From survival to participation
Enid Saunders' poem describes how people came from the Caribbean in response to the 'Motherland's call for workers'.
The poem comes from a book called ‘Our Legacy in our own Words’, which was created and published by the Women of Watford Caribbean Elders project.
In the fifties and sixties
they came in droves,
to the job stations
In response to the Motherland’s call for workers
to do the jobs the host refused
no one declared.
From the Caribbean isles they came leaving teaching,
policing and many trades they could not carry on
to come to England “where the streets are paved with gold”.
On the Windrush and Ascania they came
to land at Southampton, Plymouth and Leicester.
Distances they could not imagine
until one brother asked for a taxi from Plymouth
Behind them they left husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends,
children and families they only came for five years.
to gain wealth from the Motherland
They worked with London Transport as
bus drivers, conductors, guards and mechanics.
British Rail as clerks, ticket collectors and cleaners
but many as labourers in factories and mills.
Others worked in the National Health Service as
porters, nursing auxiliaries, students and pupil nurses they did
not know the difference and no one told them.
As pupil nurses they worked hard
on wards of fifty and sixty elders,
no encouragement to change to general nursing,
A vocation which they could use on return to their
Never of Mary Seacole did they hear
Yet to nursing she gave so much.
What a surprise!
Accommodation – notices stated
even your own said no to Africans
One room to cook
eat and sleep.
The wet clothes dry in front of the paraffin lamp
as it heated the room
rent break your back.
Some food was cheap
pig tail, trotters, tripe the lot
yam potatoes and green bananas were non existent.
It was hard in the workplace and home.
A better life
Some would not be beaten,
went to evening classes,
obtained qualifications and better jobs.
Many letters and pounds winged their way across the ocean
husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends came,
then the children and grandparents.
Distances and separation
strained some relationships, between husbands and wives,
boyfriends and girlfriends,
parents and children,
you don’t need to tell me any more,
record your reminiscences
make your local black history.
are all terms used to describe us.
Let it be a thing of the past
Youths and adults
stretch out the hands,
embrace each other and participate,
from those who fight
Young and old
respect each other.
Unity is strength
take the opportunities
to learn from each other.
Value what we have
encourage each other
it concerns you.
Participating in your community is rewarding
in the Queen’s Birthday and New Year’s Honours list
Some community leaders are publicly rewarded.
We won’t all be
Members of Parliament
Business men and women
but after surviving
PARTICIPATE we must.
Leave the negative mode behind
in strange surroundings
many ended up in Educationally Subnormal Schools,
or returned to aging grandparents.
Along the way some lost their identity
bleached their skin,
light skin is best,
with hot comb,
and curling tongs
Children returning from school
wanted good hair
You’re prettier with straight hair
Prettier? like whom?
Be proud of who and what we are.
Create positive images.
Don’t say ‘cornmeal, saltfish and dumpling
is poor people’s food’
Learn how to cook it
and many of the other dishes Mama made.
Encourage the children to eat it.
Keep it alive.
Be proud of your heritage.
Some are here to stay
Get involved with
The many clubs and associations,
don’t fight each other.
Many say ‘Black History’
I know all about it
N o to drugs
E nthusiasm to work together
G reet others
I nsularity- broaden your outlook
E xpression of self
SPELLS – NEGATIVE
O penness with others
S elf Respect –
I nterest yourself in what is happening
T rust in others and yourself
E ncouragement to carry on