Who says multicultural Britain is broken? On Facebook I am invited to a ‘Migrant Drop In Night’ where an open stage invites migrants, travellers, refugees and local people to celebrate Edinburgh “As a welcoming & safe environment; where all new arrivals feel empowered, accepted & integrated & able to contribute to our community.”
It’s a generous idea and it makes me think how lucky Edinburgh is to attract talented, hardworking and warmhearted newcomers like the young Polish group who started Swietlica, the monthly drop in club, and are now setting up Welcome Home. And of course they are not the only community making efforts to integrate.
Up side streets and behind closed doors there is an exciting diversity to Edinburgh that is perhaps just becoming more visible in the city. Through my involvement in a small voluntary community group in Leith, I have begun to travel the globe. To Ethiopia for a coffee morning (in the Africa Centre in Blackfriar’s Street), to Hong Kong for Chinese tea and incredible cakes (in a sheltered home just off Gorgy Road), to Tanzania for supper celebrating independence (in a Newhaven social club ), to Poland for a traditional Christmas meal of nine courses and no booze (in a Ferry Road community centre). To Pakistan and India for a night of poetry and very good samosas (in McDonald Road library).
Smell the coffee: Ethiopian style
I really had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for when we sent out the first Open Space invitation asking Can We Listen to Each Other. In 2005 a small group of Labour party members had decided we must try to do something (strictly non-party political) to challenge the increasing hostility to ‘visible minorities’ after the London bombings. The results (recorded on Leith Open Space blog) have opened my eyes to the challenges and opportunities of a multicultural society.
Of course there are problems (language is a barrier and it doesn’t help that there is not enough public money invested in overcoming it) though I am often struck by the irony that Britain accepts cultural invasion from the west (Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC. Coca Cola) with often disastrous health effects yet fears eastern influences (though they have much to teach us about family cohesion).
It takes effort to integrate but that also has to involve more than the incoming cultures. My own personal experience is that the effort is immensely rewarding. I have met some fantastic people – most of them women – and eaten some wonderful food. In fact, as you can see, food is a recurring theme in my multicultural experiences. There is no better way of bringing people together.
Launching World Kitchen in Leith on Gala Day 2009
Which is why the World Kitchen in Leith is such a good idea. Last night I sat in a Leith flat and marvelled at the cultural mix of the group: Spanish, Indian, African, Scots and Irish – we were all speaking the same enthusiastic language. There was one man, Gurmit, in a Sikh turban, who saw Leith Festival as an opportunity to break down the invisible barriers that give multiculturalism a bad name.(that story is on Leith Open Space blog too).
And of course breaking down barriers is what the Migrant Drop In Night is about. I am looking forward to Welcome Home (and maybe a cake or two).