ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The UK government somewhat recognizes the contribution that immigrants
can make to their economy and have introduced schemes such as the
Confessions of an Immigrant
By Uche Nworah
This is an indictment of the United Kingdom (UK) and other governments as much as it is a confession. Some of these western governments have allowed the nationalists and far rightists in their midst to dominate public discourse lately, and have in so doing subjected immigrants like me to every type of ridicule and shame. We are now public enemy number 1, and are portrayed to be responsible for every crime committed in their lands, as if prison and other lock-up facilities did not exist in these countries before we came.
In emphasizing on the negatives, it appears that our major contributions to economic growth in these countries are now being overlooked, but before wielding the big stick the governments of some of these countries should spare a thought for the millions of undocumented immigrants that work underground in the black economy, as factory hands, office complex cleaners, construction workers, fast food restaurant workers etc.
These people are also human beings and labour sometimes for 14 hours a day at below the minimum wage, their services are essential in helping to sustain the economic well being of the west; definitely the citizens of these countries would never touch these menial jobs. Such exploitation and poor work conditions of immigrants were brought to the fore in 2004 by the death of the Chinese cocklers who did back breaking work and were paid only £1 a day.
Focusing more closely on the UK where I live, it appears that Prime Minister Tony Blair has fallen hostage to anti-immigration citizens including the British National Party (BNP), whose scare tactics in the British press can only be compared to the antics of the Ku Klux Klan in America. While agreeing that it is the right of the UK and other governments to control migration in their countries (Nigeria expelled Ghanaians in 1982), globalization however dictates that these countries should also in passing national laws and policies, take into consideration social injustices in the world, as migration derives from them, for example wars, poverty, political instability, etc. If we are to believe that the world is now a global village, this also means that we should be our brothers keepers and that means also accommodating people who may have been displaced for the reasons earlier mentioned.
The UKs Home Office is in a mess, poor judgments by past officials led to the release of thousands of criminals who should have been deported, but why should the law-abiding immigrants be made to suffer such incompetence? Every day in the British press, news stories involving immigrants are twisted in the name of political correctness, such sensationalisation of news involving Africans and other immigrants only goes to create a psychological wedge between UK citizens and immigrants, because the two sides now view each other with suspicion.
These stereotypes of the immigrant as criminal should not be sustained in the long term because of its damaging effects. It may lead to the immigrant developing a low sense of pride, leading to his withdrawing into a shell thus encouraging and breeding an in-group mentality. It may also lead to the immigrant being denied opportunities to apply his skills in specialized sectors for the betterment of the UK society and economy. The British society may be worse off because in the longer term its ability to compete in the global economy may be undermined, because xenophobia has prevented it from taking advantage of the skills that immigrants possess.
People leave their countries for several reasons, todays immigrants to the UK are different from first generation immigrants who first arrived to work in the coal mines, and to help build the British underground system, some others who arrived early exploited the close colonial links at the time and arrived to acquire UK education. While majority of the immigrants today including me may be economic migrants, it is still not bad because of the skills that we bring. The UK government somewhat recognizes the contribution that immigrants can make to their economy and have introduced schemes such as the highly skilled migrant programme (HSMP), working holiday visa and others, but for some reasons, the government has repeatedly failed to come to the defence of such schemes and immigrants as a whole by debunking some of the stories in the press concerning the role of the immigrant in the UK society. By not doing so, the UK government may have become its own worst enemy and also the number one enemy of UK immigrants.
It is the liberal nature (to some extent) of the UK society that has seen it attract more immigrants to the country, compared to other EU countries such as Germany, Italy and France, but there is a danger that if current campaign against immigrants in the UK press are not reversed, then the UK may end up like the countries mentioned and be regarded as an unfriendly society too, its reputation as the America of Europe in terms of individual freedom and liberty may be jeopardized. Such a situation will be catastrophic, the National Health Service (NHS) that is run mainly by Nigerian doctors and nurses, the education sector and other key sectors run by immigrant skills may well collapse. Not forgetting also the billions of pounds that the UK government earns from taxes and national insurance contributions from illegal immigrants paid on their behalf by their employers, or is the government claiming that it does not receive such payments?
Have they ever questioned the sources of the funds especially when such surplus income can easily get flagged up, or is it just a case of use em and dump em? These immigrants despite their various contributions obviously have no access to social welfare and services, and are also never considered eligible for unemployment and other benefits, eventual deportations means also that the immigrants never ever get to claim their pension which they have contributed as part of the national insurance contributions while they were working, if this is not injustice, then I wonder what else is.
Since I arrived from Nigeria on this migrant journey, which has taken me across many countries, just like most immigrants, I have been through the motions, done and seen it all starting with torture at the hands of the Nigerian military which caught me while trying to escape from Nigeria with fake papers. I have paraded the streets of Cairo (Egypt) while searching for passage to the west, lost some acquaintances while on transit in Turkey en route Greece through a boat mishap which capsized during a midnight run and crossing, was penniless and trapped between the borders of Turkey and Bulgaria on a cold winter night, lived in a concentration cum asylum camp in Blankenburg Germany, worked as a factory hand loading clothes into containers.
I have been a door-to-door salesman, washed dishes in a hotel and restaurant setting world records in dish washing at each of the stops during my tour of duty, worked as a security guard by night and studied as a student by day, sold fashion goods on the streets and later from the trunk of my car, cleaned offices and factories, once working for 3 months without pay in a factory, only to be threatened eventually by the white lady who was our supervisor at the time that if I dared show up again, she would call the police and tell them that I was an illegal immigrant. When she hired me she knew that I was an illegal immigrant but she and many like her, that feast on the sweat and toil of other immigrant labourers can only get richer and fatter by such inhuman acts.
Since then a lot has also happened to me, I have since become a legal migrant and documented worker and now find my self teaching undergraduate and graduate students, some of whom are also in my earlier situations. Anytime the media attacks on immigrants resurface, I share my story with them, the aim being to let them know that they should remain focused, and not mind all the lies. I try in my own way to be the face of the immigrant, why should I bow my head in shame? Every immigrant should share his or her story as a way of helping others coming after, and also letting the white establishment know that it is not all immigrants that are criminals, we also have our uses. Our united and collective voices can indeed make a difference, as demonstrated during the recent immigrants one-day strike in America, as part of the a day without immigrants campaign.
Some people have argued that immigration should be seen as a form of reparation of the wealth of African counties pillaged during the colonial days, such people usually fall into the trap of thinking that the end justifies the means, they would stop at nothing including criminal activities to make it, sad as it is, it may be such people and their get rich quick or die trying mentality that are giving bad name to the other law abiding immigrants who simply want to utilize their God given talents and skills and take advantage of the opportunities available in the western societies both for personal, family and even sometimes for the benefits of their countries of origin.
This school of thought is flawed because it fails to take into consideration present day realities, just like the other school of thought that chastises immigrants who may have escaped from the harsh economic realities of their home countries, thus willing them to go back to their home countries in order to escape rising nationalist interests in their host counties. Sympathy for the latter argument can only be justified by a renewed move by some of these African and other governments to introduce better policies aimed at restructuring their countries, and increasing socio-economic opportunities for her citizens. The latter may be ideal because of the popular adage which says that east or west, home is the best.
Not surprisingly, articles like these never get published or picked up by mainline UK media for obvious reasons, its not like people like us dont try to be heard and read by them over matters like these, but they prefer to maintain the status quo. Take for instance this email from a major UK newspaper (name withheld on purpose) which I had contacted to publish this article.
Dear Mr Nworah I passed your proposal (below) to Andrew (Comment Editor). Andrew has asked me to let you know that unfortunately it’s not for us. Thank you for thinking of the…. Kind regards Liz W (Features editor)
Uche Nworah is freelance writer, lecturer and brand strategist. He studied communications arts at the University of Uyo, Nigeria and graduated with a second class honours degree (upper division). He also holds an M.Sc degree in marketing from the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus and obtained his PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education) from the University of Greenwich where he is currently enrolled as a doctoral candidate. His articles have been published by several websites and leading Nigerian newspapers. He received the ChickenBones Journalist of the Year award in 2006.
posted May 2006
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By Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 30 May 2006