Struggling with Integration

11:17am Wednesday 21st June 2006

By Nadiyya Malik

The desperate need for a work force in the face of population decline in the UK led to the mass migration of people across seas and continents since the early 1950s.

The immigrants came in waves. The first lot arrived from the Caribbean shortly after the Second World War followed by the Indians, Pakistanis and then by people from East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). Following African decolonisation and its turbulent aftermath, new arrivals streamed in from East Africa, many of them victims of black supremacist politics and oppression.

There were many reasons why people migrated to the UK. They may have suffered prosecution in their own countries or the prospect of employment was poor. Britain offered a better standard of living, good employment prospects and a better educational and health system.

On arrival of the immigrants, very few Britons had had any direct experience with these people, their history, culture and way of life.

The British were faced by a rising swell of strangers in their midst, distinguishable by colour, ethnicity and social habit.

Vast numbers of people with an elementary knowledge of English or no English at all had to be housed, employed and educated. This was truly a logistical upheaval for the UK government and the society as a whole.

Their health and welfare had to be sufficiently addressed as well as issues such as discrimination at the workplace, equal opportunity and the legislation. Whatever the hitches and obstacles, and there have been many, the whole process has been a single tribute to the essential tolerance, decency and liberal outlook of society.

Migrants mostly did the rough jobs in the railways, urban transport and in the hospitals.

They worked long hours in the textile mills of the north. They in fact kept the UK economy ticking over when it could have actually weakened or even collapsed.

That was a totally different type of generation. They faced many upheavals, struggles and difficulties. They left their lands and countries of origin that they had known for many generations to come to a country that they knew little about. For the sake of the next generations to come they had to work hard and save hard.

Comparatively, the second and especially the third generations are doing quite the opposite and instead have found a new love - spending.

In particular, take the young British Asians who have some of the highest disposable incomes and are some of the richest consumers in Britain.

They want nothing but the best as both their spending power and tastes have rocketed to new highs. Wearing brand names, flashing the latest mobile phones and driving around in cars that must have tinted windows, alloy wheels, spoilers and a stereo system that will take no pity on the eardrums.

Even owning a personalised car number plate is no longer a major status symbol among British Asians instead becoming an ultimate accessory. Those selling personalised number plates will surely find that their business is more lucrative among the Asians. Damian Lawson, DVLA's auction manager, said that ''personalised plates are one of the biggest selling items in the Asian community our auctions are proving that''.

The British businesses have most definitely been attracted by the latest generation of British Asians who are becoming more label-aware, materialistic and have a zest for status.

The hard working, independently owned open till late corner shops that typified the British Asians is no longer the case. This generational change is because the new breed of Asians is more multicultural and economically active with a desire to be accepted and integrated into the society.

Integration is about individual rights and freedom, the co-existence of society with regards to religious belief, culture and language.

It seems that the new breed of Asians are trying to fit in' rather than integrating and are confusing the two. So by trying to fit in the British Asians are incorporating the western values and culture with their own becoming more evolved but this has instead created new issues. The influence and change is creating a struggle between being British but at the same time struggling with the cultural identity and roots.

For example, many of the British Asians only converse in English even in their own homes and are slowly forgetting their mother tongue. The British Asians feel ashamed when dressed up in their own traditional attire and would rather not be seen in them.

This rebellious youth that has already thrown away the humbleness of their parents is not sure how much of the western culture they should incorporate and what cultural traditions they should hold on to. This confused lot is finding it very hard in trying to hold on to their eastern traditions and at the same time embracing new western ones.

Lord Tebbit, a minister in the Thatcher Government, defined the true benchmark of integration would be second-generation immigrants cheering for England in a Test match rather the teams of their fathers. The media described it as the Tebbit test.

Lord Tebbit may not have yet hit upon the whole truth, but he has forced us to re-think about the next generation holding onto the values of their immigrant parents.

Is there a middle or compromise situation for the one who is British by birth and Asian by roots?

A final point to note is that it will be these children who will characterize the future of British-Asians or Asian-British to come.

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