East to West

The History of
Ugandan Asians

Punjabi and Asian shops (Southall, London. 2017)

Faatima Zannar reflects on her experience of taking part in the From East to West project.

Faatima conducted two interviews for the project which can be accessed here:

Interview with Mohinder Singh Chana

Interview with Amir Majothi

Max Russel

Why did you decide to get involved in this project?

Faatima Zannar

There was no reason to say no! The 50 year milestone of the Expulsion, made me realise that in our current society, with so much buzz around personal identity, half a century had gone by and yet I hadn't come across anyone who, unless were in/directly impacted, had even heard about the arrival of nearly 30,000 people in the UK.

Max Russel How was it for you in terms of meeting other people of a similar background at the training day? And what were your reflections on the training?

Faatima Zannar

The diversity of roles and professions of the group showed how quickly we had integrated into society. I have no journalism experience, so I learnt a lot around creating psychological safety, showing compassion, and navigating emotion.

Max Russel You conducted two interviews for the project, one in person and one over Zoom. How was that experience?

Faatima Zannar

Coming out of COVID, meeting someone for the first time virtually fell more within the boundaries of my comfort zone, however I felt I benefitted more in meeting personally where I was able to observe their character more authentically. Over Zoom moments of quiet reflection can feel forced - more formal boundaries are set where there is more control for both parties around how they chose to present themselves - you miss out on the little physical features of them that subconsciously hint at their character, their energy, how do they sit/stand, how do their eyes change going through different emotions, how they use their hands in conversation. Pixels can only reveal so much.

Max Russel Was there anything that really stuck with you from those interviews that you can remember? Were there any similarities or themes that seemed to flow through the interviews, or differences?

Faatima Zannar The resilience remains consistent. There was no option for them to choose how they managed what was happening at the time, they simply had to react.

Max Russel Has taking part in the project changed the way you look at your own family’s history and how you also talk to them about their experiences?

Faatima Zannar

The combination of this project along with the 50th anniversary exhibition and reunions that have happened throughout the country has revealed to me things my mother had never previously opened up about before. My family’s way of dealing with their trauma had been to not speak of it, to "crack on" and rebuild a new life with what they had. This project has helped me build a sense of context and understanding on the whys of some of their characteristics today and through interviewing others I have been able to take away nuggets of information that I can use to nudge members of my own family to be able to start speaking of their own experiences less reluctantly, purely through relation with others.

Max Russel With this project coming to its end, lots of the anniversary work from last year has wrapped up and has reached a conclusion. What do you think, going forward, is the next step for this history, and how can people make sure that this history becomes well known and is part of British history?

Faatima Zannar Keep talking! Diversity continues to grow in the UK across so many fields of professional and personal environments and society needs to understand that Ugandan Asian immigrants are a massive contributor to the diversity of this country. Could one also suggest that the successful integration of these people impacted how we responded and embraced refugees following the Russian/Ukrainian conflict? Parallels can certainly be drawn...

Max Russel

Any other thoughts you would like to share?

Faatima Zannar

There is a generation today who actively seek out the roots of their identity, there are successful businesses today from the demand of people seeking to build their family tree. We have a massive opportunity here to fill that tree before the leaves fall and we would be fools not to take it.