholic school, spent her Saturdays at the temple learning to read Gujarati, but her lunchtimes practicing hymns with the school choir. An unashamed Take That fan, yet an equally unashamed Abhishek Bachchan fan, who deliberates on a Saturday night whether to watch an old Bollywood film with her mum or Match of the Day with her dad. I just put up my Christmas decorations, a few months after filling my house with lamps for Diwali. And I’m thinking that perhaps the key to integration is some good old fashioned respect.

Respect by the ‘host’ community for the differences that ethnic minority communities have, and in particular the difficulties faced by those just beginning a new life in the UK.

Respect by the minorites for the culture of the country that you chose to come to, that you willingly made your home.

Maybe I’m being too naive, over-simplifying something much more complicated, but to me integration means respect and understanding on both sides.

What does integration mean to you?

V xx


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