WINDRUSH TO LOVERS ROCK, AN ANTIGUAN STORY: CREATIVE SPACE #3 OF 2018Monday 23rd April 2018
By Joanne C. Hillhouse
The Windrush Generation (and the post-Windrush and children of Windrush) has been in the news cycle this year in light of uncertainty surrounding their status in Britain due, apparently, to lack of documentation (reportedly destroyed documentation). When you say Windrush in the Caribbean, it’s understood that you’re talking about the mass migration of citizens from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth to the United Kingdom which was, pre-Independence our titular ‘mother country’. They went initially post-World War ll at a time when such migration was being encouraged and for many it represented economic opportunity – as Brenda Lee Browne whose book, London Rocks, I discuss in this edition of CREATIVE SPACE put it “five years that turned in to a lifetime”. Those still resident there in the 1970s were given permanent leave to stay but, as it’s now turning out, lack paperwork, and with documentation for work and many services being mandatory especially so since 2012 when changes were made to the Immigration Law according to the BBC, Caribbean Brits have been placed in a tenuous position. Even in this time when anti-immigration rhetoric and policies seem to be on the rise around the world, that this well settled immigrant population is at risk would have caught some news watchers by surprise.
No doubt there’s more to this still evolving news story but this post isn’t about that. I mention it though, because London Rocks is about a Brit of Caribbean descent – fictional DJ, Dante, a first generation Caribbean British, in that he was born in England to Caribbean parents, much like the author of the book. Through his experience, the book centers on the search for identity, amidst the emerging lovers rock culture among children of the Windrush Generation.
“Lovers rock allowed us to claim our place because it was our music,” Browne said of that time, adding “we carved out a niche for ourselves; we defined ourselves.”
Photos by Mark Brown/Permission to use by Brenda Lee Browne.
Browne was speaking at the launch (held Saturday 14th April 2018) at Cedars Pottery, located on St. Clare’s Estate on the main road en route to Buckleys. The display space at the home and studio of sculptors Michael and Imogen Hunt. The space allowed not only for the book launch but for the showing of art pieces by Browne. The art pieces were an interesting catalogue of a life: the collage which tracks the black experience from slavery to Driftwood which speaks to adventures and hardiness to the valise (or what we used to call “grip” in Antigua and Barbuda) which symbolizes the packing up of lives to cross the water aboard the ship known as Windrush.
In London Rocks, published by UK independent press Hansib, Browne tracks the lives of young black Caribbean British youth torn between a home they didn’t know and a home that didn’t really know (or seem to want) them. “Our generation en masse was probably the first to be born and raised in Britain,” she said at the launch.
Browne, though comfortably writing the male voice, as demonstrated by the excerpts she shared during the launch, reflected on her own experiences as a Black female navigating that world. In one story she told, she was one of a handful of black children in her class, unceremoniously pulled out for re-classification. This alternate streaming of people who looked like her was neither anecdotal nor incidental; it was systemic and othering. And it was through timely intervention that she was eventually re-routed in to a stream that allowed her to sit her GCEs and go on to study journalism and ultimately earn her MA in Writing.
“Not all of us got out of it unscathed,” Browne said, pointing to ongoing distrust of police and distrust of the education system among Black British youth. In London Rocks, a book I was fortunate to read and edit an early draft of, we see Dante being harassed by the police for just existing in a public space – a scene which is unfortunately all too timely in the era of #BlackLivesMatter.
Browne framed her decision to move from England to Antigua– a choice her character does not make – as vital to crafting an identity for herself; “I couldn’t keep playing the role or trying to fit a profile.”
While the Caribbean is in many ways not a utopia – it has its class and colour, and myriad other issues; it is a space where Brenda Lee Browne felt free to claim a self-defined identity, and a space which allowed Dante to be born. And as she arrived at the point of releasing her first publication to the world, Browne said, “it is the loveliest, the hardest, most weirdest journey (yet).”
This post, sponsored by Barbara Arrindell & Associates, originally appeared on Jhohadli as a sponsored post; contact Jhohadli/Joanne C. Hillhouse if you wish to sponsor a future post in support of coverage of Antiguan and Barbudan arts and culture. All Rights Reserved.
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