On this page you will find the audio and transcript of the second part of a group workshop that took place on the 24th of September 2022. Organised by our friends Ugandan Asians – A Living History the workshop brought together individuals of different ages and backgrounds who were all connected by the experiences of Uganda and of life in the United Kingdom. Moderated by Max Russel the second part of the workshop focused on the topics of identity and belonging. Thank you again to Ugandan Asians – A Living History and the individuals who took part in the discussion: Sejal Sachdev, Sejal Majithia-Jaswal, Najma Dawoodbhai, Amir Dawoodbhai, Jamila Sham, Rukiya Sham & Muffazal Sham. Special thanks to Najma Dawoodbhai for providing the Gujarati translations.
I think everyone can contribute, of all different ages and it will be really interesting, is this idea of identity in terms of nationality but also religion, language, location, what you identify with. As you said (Sejal Majtihia-Jaswal) it's important that you identify as you, but when someone asks you “what your identity is?” what triggers for you? So for example I identify a lot more with London than I do with England as a country or Britain. I think it's something about the multiculturalism [of London] but also growing up and seeing the way politics has been, that mindset of anti-immigration has made me less connected to Britain as a whole. I'm happy to admit there are beautiful things about this country but there's something inside me that means I just don't connect with it on a deep level and so that's my own personal thing, but I think it's really interesting to hear these differences in identifying with India, identifying with Uganda, identifying with Britain or identifying with a region as well. So, it would be great to hear.
As I said earlier, I consider myself British I spent most of my life growing up in Nottingham so Nottingham is a place that I still consider home. We have still our house there, I still consider that to be my home where I lived my best memories and growing up and so if I had the opportunity to move back to the UK, although prior to living in Canada I lived in London for 20 years, I would probably opt to go back to Nottingham because that's where I identify the most with because that's where all my memories, my upbringing, all my schooling and even University was in that region. As far as Uganda goes, I was born in Uganda but I have very little memory of Uganda other than what my parents have told me about their lives there. I feel a little bit bitter that their lives and their stay in Uganda had to end the way that it did but the sweet part is that that they came here and they managed to make a life. They showed real resilience and strength to bring up six children in those trying times and so yes I'm Ugandan born, but I identify as British primarily and I’ll always consider Nottingham as my hometown I love i.t I played a lot of sport there we grew up in an area in West Bridgford which was home to three big national teams of sporting importance so Trent Bridge Cricket Ground was like a 5 minute walk away, Nottingham Forest Football ground was a further 2 minutes away and Notts County football club was on the other side of the river another 2 minutes away, and then the National Water Sports Centre with all the canoeing and everything was 10 minutes away so we grew up in that area I played a lot of sports I was always out playing sport as soon as I got off from school my parents wouldn't see me until sunset and on weekends I’d be out on my bike so I had a good young life and the early years were really full of fun and I only have good memories. But then and as I said earlier when I think of how life was for my parents before we all settled down and we all started being independent they had to look after us and I feel bad that I didn’t appreciate it at the time what they had to do for us to have quite a normal life, they sacrificed so much and they've never once put themselves before us. They’ve never wanted anything in life, all they wanted was to see their children get on in life and be happy and that's all they ever wanted. They've never desired any personal possessions or anything ever and that’s something that I'll remember from their sort of generation and their outlook on life and the way that they were. If it's one lesson that I can carry with me for the rest of my life is that remember, were you come from and don’t ask for too much. When I look back, I think I was quite a spoiled child, I did want a nice red shiny racing bike, I didn’t understand how much pressure I was putting on him (Dad). Now that he’s gone, I still remember all the things that he used to do for us. I remember once I got knocked off my bike by this lady who opened her car door on me and just left me slumped up by the side of the road and left me and then my Aunt found me by the side of the road and took me home and then my dad carried me on his shoulder and put me in the car and then took me to hospital and I was 13/14 years old at the time and I remember all of those things that he did as a father, any father would do that, but all these memories of my time in Nottingham and I'm grateful for the life that I've had but I can only imagine what life would have been like if we would have stayed in Uganda. There’s no concrete proof of how it would have panned out but it could have gone either way and so you can only base it on how life has been here. For example, life expectancy, my mum is 90 and my dad lived to 93, who knows what life expectancy could have been in Uganda. I think in terms of identity, 100% I consider myself British, I do have difficulty when it comes to those questionnaires and it asks you to put your ethnic origin sometimes your limited to Indian Asian or British Asian, I guess I could say British English. But yes, I 100% identify as British and proud of it and very happy with how the British government helped us in those very early years and I’ll never forget that.
SEJAL SACHDEV (GUJARATI)
Rukiya aunty, who do you think you are, British? Indian? Ugandan? What do you think you are now? When you were in Uganda, what would you have said? Because you were holding a British Passport? Would you have said Ugandan? Perhaps not as we used to think that the Africans were Ugandans, and we were Indians.
RUKIYA SHAM (GUJARATI)
I think British. I cannot remember what I would have said when I was in Uganda
I came on a Ugandan passport because me and my sister were born before (Ugandan Independence) so we came on Ugandan passports and had to naturalise here. I've spent half of my time in Nottingham half in London. I have good memories of Nottingham as well, my friends we grew up together, went to school together, went away together. So I've really fond memories of Nottingham but now I’ve set up in London so that's my home now my identity is more in London.
Have you always felt British or has it been a process? Is there something that you remember triggering it or [a moment] when you felt like you belonged here?
I've always felt like I belong here I've been very firm on that point of view from the moment that I started school I felt like this is home and I am British, and I’ve held that view from the very early stage of my life and I’ve not thought of myself to be any different.
When I first came to this country, and they asked where I came from, and I said “Africa” they said “Did you used to live in a hut?”
It’s funny that you bring up those forms because me being slightly agnostic I just try to make it as difficult for them. When I used to work at Heathrow airport, someone I knew used to work in Border Force and I asked them “what do I actually put here? Because I'm a British national but [my] dad is Indian [my] mum is Indonesian what do I put?” So yeah that’s interesting because I’ve grown up here but I've never really been able to define it, it's true I'm a British national but culturally I suppose there is a heavy influence from India especially when it comes to things like religion and that’s just how we are in our household and obviously there's a mix from Indonesia from mum’s side as well. But Uganda is a really strange kind of middle ground for me because I’ve never been to Uganda and I’m a generation away from Uganda but it's there, you feel its presence and especially in our household you’re reminded of it all the time, and there's a huge section of our community that you can really tell that Uganda really was their home and it's come with them subconsciously, for a lot of them the photos have gone, the photo albums have been lost, the belongings are no longer there, but you feel it in the back of your subconscious and so it's true I'm a British national.
Would you say you are British English?
No, actually I don't know what it means to be English that's the truth if someone asked, “are you English?” geographically yeah sure I'm a Londoner but I just say British because yeah England actually doesn’t mean anything to me actually if someone put it to me like that.
RUKIYA SHAM (GUJARATI)
Amir has not been to Uganda?
SEJAL MAJITHIA-JASWAL (GUJARATI)
No, he was born here
When those forms come up I always pick other and then put down East African Asian. The reason why I say East African is because although I was born in Uganda my dad was from Zanzibar so it feels that I am an East African Asian so I’ve always done that. So that is how I think myself, of course I'm pretty British, my lifestyle is very British and I can’t relate to my cousins in Africa or I can’t relate to my cousins in India because they live a different lifestyle so I'm British but I'm East African Asian.
So I’ve always identified myself as British and I think it's because we came to the UK when I was four and the first language I actually learned to speak was English, I never went to school in India, I never went to school in Uganda. I went to school in Britain. in Leicester. so I’ve always mentally thought of myself as British but I think what you said (Max Russel) I don't really relate to the rest of England and I see myself very much as a Londoner and that's the place I'm most comfortable in is in London I can go anywhere in London and feel at home, I can go anywhere in the world and feel at home relatively because I'm quite well travelled but it's interesting, we lived in Scotland for five years and I felt more of an infinity in Scotland then I did in England. Growing up whenever there was football or cricket I never supported England but now as I've got older I actually always support England, so if India and England are playing cricket I will always support England and if England are playing in the football I will support England whereas growing up I never supported England and I think that's also because as I've got older I’ve come to appreciate the value of a British passport and the opportunities that affords so even though I felt more affinity in Scotland then I do in England, England is really what's shaped me Leicester, Nottingham, London. Do I feel Ugandan? I don't think I feel Ugandan when I went Uganda even though the first thing I was greeted with by the official was “welcome home, welcome to Uganda” when he saw my passport I felt like I was a visitor and I think it's because we left when I was just so young, I feel there is a connection but it's a connection because it’s history as opposed to feeling it, but I think for me yeah identity is interesting because first and foremost British and I think I'm very fortunate and we talk about being a child of three continents and I’ve come to recognise how unique the diaspora in which we were all born is because I say we are a minority within a minority and I feel really proud of that and I'm actually proud to now say I’m Ugandan Asian which I perhaps never used to say. And it wasn't because I wasn't proud it’s because I didn't understand it. It’s only the last year that I’ve become educated in it. But I think of myself as a global citizen.
I think that's really interesting because my husband refuses to talk about nationhood, he said the day of the England [Euro 2020] final last year we were driving into London and I said “Are you excited about the England match?” and he said “No because those idiots who are supporting those black footballers will an hour later will be calling them…” and that is exactly what happened he said “I'm not proud to be English” he’s a Yorkshireman he said “I’m a citizen of the world, nationhood is wrong because it leads to nationalism and jingoism” so when you say “Oh well your English I can't talk to you or your Ethiopian I can't talk to you” so for me my identity it’s really interesting hearing everybody's viewpoint. I don’t regard myself as English because I'm not, I regard myself as British Indian, I wouldn't say I was East African Asian because I have no concept of what that means but culturally lots of my life is very Indian, but I'm a foreigner in India, and I'm a foreigner in Uganda. I may look foreign here but I'm very accepted in this community in a way I will never be in India and I think this community here, my local community have welcomed me and I'm so ingrained in this community so I think this coating, my skin colour, is irrelevant and what you were saying about people being welcoming in this country [Muffazzal Sham] where my parents live now my mum had to air her washing.
SEJAL SACHDEV (GUJARATI)
My mum used to put her washing out and our English neighbours would collect the washing and iron it for her and return it to us. Where my parents live (Carpenters Park) it’s a mostly English community and there are all wonderful. If my mum was walking home from her shopping, they would give her a lift. If she fell, they would pick her up. I feel most of the white population are very good and accepting and welcoming. Even through Brexit.
So I feel British Indian, when I say that I think it sort of more or less expresses what I am but the only thing I would say is people who’ve come from India would call themselves British Indian and I'm nothing like them so we need a different category British Ugandan Asian.
I think we are more British Ugandan Asian and I think there is a difference between all of us here versus like my sister-in-law who's from India from Bombay if she was sat here her mannerisms her attitude everything, she's absolutely lovely but very different.