You are one of the world’s most visited and populated cities. You are a cultural mecca; home to famous museums, art galleries and you are the place where cultures untie. It was always one of my dreams to visit you, and thanks to the Giltz, DeLauder & McCullough families that I was able to see you and get to know you better.
Growing up on a small island in The Bahamas, it was never uncommon to hear someone say, “I’m going foreign and I’m never coming back.” To us, foreign was usually either the United States of America or you, London. You were always a dream for me even back then, before I knew anything about you. But what was so special about you that my people would break their hearts just to see you, I always wondered. Pictures of far-off places which seem like paradise, or images of lifestyles much more exciting than those in the Caribbean have been painted and deeply embedded in the psyche of Caribbean people. So I went to find out what exactly you had to offer.
As an International Economics & Multilanguage major, minoring in Political Science, I developed an interest in the migration crisis that Europe is facing. This interest developed into an interest in Afro-Caribbean migrations and the challenges they may face upon arriving to their various destinations, but mainly to you. I wondered if the expectations of these immigrants were met once they arrived, and how you’ve treated them since. I was very interested in this migrant community because despite the abundance of Literature on many other immigrant groups in London such as African, Asian and Latin American, there seems to be little to no research published on Afro-Caribbean immigrants and their success upon migration, particularly in London, although there is a large community present.
According to the Sunday Express, one in three people who live in London were born abroad. But this doesn’t tell us how they were doing. I wanted to take the opportunity to study Afro-Caribbean migrants and observe their levels of success after migration. I was able to stay in Brixton, a well-known Afro-Caribbean neighbourhood for a weekend with a local host-family. I was also able to meet with other locals and research about your rich history of immigration.
In Brixton, I stayed with Rosemarie Mallet, who originally hailed from Barbados, and her daughter Jane. They took me around the neighbourhood and presented their accounts of their travels to also see you, London. Rosemarie and Jane told me about how it was easy for them. You were welcoming and warm, with a smile that promised a bright future. But once inside it was a different story. At first, it was a matter of assimilating culturally; learning your ways and customs proved to be a challenge enough, but they were up to the task. But the next problem—a problem that most Afro-Caribbean migrants were facing—was gentrification.
Speaking to the owners of Bamboula Caribbean Restaurant in Brixton, I was told that Brixton was drastically changing. The once vibrant community, home to Caribbeans, a place where they can be themselves and express their cultures freely, was being invaded. The South London neighbourhood presents such unique flare, offering a wide array of different aspects of Caribbean culture—from the food, to music, to clothes, to dancing, Brixton is becoming one of the trendiest places to live. But by becoming the trendiest place to live, it is losing the one thing that made it trendy: its Caribbean residents.
Jane accounts to me how a lot has changed in Brixton. “It’s just horrible to see. I’ve lived here my whole life and now I see people walking around who just look out of place” Jane says, “My friends are all moving away because it’s becoming too expensive to live where we’ve always been living.”
Rosemarie accounts, “It wasn’t that bad in the beginning. People would just catch the tube here, party and then leave. But when they put in a Starbucks, that’s when we knew things were really going to change. When you put in things like Starbucks, it attracts a certain type of customer, and it’s not the local people. A cup of coffee is too expensive at Starbucks, so we knew that it wasn’t meant for us.”
The owners of Bamboula also spoke about this change. “It’s getting pretty hard to keep the shop open. With these changes, and these expensive stores popping up, they’re catering to a certain type of customer—customers with more money than the local population here. Rent prices for housing and businesses are skyrocketing. It’s becoming unaffordable for us. Soon we might have to move.”
So you see London, my enrichment investigated whether Afro-Caribbean immigrants have been successful upon migration, and the barrier to those successes. I learned that the Caribbean migrant population is having a hard time due to the effects of gentrification, making it difficult to make you its new home. Through this, I have learned more about British housing policies and the impact they have on migrant communities through Rosemarie, Jane and the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton.
Thank you London, for allowing me to have such a rewarding experience. Being able to live and frequent a community similar to my own during my study abroad experience enriched my experience in ways I have never imagined. I plan to use my knowledge in conversations in class and one day in my professional career. I thank the Giltz, DeLauder & McCullough families for allowing me to have this opportunity to experience and learn about gentrification and its impact on the Caribbean community in ways that would not have been possible without their help.
Barrise N. Griffin