Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
The recent EU referendum has sparked an unwelcome change in British society. Racism and anti-immigration sentiment has always existed but it has now become acceptable in everyday language, the media and in politics. This has become translated into actions such as verbal abuse towards ethnic minorities, posting ‘go home’ messages through people’s doors and drawing swastikas on national monuments. However, there have been moments of light: pro-immigration and refugee marches, positive messages about immigration from the Scottish Government and outrage on social media.
In this particularly dark and divisive time I have been thinking about the unexpected bonds I have made over the last few years, in a place where I had assumed difference would dominate. I attend a women’s group in the Govan area of Glasgow as part of my PhD, mostly attended by women who are either asylum seekers and refugees. I initially attended this for work purposes but 4 years later I am still going, due to the unexpected bonds and friendship that I found there.
The first time that I attended this group I stood outside the drab high rise (since demolished) where the community flat was based and stared at the graffiti on the walls and the broken glass on the pavement. Why would anyone want to meet here? However, once inside it was a different matter the walls were colourful, there was loud chatter in different languages, including some broad Glaswegian, and the air was thick with the aroma of cardamom and spices. The dreich, grey day outside was forgotten.
I had expected to have little in common with the women in this group and indeed expected them to have little in common with each other, as all that initially linked them was the asylum process. They were from different countries, of varying ages, languages, cultures and religions and they had all made a different, often traumatic journey which led them to that community flat. All I had done was take a bus ride through the Clyde Tunnel.
However, despite these substantial differences, we were bonded by much more. We were bonded by our love for family and our roles as women: as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and aunties. In preparing food together, we created a common language, a sharing of culture, memories and home. On reflection, I wonder whether the bonds between many of the women grew out of necessity, through a forced existence and dispersal through the asylum system, but if it was purely necessity would there be so much fun and laughter within the group?
I am also part of a book club, a group that did not grow out of necessity or shared trauma, but rather from 3 west end women trying to motivate themselves to read more. We are now 8 women, all professionals, all white and mostly of Christian or secular backgrounds. However, both of these groups have more in common with each other than you would initially think. In both groups the primary aim of the groups have been superseded by the importance of spending time with one another; hearing about love lives, families, jobs and any other pieces of gossip. In both groups, food is cooked, appreciated and shared. Both support each other through illness, fights with partners, break ups and happy times, such as marriage, graduations, charity work and the births of children. At book club we offer love life advice, analyse text messages, admire any new shoes and occasionally talk about the book: the women’s group provide alibis to evade their household chores, gossip, learn new skills and use the WiFi to do online shopping together.
Just before my wedding I was lucky to have a number of hen parties, including one with book club and one at women’s group. Both were remarkably similar, although different customs and traditions shone through, as they both marked a milestone in my life which was celebrated with other women. They were both important rite of passage with advice given from married women, good wishes for my life ahead, gifts, and a celebration of our friendships as women. Both hen parties were joyous occasions and although different in style, included dancing, dressing up as a bride (one in traditional Sari and one in a white dress) and a lot of laughter.
I left each hen party with gifts; henna on my hands from the women’s group and silver sixpences from the book club. As I think about these now, in these particularly difficult times, I appreciate that in this world there is so much more that bonds us than divides us.
Anna Matthews is a final year PhD student in the department of General Practice and Primary Care at the University of Glasgow.
This article is part of GRAMNet’s personal reflections blog series, where contributors offer short reflections on their personal, day-to-day interactions with migration issues. If you would like to contribute to this series, please get in touch using the contact form below. We welcome all contributions, whether sharing positive or negative experiences.