I wish to leave the pain of the past and take into my future, the beauty of art and culture that gave me hope.
I come from a fairly large, usually well-meaning, but somewhat dysfunctional, immigrant family who never really adapted to the British way of life and are still suffering for it generations on. The combination of ethnicity, economic and gender inequalities unites my experiences with many in Britain. I am far from alone.
In Scotland I, along with the general public, are often invited to submit applications to various arts or literary endeavours if I am Scottish. This is defined as meaning: being Scottish by birth, by ancestry or simply by personal identification. This is something I find painful. In England, a minority of people have called me anti-Russian names (especially when anti-Russian propaganda rises in the media), and occasionally anti-Semitic names. In Scotland, I get the occasional anti-English insult due to my accent.
Growing up in both Scotland and England I learned that I don’t like nationalism, neither Scottish, English or, in fact, any (Russian, Italian, etc). I like aspects of all of those countries, who owe a lot of their culture to immigrants. I like Scottish dancing, Russian ballet, Italian opera and English humour and animations (especially Wallace and Gromit). But those are arts, culture without borders and imaginary divides. I love the parks, art galleries and museums in Glasgow, Margaret MacDonald’s paintings, the fresh air by Loch Eck and McMonagles chip shop boat in Clydebank with its gluten free dishes. But don’t ask me to ascribe to nationalism, don’t ask me to define myself as Scottish. I won’t turn my back on my late Russian Jewish father or my beautiful but deeply missed Italian grandma. I won’t turn my back on Northern English humour, Wallace and Gromit and Yorkshire tea - even though I only drink fairtrade tea nowadays!
I was born into a multicultural family and raised that way. I will always be multicultural. I am far from alone in this. Perhaps the gatekeepers of arts or literary funds and opportunities in Scotland need to modernise their accessibility criteria for entrants who are multicultural with a Scottish flavour too? I would very much like to leave in the past: nationalisms, divisions and their hateful words and practices of inequalities and exclusions. I would like to take into the future, however, all those aspects of beauty which have long given me and many others a light in the dark; warmth in the cold and a beacon of hope in hardship. They range from the joy in the highland dancer’s eyes as she leaps through the air, the twitch of anticipation in the fingers of the bagpiper as he climbs to reach musical crescendo, the wordless expression of Gromit that says it all, the opera singer’s delight as she mounts the stage in her magnificent costume. I take this love we make and give to each other called art and culture, I take it into the future.
Sombrely, now I explain something else I want to leave in the past and take to the future.
‘Being a “good mother”, a well-trained woman, as many of us are, she turned her anger in on herself rather than outward on her children…As the unhappiness had no outlet in this world determined to deny women the right to their tears, to their torment, the anger was tightly controlled until it reached breaking point, when cracked cups and saucers set aside specifically for this purpose were taken out into the yard and flung at the wall. My mother was not mad…her anger, pain and despair were not unique to her. I know that women trapped in unhappy marriages, isolated, lonely, with young demanding children, no money and no friends are often deemed mad. That to be a woman is often to be mad.’ (Jane Ussher, 1991)
I returned to Glasgow 12 years ago, arriving a mixed bag of prosperity juggling trauma. I came with, amongst other qualifications a freshly completed 1st class post graduate certificate in education, full of young (possibly naïve) optimism. I also, however, had just prior to arrival experienced three traumatic life events all at the same time, a family bereavement under distressing circumstances, the equivalent of stressful marital divorce on top of upheaval of relocating. Unable to find any free counselling in Glasgow I managed with bits I had been offered from the bereavement services and family and friends who just wanted to help. Since age 10 I wanted to be a children’s author so unemployment felt like an opportunity to return to that passion and it certainly cheered me up.
12 years on and I am still unemployed, no money, no local friends, no sense of belonging. I cannot begin to describe how painful such strange loneliness is. I am, ironically, far from alone in this experience, I have met many times women in Glasgow. Poor, unemployed, lone parents, with no sense of community or belonging and little access to arts or culture. Sometimes I wonder how it might be if we acquired arts funding for international women’s day to collectively take all our cups and saucers, set aside for the purpose, and throw them at the walls of parliament in Holyrood?
I wish to leave inequality, social and economic exclusion in the past, taking into the future the strength that got me this far to propel me and others to enjoy our beauty and cultures, what we have to contribute, like the Russian artists who never gave up hope.
I planted tree saplings last year. I hope in future to produce many more books and plant many more trees. I hope in future summers my garden is filled with trees and books and shiny, happy friends.
I hope my future holds cups and saucers that are set aside for the purpose of drinking fairtrade tea.