story icon Hardship

Contributed by: Anonymous
1970 - 2005


I come from Jamaica, but at the time when I decided to come to England, I was living in Bermuda with my mother and stepfather. I was about 13 or 14, and it was 1970. One of my mum's best friends was a bingo woman, who my mum had known when she was younger, and then had moved to England before I was born. She won a trip to Bermuda, and when she got there, she came and looked up my Mum. She said she wanted me and my sister to come back to England with her 'for schooling'. But that wasn't really her idea - she saw me and my sister, and I think she thought she could give us out to some men. Not like prostitution, but she wanted us to marry these 2 blokes, friends of hers - but we weren't interested, cos they was quite old, and quite ugly as well!

So we ran away to my auntie's house who lived nearby - but she wasn't even any better! She didn't work, and she didn't like us. She told us that my mother in the West Indies used to get priority because she was the first daughter, and she held that against us. It was really hard, and cold, the food wasn't nice, I used to cry, I wanted to go home. We'd left from a very hot country, and even though we came in August, it wasn't like summer to us - so she took us to a shop in Kensington and bought us 2 of the most horrible coats - a lady had said we were pretty, and my aunt's daughter was not as pretty as us, so she made sure we had the ugliest clothes I've ever seen!

Then we found our uncle, who was also in London, and then he helped us find our brother and sister, who had come here in the 60s but had lost touch with us. And my auntie didn't like this, now that we were in touch with other relatives we didn't need her. I remember it was cold once and my sister and brother gave us money to go and buy a paraffin heater (when I came here, I noticed English people tended to have a coal fire in the front room, and foriegn people had paraffin heaters.) We left it in our room one day, and went out, and my auntie broke the heater, sabotaged it, so that when we came back in the evening we were cold.

I was about 15 by this time - I was going to school when I felt like it, and I was working too - my first job was in Woolworths in the cigarette booth - that place was so cold! Me and my sister were still living together. There was a Marks and Spencer nearby - we couldn't afford to buy anything, but we used to look. My uncle and brother used to try and help us out, but it was still hard. But little by little we found cousins, uncles, aunts in England, and over the years things started to improve. I took an NNEB course and I was able to work in nurseries. It was good, but I found a lot of racism - nobody else on the staff talked to me or included me in anything. But I was very strongheaded. It was hard to get jobs, too. The worst thing that used to get me down in the 70s was that programme, 'Roots' - when I saw that, it made me start to get angry and upset about the way black people were treated. I never want to see it again! It makes you want to answer back, but then you get yourself into trouble.



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The things I miss about home - the weather - everyone says the weather, but it's true! And the greenery - it's a different type of green, like blue-green. And the fruits and the veg. And the togetherness. We don't live in the same house, but there's togetherness - you can go to auntie's or grandma's house, you just go when you feel like it. Here, you have to make an appointmnent to go to sister's house! There, you integrate with your family more, and that's what I missed when I came here, and that's why we tried to rebuild a sense of family - but it wasn't the same. In the West Indies you would have seen your brother or your sister every day, but here they live so far away and everyone's doing their own thing. And my children who've grown up here, their family is not as close as ours was.



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