London celebrations

A London diaspora borough remembers a queen – ambivalently

LONDON — In a church in an area of ​​west London known locally as Little India, a book of condolences for Queen Elizabeth II is open. Five days after the monarch’s death, few have signed their names.

The 300-strong congregation is made up largely of the South Asian diaspora, as the majority of the estimated 70,000 people live in the Southall district, a community nestled in the outer reaches of London and built on waves of migration that have span 100 years.

First came the Welsh coal miners, then the Irish. Then, after the devastation of World War II, an influx of Afro-Caribbeans and Indians settled in Southall. The latter remained for decades: Responding to the monarchy’s appeals to former colonies to help fill widespread labor shortages, they carried vouchers that guaranteed their passage. In doing so, they helped steer Britain away from economic ruin.

Now, for some in Southall, the Queen’s death has reopened old wounds from a complicated history.

The neighborhood’s experiences mirror those of other London diaspora communities with a colonial past. An older generation maintains a deep respect for the late monarch and the opportunity to prosper in Britain. But young people are not sure; they struggle to reconcile their identity as British with the brutal colonialism that upended the lives of their ancestors. They demand a settlement with the past.

Then there are the ambivalent ones – families hit hard by COVID-19, Britain’s energy crisis and post-Brexit inflation. They express respect for the late queen but struggle to see the relevance of royalty to their daily toil.

“What does the monarchy have to do with us?” Ranjit Singh, 45, said outside a butcher shop where he has worked for 10 years. “There was a queen, she is dead, another will take her place. What more can be said?”

In recent years, Southall has welcomed an assortment of new arrivals – refugees from conflict zones, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans seeking opportunities, and dozens of asylum seekers living in hiding awaiting very difficult documents. important that can legalize their presence. Almost 76% of the community is from South Asia.

The great Sikh temples are within a few meters of the Hindu mosques and mandirs. Gurmukhi, the Sikh script, is paired with English on shop windows. The main thoroughfare, The Broadway, is reminiscent of India’s bustling markets with dazzling textiles and sizzling street food. English is rarely heard on the street and some shopkeepers don’t speak the language at all.

Still, Southall has a few distinct royal ties – of which most here are unaware.

The mother of Catherine Middleton, the new Princess of Wales, grew up in Southall. It is also home to what restaurateur Gulu Anand insists was King Charles III’s favorite Indian restaurant.

Anand arrived from Kenya in the 1970s and opened Brilliant Restaurant in Southall. Charles first visited in 1981, after Anand sent out numerous invitations. The future king will return twice more in 2007 and 2014, Anand says. Photos of Charles hang on the walls of the restaurant.

When the queen died, the businessman was devastated. “I’m as British as it gets,” he said.

Not everyone feels the same. That’s what the Reverend Mark Poulson told his congregation during Sunday’s sermon at his church in Southall, St. John’s. “It’s important that we recognize that,” he told a mostly immigrant audience.

Still, Poulson said Christians in Southall held the Queen in high regard, with many coming from countries where they did not enjoy the same freedom of worship.

There are only two obvious markers of the Queen’s death in Southall: a sign outside the pharmacy and a half-mast British flag in the town hall building.

The flag was the work of Janpal Basran. The leader of the Southall Community Alliance noticed more than two days after Elizabeth’s death that the flag had not been lowered. He made urgent calls, fearing the community would be perceived as disrespectful.

Basran spends his days meeting local needs – including many who live close to the poverty line and are struggling. Does the death of the queen have an impact on their lives? “The reality for these people is yes, it is,” Basran said. “But depending on where you are, the length of your mourning will vary.”

Southall’s first South Asian immigrants left the subcontinent less than a decade after partition in 1947, arriving in London to work on factory assembly lines and as airport guard crews from Heathrow. The wages were low and the hours long. Workers from northern India in particular had lost land and savings to the massive dislocation that accompanied partition. Among them was Basran’s father, who arrived in 1964.

Businesses have opened up to meet the local needs of the diaspora community and have grown. Other migrants made their way to Southall, and white residents responded with hostility.

Racial tensions rose in the 1970s, with violent riots and incidents of mutilation and murder of South Asians and Afro-Caribbeans. Anti-immigration sentiments have also fueled the inflammatory rhetoric of the National Front Party, a fascist political party. In 1970, race riots engulfed the area.

This turbulent history, coupled with the recent rise of social movements like Black Lives Matter, has led to a revival among young people seeking to dissect colonial legacies. Their relationship with the monarchy – particularly the notion of empire and the deeds of Elizabeth’s ancestors – is strained.

“It’s difficult,” said Narvir Singh, an artist whose grandfather was part of the first wave of Punjabi migrants to Southall, “It’s a daily struggle…as a person who exists following of so many horrific and heartbreaking events.”

Singh’s work has dissected the story of Southall’s race riots in the 1970s. The presence of the monarchy in his life is reduced to a few objects: the pocket money bearing the Queen’s profile and the flag.

“I don’t celebrate or pity,” he said of the queen’s death. “It’s just one of those things, the forces of change.”

Pru Miah, 46, a former councilor for east London, said ‘most people respect the Queen’s death because we are taught to respect our elders’. attend public schools in London, then a university course opened his eyes.

“There is a collective amnesia about what happened, and there is no public narrative about it,” he said. “The queen was a symbolic representation of this system.”

Ismail Lea South was once an anti-monarchist. His grandparents arrived in England as part of the influx of people from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971.

South began to resent the royal family as the inequalities he witnessed on the streets of London stood in stark contrast to the lavish life of the royal family. That changed when he quit his job at the bank to become an educator who helps inmates, gang members, drug addicts and ex-extremists get their lives back on track. It was The Prince’s Trust, founded by Charles, that provided the best service for his cases, he said.

“It helped me reevaluate my opinions,” South said.

Mohammed Osman, a Somali-born Southall Cafe owner, takes a pragmatic approach to the events unfolding around him. He is less interested in the colonial past and more focused on how the new King Charles III plans to help him recover from his economic difficulties.

“The Queen?” he said. “I never met her.”


Samya Kullab, Iraq correspondent for the Associated Press, is on a mission to London to cover the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Follow her on Twitter at—kullab