Windrush (RR) curated by Heady Mix
Some explanations. Windrush is shorthand for the migration of people from the then British West Indies to post-World War II Britain to make life and assist with nation re-building. The name refers to the ship – one of several ships – that facilitated this migration. Heady Mix is a UK book curation service connecting readers with books from diverse voices. Here Heady Mix’s founder explains their focus on Windrush for their first anthology collection of 2021. I learned about Heady Mix when they approached me to include my story ‘The Other Daughter‘ which had previously been published on the Commonwealth Writers Adda platform and had even been used in the secondary school national assessment in Denmark. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing but that’s neither here nor there; from a purely reader standpoint I mostly enjoyed this collection.
The opening essay did the heavy lifting of bringing context to the title, the movement of bodies from the British West Indies to ‘the Mother Country’ and the waves of social change brought about by that movement of bodies. “The Windrush scandal is tragic, and many people are unaware that the very nature of the harm inflicted is rooted in empire, colonialism and racism. Windrush is a story of forced removal. People of African descent used as pawns to build the wealth of a country: first as slaves, forcibly removed from the African continent, the builders of the industrial revolution; then exploited when Britain needed them to boost GDP growth after the war; only to be tossed aside decades later when their economic use had expired and then to be forcibly removed at the whim of the government.” Cliff notes (actually, Joanne notes), these British subjects were invited (via advertisements in local papers) to come help rebuild England after the war and when they went met with racism and anti-Black, anti-immigration (though as British subjects, they weren’t immigrants), anti-other sentiments, but managed to find community among each other and build a life, continuing in to the 1970s when new legislation shut the door to more coming. Meanwhile, the Independence movement was transforming Britain’s relation to the colonies at this time, as well, and those who were there, who had been there for decades and their children were for all intents and purposes largely undocumented. Remember they weren’t immigrants. Many saw it as moving from one parish to another (one early Windrusher is even quoted as saying so). By the 2010s when former PM Theresa May was Home Secretary, steps were taken to actively un-home these undocumented citizens, their papers of arrival destroyed, many denied services they’d earned through their labour, some put in detention centres, some returned to a ‘home’ in the Caribbean that they had never known or had long left behind. Reading this was infuriating and this introductory essay, ‘Remembering the Ship’: Narrating the Windrush by Hannah Lowe, is required reading for anyone seeking not only to understand the issue but anti-Blackness in Britain and throughout the Empire on which it was once said the sun never set. So many thoughts.
The second essay which looks at creative writing about the experiences of West Indians in Britain dragged for me (not uninteresting but very scholarly and very long).
The collection then shifts at page 63 of 129 in to creative pieces, many of which, on the surface, have nothing to do with Windrush – my piece included – but which do have to do with transitions, and which, in any case, were all pretty enjoyable reads.
Ones that come to mind as I write this are ‘A Simple Man’ by late Trinidadian writer Irma Rambaran in which a grieving man has to make a heavy choice and chooses peace, ‘Bruises by Puerto Rican novelist Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel, an LGBT coming of age story, at once funny and sad, not alternatingly but in every line at the same time, Bahamian Commonwealth award winning short story writer Alexia Tolas’ ‘Granma’s Porch’, also about the unease of transitioning from youth and violence, and the broadly farcical dramedy of Trinidad multi-award winning writer Barbara Jenkins’ ‘Goal’ – what a ride that story was. None of these are set in Britain but they are the voices of writers from the one time colonies in the western hemisphere – if not all former British colonies. Look story ah story and this was an enjoyable read. I would recommend seeking out other writings by the featured writers.