This is my U.K.: British culture is changing, thanks to teens with Asian and Afro-Carribean roots.
Raju's parents moved here from Bangladesh 25 years ago. One of seven children, Raju rarely leaves his neighborhood. Like him, most of his friends are of Bangladeshi origin. They speak a mixture of Bengali (their parents' native tongue) and English. "We've invented our own language here in Tower Hamlets," says Raju. When he returns to Bangladesh to visit relatives, he says, "I feel weird because my Bengali isn't great."
Learning About Islam
Raju and his friends know that the signs in their neighborhood are in Bengali as well as in English, but they can't translate the Bengali. Raju would rather learn Arabic so that he can "read the Koran in the original version."
Like most Bangladeshis, Raju is a Sunni Muslim. "My family is open-minded and moderately religious," he tells JS. "My father never pushed me to go to the mosque."
Raju's father died last year, and Raju's three older siblings are helping their mother support the four younger kids still at home. Until this year, she worked in the local schools as a Bengali-English interpreter.
Raju and his family recently celebrated Ramadan, the most sacred month in the Islamic calendar. In keeping with tradition, they fasted from sunrise to sunset. "This can be extremely difficult because we break our fast well into the evening," Raju says. "But determination got me through."
Sensitive to Other Cultures
Lasian (lah-SHAN) Palmer-Stephenson, 15, lives across town from Raju, in northwest London. She is of Jamaican descent. "Sometimes I feel British and sometimes Jamaican," Lasian tells JS. "My mum is quite traditional. She's full of old Jamaican sayings."
Lasian, who has three siblings, connects to her roots in many ways. Her father often cooks Jamaican specialties, such as jerk chicken, oxtail soup, and ackee and saltfish. In her free time, Lasian sometimes listens to Jamaican music, which could include anything from calypso to ska to reggae.
The high school she attends is more diverse than Raju's. "We know about other people's cultures," she says. During Ramadan, for instance, she and her friends were "more sensitive to not eating food in front of certain classmates who were fasting."
Struggling to Fit In
The United Kingdom (U.K.) was once the central power of the British Empire, the largest in world history (see GeoSkills, p. 13). At its peak, in 1919, the empire spanned about 14.5 million square miles and ruled over approximately one fourth of the world's population.
In the decades after World War II (1939-1945), most British colonies, including Bangladesh and Jamaica, sought independence from a ruling power that they considered oppressive.
Several former colonies continue to struggle with widespread poverty and lack of industrial development. Over the years, individuals from those countries have come to the U.K. in search of greater opportunity. Most have settled in London.
This migration has changed London dramatically. In the 1950s, only a tiny percentage of ethnic minorities lived in the city. By 2010, experts say, whites will be a minority. While the influx of immigrants has made for a lively blend of cultures, it is not without controversy.
"The debate about race relations is now more volatile and [divided] than at any time in recent memory," writes BBC reporter George Alagiah in his book A Home From Home. "It is almost impossible to open a newspaper," he adds, "without seeing an article on the subject." Alagiah was born in Sri Lank& a former British colony.
Many immigrants and children of immigrants are struggling to find their place in the U.K. "We are caught between the desire to fit in and the communal [advice] to remember where we started," Alagiah writes. "While we build one home ... we think back to the home we left behind."
A Multiethnic Society
Immigrants from the former colonies have not always felt welcome in the U.K., but it has become a thriving multiethnic society. Every British kid knows about Big Ben and the guards at Buckingham Palace. But now, no matter what their heritage, they also are likely to eat Indian food and dance to the beat of reggaeton (music that blends the Jamaican influences of reggae and dancehall with those of Latin America and hip-hop). Even the way many teens speak is influenced by Afro-Caribbean slang. For instance, "How are you?" has become "Wha' g'wan on, man?"
Lasian, who has an impeccable British accent, feels perfectly at home with this. "I was born here," she says. "I'm British but was raised in Jamaican fashion." Adds Raju: "I'll stick to the British. We have to unite as a nation."
Words to Know
* ackee: a bright-red tropical fruit that was taken from West Africa to Jamaica in 1793.
* bangers and mash: a British expression for sausage and mashed potatoes.
* chutney: chopped fruits or green tomatoes cooked in vinegar and sugar with ginger and spices.
* curry: a food, dish, or sauce in Asian cuisine that is seasoned with a mixture of ginger, garlic, onion, chile, and other spices.
* Koran: The sacred text of Islam.
* Sunni (SOO.nee) Muslim: the larger of the two major branches of Islam worldwide. (The other is Shia.)
Students should be able to:
* recognize/discuss the cultural contributions that immigrants from former colonies have made to the U.K.
* Words to Know/Background
The people of the onetime British Empire have shaped not only the culture of the U.K., but also its language. Many familiar English words come from former colonies, particularly India. Some examples:
* bandanna: Sanskrit bandhati, "he ties."
* bungalow: Hindi/Urdu bangla, "house" (a small, Bengali-style house)
* loot: Hindi/Urdu lut, "plunder."
* pajamas: Hindi/Urdu paijama, loose-fitting pants.
* thug: Hindi/Urdu thuggee, "thief" or "cheater."
* Critical Thinking
MAKING CONNECTIONS: Raju and Laisan were born ill the U.K., hut their home lives reflect their ethnic heritage. What examples does the article mention? (signs in Bengali; curry and chutney; the Koran; jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish; calypso, reggae, and ska)
CAUSE AND EFFECT: Many recent immigrants to the U.K. came from Bangladesh and Jamaica. Why might they have made that move? (familiarity with British culture after long British rule; for economic, educational opportunities not available at home; other answers acceptable)
BE A CULTURE VULTURE: How many of the Asian and Afro Caribbean influences mentioned are part of U.S. as well as U.K. culture? What other foods, music, or clothing now part of your daily life were brought by recent immigrants?
SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8
* Global connections: For centuries, British culture influenced lives of people in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The people from these cultures now influence the U.K.
* Campbell, Kumari, United Kingdom in Pictures (Lerner Publishing Group, 2004). Grades 6-12.
* Synge, M. B., The Growth of the British Empire (Yesterday's Classics, 2006). Grades 7-12.
* Britain for Kids britainusa.com/4kids
* British Youth elt.britcoun.org.pl/elt/y_index.htm
by Olivia Snaije in London
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|Article Type:||Cover story|
|Date:||Oct 30, 2006|
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