My grandparents came to England in the 60’s and three of their sons (including my dad) followed in the 70’s. It was a time of massive change in the UK with immigration changing the face of London especially and perhaps nowhere more was this evident than East London.
At that time many were not so welcoming of these strange new people with their odd dress and impenetrable languages. My parents had to contend with the East End Dockers trying to beat them up because they were seen as a threat to their jobs and employers and neighbours considering them less than human; a second-class set of humans available for use and abuse.
Green Street in the 70's and today
Our first home was a block of dingy little flats behind green street market (my parents still feel obliged to point it out every time we go past). Only one other Asian family lived there, the rest having been chased out with broken windows and dog-mess through the letter box. The one man that stayed was so resigned to life, his wife’s mental illness and abuse at work that he and his children just suffered the harassment in silence.
The week my family moved in was the same week my gran lost her mother. So even as they moved in, they received a stream of visitors. The Pakistani community in London was smaller then, but still big enough and perhaps more close-knit at that time. The other tenants in the block watched with fascination – some of them had never seen so many coloured people in one place before. My mum always asserts that they would have gone the same way as all of the other Asian families if it wasn’t for the endless guests - the neighbours must have thought the Indian mafia were moving in.
My dad and two uncles went about their studies and work for the next few years, always watching their back and walking in the shadows. But there is one incident my youngest uncle recounts with glee. The three and a group of friends returned to the flat after playing cricket in West Ham Park and ran into a group of punks waiting for them. What they hadn’t counted on was a bunch of bat-wielding Punjabi’s who’s just had enough. The punch-up that followed is now family legend and the kicking the punks received a matter of pride.
(West Ham Park - I remember that pond, cause I fell in it once)
(Oh – I saw that sad man from the flats not long ago, serenely shopping at our local supermarket – everything difficult comes to an end doesn’t it?)