Guest blog! Thoughts on finding ‘home’ as an immigrant to the UK from Sangeetha Mani.
When Caroline asked me to write something for her, I thought to myself, I am not ready! Not because I do not have a voice that needs to be heard but because I have never written it down without the façade of poetry or fiction.
For the first time in my life, I am sitting down to write a few words, that are worthy of being heard, for the simple reason that I exist. I am a woman, an intelligent woman. I am a teacher and that allows me to exercise my mind and some of my opinions. I do not define myself but I am defined by my presence – by my colour, my accent, my clothes, my open manner and social behaviour and all of these can be defined as ‘my difference.’
In these past two decades, I have lived in the same county within a familiar circle of people – colleagues, neighbours, members of my community, students and friends. In all this time I have made my house a home because it is filled with my possessions and shared with my children. I have never sought to belong, I have worked hard to be accepted, learnt the codes of conduct that define the society I live in. In abstract, it all makes sense. I arrived in England in 2001 from Kochi, Kerala. I will most definitely die in England. I believe that some of us will live most of our lives in a place, a country, hemisphere; we will build our lives, careers, gardens and dreams on that soil and we will eventually die there too – but it will never be home because when you leave home never to return you sacrifice the idea of home.
I have reflected on this idea of home, as a writer and reader, I have toyed with the semantics and symbolism of ‘home’. My house is mine – I have documents to prove that. I am a citizen of this country – I have documents to prove that. The village I live in is familiar. The town I work in is familiar. I love that in England there is law and order. I love that we have clean air and green, green paths. I love that in England we have libraries.
I know that it is here in England that I was educated out of my ignorance regarding gender, race and religion. I know that here we have systems in place that allow me to fight prejudice. What frightens me is the knowledge that I may never speak out.
I do not have anecdotes that I can share, that can quantify this fear. My greatest insight into British culture has been ‘the great British restraint’; also ‘the Great British Politeness’; also ‘the great British diplomacy’. I do not write with sarcasm but honesty that to me ‘my difference’ has been my ‘lack of restraint’, ‘my inability to identify the parameters that govern rhetorics and narratives in social interaction’, ‘my spontaneity and creativity’ or otherwise understood as ‘my honesty.’
It has been during this lockdown, that I have finally been able to define myself, that I am an immigrant in the UK. What I can tell you is that, to me – and I can only speak for me – there is an incredible sense of freedom in being an ‘immigrant.’
Am I an immigrant who lives in a bubble, recreating my homeland, within the four walls of my home? No. Is it because I am in denial? No – it is because, when you leave a home as a child and then build another as a woman, there is much that is lost in transition.
I do not have a homeland, I do not belong to a country. I am not British, even though my passport says I am. I am no longer Indian, as I willingly sacrificed the closest thing to ‘home’ that I have ever had.
I do not wish to analyse this. It seems to me that I have earned my truths.
What I do wish to do at last is define myself as an immigrant because that to me is a powerful word. It means that an accident of fate brought me here. I do not owe allegiance to the queen or country. I answer to my guiding principles of truth, justice, equality, honesty, kindness and dignity.
I know the ivory tower exists. I know that my children consider England their home. I know, that they too will be asked this question, that I have been asked today.
How do you define yourself as a brown person living in 21st century England?
They will have to find their own answers and make their own peace with them.
My definition of myself will die with me.