The British Library

Rudi’s Story

She was a young girl but even then she could feel the pieces of herself stacking and unstacking together, like the bits of Lego her and her brothers usually played with. I am an immigrant.

Then she was a teenager, an expatriate too (not an immigrant apparently). One summer she and her family flew back ‘home’ flying towards The Sun with their headlines of ‘Immigrants are stealing your jobs’. But, I am an immigrant, she thought.

Everything muttered as she walked, the pavements called up to her and let her know her trainers weren’t sneakers and weren’t from here. When talking to her cousins Math became Maths and the added ’s’ slithered past her tongue and made her feel uneasy. Her cell phone strangely grew legs and became mobile. It ran towards her, foreignness gripped in its hands and launched it a hundred miles, not kilometres, back to where it was from. That was the summer of 2006, things never were quite the same after that.

She finally moved back to the open arms of London as a student. For the first time she was back in a city she’d always called home but now actually lived in. She walked past waves of languages filling carriages and shops. Smells from Bangladesh, Jamaica, India, Poland, Ghana and Nigeria floated past her nose. Unconcerned smells that she followed with a sense of soothing familiarity.

‘It’s like that episode of Skins, you know the one with the house party?’ They often said as she would nod, assuming that Skins is the British E.R. Weird.

It concerned her that in one scenario she was assumed to be British yet she had never lived there and in another she could feel eyes burning into her half white/half black skin whenever conversations turned to immigration, race or identity.

Windrush. Burning eyes turned to open ears, awaiting tales of hopeful men and women floating across the world on a sea of dreams to a land of apparent safety. She had nothing to say, this wasn’t her tale to tell. Generation Windrush nurtured Generation Goldrush as greedy children scooped up foreign contracts with dollar shaped shovels and ran for their lives.

She was then a woman. With assumed responsibilities and assumed knowledge. Ideas of identity often consumed her cloudy mind. She was an immigrant, as far as she could tell. She had come to Britain as a Briton who hadn’t lived in Britain. Yet, she watched families with more claim to this Island than her forced to leave. Forced to give it all up.

-Rudi, London

© Yinka Shonibare, 2018 | Website by Hanna Sorrell