Immigration has become not, as I once thought, a welcome addition to the English way of life, but a source of disquietby Tom Smail / May 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
I live in Harringay, Green Lanes, in the long, elegant stretch between Manor House and Turnpike Lane. It is a predominantly Turkish and Kurdish area with vestiges of an earlier Greek Cypriot civilisation, though Turnpike Lane, according to the 2011 census, is the capital’s most linguistically diverse underground station, with 16 languages spoken nearby. It is an area of community spirit, of good people that I know and greet, of greengrocers whose fresh fruit and vegetables are piled high in affordable excellence, and restaurants of such quality that people come from far and wide to sample their wares.
“It is a total pleasure to live amongst migrant communities,” said Labour MP Jess Phillips recently. My French wife and Italian stepchildren agree, but increasingly I do not. Despite the delights of Green Lanes, I find myself progressively overwhelmed by diversity. I miss Englishness. I miss English. When I hear it, I miss English accents and conversation with someone who understands colloquialisms and references. Even mundane pleasantries at the bus stop are made difficult, if not impossible, by linguistic challenges and a lack of common culture.
It is not the fault of any immigrant that I have chosen to live in a predominantly non-English area. But having seen London change over 35 years, I am finding it hard to appreciate the positive aspects without concern. Immigration has become not, as I once thought, a welcome addition to the English way of life, but a source of disquiet. And quite simply because of its scale. The immigration we have experienced in the last two decades is unparalleled in British history: an average net figure, according to the Office for National Statistics, of over 220,000 people annually for the past 22 years.
Zadie Smith, in a recent interview, recalled an incident from her schooldays: a group of white people on a bus getting angry because four Bengalis were speaking Bengali. Bemused, she put it down to “insecurity, jealousy and a kind of vanity that you should always be included in all things.” I regularly travel on buses where no one is to be heard speaking English, where the 16 tongues of Turnpike Lane are in boisterous evidence, and I freely admit that I feel somewhat excluded. The world…