immigration

Mum’s Spicy Chicken by Nafeesa Hamid

Hegel infamously said that history was a process of thesis (the current paradigm) bumping up against antithesis, which then (through war, debate, demographics) becomes a synthesis, a resolve, whether it be chaos or calm. The rite of passage of a child is similar. The typical model is the young child being totally dependent on the carer, living by the values of their parents; they are helped, to walk, to speak, to read, etc.. Then, when reaching their teenage years, they become independent, at least in their eyes; wanting to go out more, liking different things, rebelling even. Eventually, in this theoretical scenario, the synthesis is interdependence, or rapprochement or mutual relationship of empathy; the young adult, gets a job, a family and realises what the other side of the coin looks like.

handsup-300x292Well that’s the theory, and in more traditional times, it appeared to work well. But what lies behind that, is many children became adults before their time. How many of our parents who are elderly now, left school when they were fourteen or fifteen? My own father left school on a Friday aged fourteen, started work on the Monday and never stopped for the next fifty years. Today, as we know, our pathway is far from clear – no job for life, a multitude of distractions, consumer items, but also a greater variety of people. We are in the seventieth year since Windrush, and people from the Caribbean coming to work and live here (we thought safely until recent events). Similarly, people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh came here at a similar time.

It is the children of these immigrants, who have had to take on an added challenge when growing up. For not only will they face racism, and discrimination, they have to deal with being part of two cultures – ones that can be at odds with each other. And they have to do this at their most vulnerable time; that time when they move into the independence stage of their life, where they want to discover things for themselves. Let’s not forget also, they are British.

IMG_0360[1]bcVertSQNafeesa Hamid’s poem Mum’s Spicy Chicken, from her blistering debut collection ‘Besharam‘ published by the exciting new Verve Poetry Press, sums up this clash and how for a female in particular this is very difficult, even beyond any hope of interdependence. “I’m picked out, well-browned; just how they like me./ Brown on the outside, pink on the inside./ A cultural mish-mash.” The use of meat in the poem, as a metaphor is so powerful, especially when looked at as a woman. “The boys like me;/ their eyes all bright and empty like hers.// They tear off my crackling coat/ and dig teeth into my flesh/ which falls off with ease.” A previous poem on Proletarian Poetry by Aisha K Gill (Life of Thorka) gave a similar account of her having to escape violence, and where getting an education as a woman was considered a crime. When cultures are so set, especially by an intractable religion that categorises women in a subservient role, the model of development is either broken, or at best meets a sort of standoff resolution. Either way, it is characterized by conflict and far from reaching any type of interdependence.

 

Nafeesa Hamid is a British Pakistani poet and playwright based in Birmingham. She has featured at Outspoken (London), Poetry is Dead Good (Nottingham), Find the Right Words (Leicester) and Hit The Ode (Birmingham). Nafeesa has also performed at Cheltenham and Manchester Literature Festivals as part of The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, a recent (2017) anthology publication by Saqi Books, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. Besharam, published on Sep 20 2018 by Verve Poetry Press, is her first collection.

Besharam is an outstanding collection from Nafeesa… I think her poems are very special.’ – Imtiaz Dharker.

https://vervepoetrypress.com/2018/05/10/nafeesa-hamid/

 

 

Mum’s Spicy Chicken

Rumble. Grumble. Rumble.
Splash, stroke, thrust
and rest.
I’m thinking she probably doesn’t want to touch me;
she looks at me with blank eyes,
too full with other thoughts
for me to be seen.
She’s bored of this lifetime routine.
Chop, cut, chop, chop, cut –
I don’t bleed.
Spark – it doesn’t light up so she tries again.

Spark.
Flame. Thump, sizzle.
My skin tightens around my body,
anemic legs burn in the heat.
My insides loosen up.
She swings me on to my back,
prods her finger down my spine;
grunts.
I’m picked out, well-browned; just how they like me.
Brown on the outside, pink on the inside.
A cultural mish-mash.

The boys rush to greet me,
grab me by my leg and slap me
on their plates;
my sweat already congealing their fingers.
The boys like me;
their eyes all bright and empty like hers.

They tear off my crackling coat
and dig teeth into my flesh
which falls off with ease.
The boys like me
when I’m well-browned
and have stopped sizzling
and am silent.

Ice-cream box of frozen curry by Jasmine Ann Cooray

four_generations_handsAs we slowly make our way to the voting booth for the EU referendum, what has struck me is the divide between the young and old; opinion polls show an almost equidistant difference between the young who want to remain, and old who wish to leave. But this type of generational divide can be seen in lots of other ways; different histories of course, which then influence the socio-economic and thus political positions of the young and old. One problem, at least the higher income countries, is the gap between the baby boomers who are being blamed for keeping all the post-war socially secure wealth (e.g. pensions), and the millennials who will have to work forever, which is okay because technology will allow us to live that long.

But one of the age old (sic) differences is of culture; especially for those whose parents come from a different country, who may be more conservative or religious, and wish to pass on their ethos to their children, which they feel is the natural job of a parent. From my own background, my friends were made to go to church, but would often just nip in at the start of a service to see who the Priest was, then spend the next hour round the back smoking before going home and saying that Father such and such was the man at the altar to prove their presence to their mother.

JasCooray1Jasmine Ann Cooray’s poem, Ice-cream Box of Frozen Curry beautifully expresses this generational difference from her experience being of Sri Lankan and mixed European lineage. The poem conveys the journey of a newcomer to the country, the people they leave behind (“Dear village leavers/Dear fortune seekers/Dear don’t forget us/Dear whispered prayers”), and the new rules and racism the leavers experience (“Dear name,/Dear get to work/Dear roads and railways/Dear NHS/Dear filthy Paki/Dear bite your tongue”). This is an immense a coming-of-age/rights of passage story that is both funny and sad, matching the older generation (Dear ice-cream box of frozen curry/Dear tiny aunts with iron grip/Dear random portly shouting uncles/Dear grandma wince at dodgy hip) with the ways the younger generation try to create their own identity (Dear make-up practise after lights off/Dear boyfriend legs it out the back/Dear promise I was in the library/Dear shaving threading bleaching wax). (more…)