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“Going for an Indian”: South Asian Restaurants and the limits of Multiculturalism in Britain, E Buettner

This article discusses  South Asian groups within Britain with the establishment of Indian restaurants within mid-twentieth century Britain. Overall Elizabeth Buettner establishes racism throughout Britain from the South Asian community through the catering industry.

The author starts the article off by revealing that Britain now has nearly 9,000 restaurants and take-aways run by south Asian immigrants, and their descendants that employ more than 70,000 people and have an annual turnover exceeding £2 billion, she also established that the vast majority of their customers are white.  Although Buettner establishes that Indian food is popular within Britain she also establishes that several decades ago most British would either ignore or ‘vigorously reject’ food Indian foods, she explains that just as many reacted in the same manner to the arrival and settlement of people from the subcontinent. Buettner acknowledges that Indians were present in Britain before the end of the empire however their numbers were small and their visibility and impact uneven compared with the increase after India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947.

The author also acknowledges that multiculturalism has never indisputably been deemed a “positive” force for Britain for more commonly it has been imagined as a problem or as a means of tackling a problem. Other favoured foreign cuisines particularly Indian and Chinese that took root in British diets and dining-out habits were not widely associated with immigration to any comparable extent partly because Indian and Chinese communities were smaller and also deemed less culturally problematic in the post-war period. Buettner establishes that West Indians were the only minority group to compete with South Asians in terms of numbers and the level of public attention and anxiety they attracted. The history of South Asian foods rises to popularity revels “uneasy coexistence” and tension between ongoing racism and exclusion and the gradual and conditional development of enthusiastic appreciation and the gradual and conditional development of enthusiastic appreciation.

It was then acknowledged that in the 1970s “benevolent multiculturism” as the policy was most apparent within the British education system where it was believed that racism could be combated by dispelling widespread white ignorance of ethnic minority cultures through sympathetic teaching. The small handful of existing Indians grew exponentially between the 1950s and the 1970s when far larger numbers of Indians, Pakistanis and other Bangladeshis arrived to live and work in postcolonial Britain. Starting in the 1980s ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in London, Bradford, Birmingham and elsewhere became self-styled “Curry Capitals” as “Going for an Indian” achieved the status of a national habit with locally specific contours. The author then argues that positive and negative images of Britain’s curry culture have remained in perpetual tension, revealing much about the changing relationships between Asian and white Britons, the class connotation of producing and consuming this cuisine. Buettner then acknowledges that South Asians in the restaurant sector have played a critical role in remaking Britishness, yet at the same time, they form a deeply riven rather than a uniform group.

It was established that between 85 and 90% of Britain’s “Indian” restaurant’s and take-aways are owned by Bangladeshi museums. Pakistani Muslims run most others, particularly cities like Bradford and Birmingham. Indian restaurants in the metropole were few and far between. Several came and went in the 19th century and others emerged in the early 20th century, largely in London. Most were run by and catered mainly for an Indian and predominantly male clientele who had come to Britain as seamen, students or in a professional capacity.  An example that Buettner provides is one of the oldest restaurants that survives today is the Veerswamy’s off regent street dating from 1926 it was opened by a spice importer became an official caterer for the Indian Pavilion at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley outside London. It served upper-middle class and elite customers including visiting Indian princes and other dignitaries as well as officer-class Britons who had once lived in India. Like many other early restaurants offering Indian-style dishes Veersawamy’s was largely ignored by most Britons with the exception of repatriated ex colonials.

The author then establishes that two stereotypes surrounded this ethnic group: that of the arrogant privileged colonial and one of unhygienic South Asian people and food. Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s most Britons continued to stay clear of South Asian food even when restaurants existed to offer opportunities for sampling unfamiliar dishes. Men who had run these casual café style establishments often begun as factory workers before deciding to go into business for themselves by providing a service that fellow new arrivals in Britain wanted. It was established that Asians were criticised for failing to adapt to English culture in reports that reflected demands for immigrants to assimilate with British society. Signs of curry’s popularity slowly became apparent by the later 1960s and 70s when some establishments that originally catered exclusively to Asians gradually witnessed a diversifying clientele.

Buettner acknowledged that “Going for an Indian” was very much a ‘boys thing’ a ‘boys night out’ for the younger members of an increasingly affluent post-war society with money to spend on leisure and consumption. However, displays of racism towards the waiters was regarded as masculine as this occurred frequently within restaurants. The writers explain that reports of young men’s behaviours at these restaurants suggested a lack of respect and appeared rude to both the establishment and their staff. Finally, the author establishes that the 1980s witnessed the largest increase in curry houses in Britain, which totalled 6,600 by the end of the decade. Eating at curry houses had become a familiar social practice in much of Britain. Many customers found curry houses attractive because they were cheap, filling informal and open late.  It was then established that most curry houses are run and staffed by Muslims of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin they are prime targets for Islamophobia, they would often be told to “go back to Pakistan” or get called “Paki” by aggressive passers-by. Overall Elizabeth Buettner acknowledges that racism within South Asian communities within the mid-twentieth century was present through the establishment of Indian restaurants.

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Thomas Lane ‘Victims of Stalin and Hitler: The polish community of Bradford’

The following article ‘Victims of Stalin and Hitler: The polish community of Bradford’ by Thomas Lane explores the Polish community within Britain specifically within Bradford.

The author introduces the source by including that Bradford attracted workers and merchants from the surrounding rural areas, and from far-flung ports of the British Isles and overseas. Bradford became a centre home of many different ethnic minority groups as Lane established that there were Irish, German and Jewish Immigrants attracted by job opportunities in the textile factors and wool markets. The author establishes that Christine Poles were not included within these ethnic groups until the second World War. It was established that there was a total of only around 4,500 poles numbered in the United Kingdom in the 1931 census to which they were clustered in three main areas of Polish settlement: London, Manchester and Lanarkshire.

Lane establishes that from the 19th century the majority of Polish newcomers were economic migrants and before then Poles in Britain were often mainly political refugees seeking sanctuary after the Polish uprisings of 1830, 1848 and 1863. The author also establishes that the polish presence within Britain and to a larger extent within Bradford was mostly a result of the war. Lane acknowledges that British officials were aware of the danger of creating ‘Alien’ settlements and that all reasonable measures had to be taken by the government to ensure that the Poles and other Eastern European workers within Britain after the war would assimilate. The Royal Commission on populations report in 1949 emphasised that Immigration was welcome only If the migrants “were of good human stock” and were not prevented by religion or race from intermarrying with the host of the population and becoming merged with it.

The author then establishes that Polish civilians freed from German labour camps at the end of the war increased the number of displaced persons held in Germany. There was around 55,000 Polish troops in the Polish first corps based in Britain and Germany at the end of the war, plus 19,000 members of the Polish air force and around 4,000 naval personnel. The author then mentions the significant number of Poles within Bradford as he states that according to the 1951 census there was a total of 2,757 Polish residents within Bradford. In 1961 the number was 2,303 however the reduction of poles reflects in the re-migration of Bradford Poles to the United States, Canada and Australia.  Lane also establishes that one other factor which makes up for the 1961 figure being relatively low was the fact it failed to take into account both substantial numbers of naturalization during the 1950s and the children born in British to Polish parents, or in mixed marriages where one parent was Polish.  In most cases these individuals considered themselves to be part of a polish community and it was possible to estimate their numbers.

Lane proceeds to mention that a consequently large proportion of the European Voluntary Workers found employment in West Yorkshire and Lancashire textile industries including Bradford where there was a severe shortage of labour after the war. The process of finding a job within Bradford was entirely Government directed,  members of the Polish resettlement corps were, however, free to find their own employment from the outset as some moved into textiles straight away while others made their way to Bradford after working in other areas which for one reason or another proved unsatisfactory.

Historian Lane introduces the reasoning for many Poles coming to Bradford and he states that some came because they had friends, some came prior to the possibility of a job in engineering when that industry was closed to them in other cities.  Some Poles preferred work in textiles as opposed to alternatives elsewhere, and others came due to the greater housing availability. However, Lane emphasises that although many went onto work in Textiles many believed their stay would be temporary until they could find something which also another reason which enabled hundreds of Poles to come to Bradford under this scheme, it also helped them enable friendships which lasted till after the war.

Lastly, Lane emphasises the social aspect of the Polish within Bradford as he recognised that parish clubs offered social and recreational opportunities within the Polish community. The list went from activities such as dancing, army days, gymnastic and chess clubs discussion groups, music and drama societies, a circulating library and many other activities.  It was also emphasised that Saturday schools offered children the opportunity to learn and speak Polish and to study Polish history, geography and culture. Although there was a number of shops selling traditional polish food, a polish pharmacy and a travel agency. All these allowed members of the community to meet and socialise away from the clubs and the chance to talk to their native language in familiar settings.  Overall this source written by Thomas Lane does well to illustrate the Polish community and explains their settlement into Bradford.

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T Colpi ‘The Impact of the Second World War on the British Italian Community’

The following article ‘The Impact of the Second World War on the British Italian Community’ by Terri Colpi explores the Italian communities experiences throughout The Second World War within Britain. Colpi begins by examining the pre- War period by referring to the 1920s and 30s as the ‘Golden era’ for the Italians within Britain as she explains that this particular time was essential towards the growing success of Italian run businesses. Colpi also establishes throughout the pre-war period that although Italian communities had integrated within British society there was little association with Britishness within their culture as they continued to speak their Italian dialect and live a traditional Italian family centred way with ceremonies such as births, deaths and marriages conducted through the association with the church. Colpi also highlights the rise of fascism within Italy throughout the pre-war period as she established that one of the aims of fascism was to reunite into a brotherhood, Colpi establishes that the Italian community in Britain embraced fascism in a wholehearted manner, as British Italians who lived through this period explain that fascism to them was a form of patriotism. Colpi emphasises that many British Italians were not political however felt the need to embrace fascism throughout this time due to their attachment to their county and their involvement with the Italian community.  The importance of the fascist clubs was highlighted by Colpi as she emphasised that many were drawn to these clubs as they often only focused on the benefits of becoming members of the club as they would provide Italian teaching schools and free holidays to Italy for children.

The author then focused on the outbreak of War in 1939 by referring to this as a ‘stressful time’ for the Italian community by highlighting that many entire families mostly recently arrived families to Britain would often return back to Italy within this period. Colpi established that Italy’s involvement within the War was extremely stressful to the Italian community within Britain as she emphasises the chaos that is caused upon the announcement that Italy would no longer stay neutral within the War announcing that it had now become an allay of Britain. Colpi highlights that the Italian community dreaded the War as Italy was now a threat towards Britain which lead up to the hostility and targetted attacks on the Italians within Britain. Colpi then analyses the various different attacks upon the Italians by explaining that there were ransacking mobs attacking Italians from Soho in London. It was mentioned that many of the violent attacks were focused more upon properties and businesses rather than on individuals themselves, Colpi then emphasised that Edinburgh was the most affected city within the country however Glasgow was also badly targetted particularly within areas such as Govan, Tradeston and Maryhill. The author also mentions how taunting was commonly present within schools particularly for the Italian boys as they would be regularly beaten and picked upon. Colpi then establishes that it was this particular time when British Italians ‘learned’ it was not good to be Italian and that it was better for them to assimilate themselves particularly for those that had set up their own businesses as disguising themselves from their Italian roots would often better their chances at surviving.

Throughout the source, the importance of The Arandora Ship is often recognised with the targeting of Italians as this ship set sail from Liverpool for Canada on the 1st of July 1940 however the ship sank within 30 minutes with a loss of 700 lives, it was therefore emphasised that two-thirds of the deaths upon this ship were in fact Italian. Colpi highlights how the British Press tried to pinpoint the high death toll on other circumstances such as fighting and panic amongst internees. The figures of the men who died are presented by the author throughout this section of the source, it was highlighted that roughly out of 1564 men onboard that 712-754 were in fact Italians and the rest were either German, Austrian or British servicemen. Overall the author illustrates the hostility that was present towards the Italians during the outbreak of the Second World War.

Lastly, the author represents the major challenges and affects that the Italian community were faced with after the War as Colpi explains that many small Italian businesses majorly struggled to maintain a foothold in their local economy which remained in order several years after the War which clearly emphasised that the resentment and hostility towards the Italian community was indeed still present all those years after the Second World War.  Again Colpi emphasises how discrimination was still targetted towards the Italians which again resulted towards many Italians covering up their true Italian origins by using different names and refusing to speak to learn Italian and usually marrying local within the British community which gave them a better opportunity to merge into British society and not be discriminated against. Overall Terri Colpi does well to recognise and analyse the everyday challenges that the Italian Community in Britain had to endure during the outbreak of the Second World War.

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Herbert E Roese “Cardiff’s Norwegian Heritage A Reflected Theme”

This particular source focuses on Norwegian’s settling within Cardiff between the late 19th and 20th centuries. The Historian introduces the source by describing that within the 19th century Cardiff had been one of Britain’s three major ports besides London and Liverpool. This historian continues this argument by describing how Cardiff became the major coal exporting port in the region, however, harbour such as Newport, Penarth and Barry were affected or conceived as a result of the operations of the Cardiff docks. The writer also establishes throughout this source that Timber was a valuable source throughout Norway as it dominated the trade with the increase in the building of wooden-hulled ships. It was established by Roese that Norway had little else to export other than timber however between the years 1849-1850, classification, insurance and better ship design soon came the key to trading abroad. The author then furthers this argument by describing that railway rails and oil bulk were also transported by Norwegian ships towards the end of the 19th century.

The importance of Swansea is also highlighted throughout this source as the author establishes that only Swansea had its own Norwegian Church (which still stands along the A483) throughout this period. The author also then established that this church was originally elected in Newport but when the towns dock declined due to the superiority of Cardiff’s transport symptom and port system facilities the church was therefore moved to Swansea. The importance of Swansea is then highlighted again by Roese explaining that Swansea created a manufacturing base (the copper works) in conjunction with the docks to which he argues Cardiff failed to do so. The ‘Norwegian mission to Seaport’ was also mentioned throughout this source as the historian established that this had found the greatest need for its services in the second half of the 19th century in four main European ports which included Leith, Newcastle, Antwerp and Cardiff.

The author then established the significance of the coal industry, as he argues that the Cardiff docks could barely keep pace with the coal supplies from the coast fields on the one hand, and the demand for docking and wharf space from shipping agents on the other hands. It was also further argued that within 1913 coal employed 5 million tons of tramp shipping, of which 3 million tons were British. Those 2 million tons of non-British tramp shipping were largely provided by the Norwegian carrier fleet. The significance of Norwegians throughout Cardiff was also established by the historian as he highlighted those small businesses were created which included: Provisioning, crewing, inspecting, engineering, repair, surveying and insurance. Besides this the author further established that although many sailors and captains chose these business communities, others took up non-shipping related occupations such as coal mining, house-keeping, working within cafés and boarding house management. There were three peak periods of these Norwegian occupations throughout Cardiff which are known to be within 1920, again in 1950 and again further by 1989. As well as this, the author also demonstrates that Norwegian heritage existed throughout Wales as he demonstrates this through establishing that a wide range of names throughout Cardiff came from Scandinavian (in particular coming from Norway). This argument was therefore furthered through the Roese establishing that that some surnames reflect a geographical context which came from Norway, one example of this that he uses to illustrate this was from the children’s author Royal Dahl.

Overall the historian H.E Roese established that there was a strong Norwegian presence throughout Wales Cardiff in particular as this was the main seaport in the kingdom. He concluded this source by establishing that the Norwegian presence in 19th century Cardiff can be regarded as “something of spectacular similar, earlier events although on a larger scale”.

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C. G Pooley ‘Front Londonderry to London: Identity and sense of place for a protestant Northern Irish women in the 1930s’

This particular article was written by historian Colin Pooley who establishes the experience of a young 18-year old young woman (which he commonly refers to as ‘R) who migrated from Northern Ireland to London in 1937 to take the work as a typist. The source highlights that the young women born into a protestant family within Londonderry in 1919 who kept numerous diaries and in-depth detailed all aspects of her life between the years 1937-1942. In particular, these detailed diaries included a vivid insight into the process of when she migrated to London which included her thoughts and feelings on leaving her home in Ireland to her adjustment to her new life and work within the city of London. The author clearly highlights that these diaries did not initially have the intension of anyone other than the author to read them, as they are clearly written like a personal document.

One aspect of ‘R’s’ life that seems to be of interest is when the author highlights that her parents had sought arrangements about accommodation for the young girl upon London by contacting the Civil service association in regards to hostels and by also contacting some boarding houses directly, however ‘R’ eventually lands a room in a hostel in Earls Court which was recommended and booked by the daughter of a family friend who had already moved from Londonderry to London. The author also highlighted that ‘R’ had a network of strong contacts already existed within London which gave her practical advantages and reassured her of anything. This is interesting as this is clearly a process of chain migration as ‘R’ clearly had trusted strong connections which she could rely upon if she needed any help within this new city.

Interestingly the author establishes that the actual acts of leaving home did in fact cause ‘R’ some distress as she had such a strong bond with her mother and with Londonderry, therefore, leaving this behind was hard for her, however, it is established that she did not view this opportunity as “leaving home” initially as she saw it more as a temporary adventure as she intended that her sister may in fact join her in London and she always had the option of coming back to Londonderry if things did not work out for her. However, the author established that less than a year after she migrated she did in fact have the opportunity to transfer to Belfast but ultimately went with the decision to stay within London as she was enjoying her time within the city. It was emphasized by the author that ‘R’ clearly suggested throughout her diary entries that she was becoming sincerely comfortable with the environment as she states that she never felt threatened or even uncomfortable living here.

Pooley also establishes that throughout the diary entries that further aspects of ‘R’s’ life are later revealed as her religious afflictions and political beliefs are clearly defined. It was established that she was a protestant from Nothern Ireland and her father was committed to the Presbyterian church and the orange order in Londonderry, therefore, the author establishes that it was expected that ‘R’ would have a much stronger identity to Britain opposed to Catholic migrants. Pooley also established that both her religion and politics enabled her to fit easily into British society and have strong views on class differences within Ireland.

Pooley then concludes this article by establishing that ‘R’ was brought to a privileged position within London in regards to many other migrants from Ireland to Britain in the 1930s, it is illustrated that this young woman was fortunate enough to have the full support of a wealthy family who arranged for her migration enabling she had work and initial accommodation within London, the author also highlights that ‘R’ was well educated and had a secure well paid job which was hugely beneficial towards her when she migrated to London in assuring she would gain a success high paid job.

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D. Renshaw ‘Prejudice and paranoia: a comparative study of antisemitism and Sinophobia in turn-of-the century Britain’

Historian Daniel Renshaw is a lecturer at Brunel University in London. His research is based around the study of Jewish and Irish Catholic Communities with their interaction with radical politics in East London between the years 1889-1912.

The following article primarily discusses prejudice attitudes aimed at the Chinese and Jewish minorities within late 19th and early 20th century Britain.  The article starts off by distinguishing that both Chinese and Jewish minority groups were characterised as “fundamentally alien to British society” to which the author mentions how both minorities were both often portrayed negatively throughout the British press.  The author also establishes throughout this article that anti-semantic and Sinophobia language had been presented by Conservatives, Liberals and the Labour movement within the 1906 general election. It was known that the Liberal Party and the Labour movement claimed that the Boer War had been portrayed as a “Jews war”  motivated by Jewish financial interests in South Africa. The author also illustrated that the conservatives saw the Chinese minority as an economic and social threat to domestic works forces. The author then again emphasized contemporary attitudes towards the Jewish community as he includes an extract of a 1904 Socialist pamphlet that revealed that Jewish tailors should not be welcome in England at all. This itself demonstrates the hostility towards the Jewish minority throughout this period.

The author also establishes that both the Chinese and Jewish minorities often endured an exploitive capitalist system, as they would commonly work greater hours and in worse conditions for less money.  The Chinese were commonly known to be sailors as the majority of them worked as stokers, these jobs were not seen as attractive to Europeans since this trade necessitated men spending long periods away from home. As a result, Chinese people became established in port cities such as London, Liverpool and Cardiff.

Again the author presents how the Chinese and Jews were negatively portrayed throughout Britain as he established that they were often associated as carriers of various foreign diseases, to which Sinophobic and antisemitic propaganda tended to be portrayed immigrants were viewed as dirty with lacking basic hygiene measures. In particular, the author illustrates how the Jewish refugees were seen as violent anarchists, Nihilists and career criminals. He also establishes that the Chinese were represented as being addicted to narcotics both opium and Gambling. Throughout this source, it was also established that Chinese men were often accused of distributing opium-laced sweets to young girls as well as giving alcohol to children and luring women int laundries with flattery and gifts before seducing them.

Lastly, the author establishes the outbreaks of serious physical violence outbreaks against both communities throughout the Edwardian era, to which he comes to the conclusion that it was relatively rare however there was some accounts of sporadic violence occurring throughout East London, Leeds and Manchester as he establishes that this was commonly occurring between gangs of children and youths. The author furthers this argument by establishing that more serious anti-semantic violence occurred throughout Limerick in Ireland within areas of small Jewish communities. Overall the article written by historian Daniel Renshaw aims to provide an insight of how the Jewish and Chinese Communities were negatively portrayed, it also effectively provides detail of how both ethnic groups experienced prejudice attitudes throughout late 19th and early 20th century Britain.

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Terri Colpi ‘The Scottish Italian Community’ (1993)

Historian Terri Colpi specialises within British Italian community at the University of St Andrews. She has written several books on the Italian community migrating to Britain.

This particular chapter focuses upon the Italian immigrants within Scotland and the difficulties they faced with there community. Within the title, the author uses Italian as she writes “Senza un campanile?” which translates to “Without a bell-tower?” Within Italy is well- known that the campanile was rung for a communal service which gave an indication to when it was time to pray, it is was also rung on special occasions for example baptisms, weddings, funerals etc therefore it held sentimental value in bringing the Italian community together. The author, therefore, argues throughout the chapter that due to certain Italian churches within Scotland not having the campanile there has definitely been a struggle to keep the community close as it once used to be within Italy.

Colpi establishes that the Italians failed to authorise their own campanile due to reduced religious activity. She then continues this argument by expressing that religion was no longer the main priority for many Italian Immigrants within Scotland, many prioritized work commitments over religion and would often only attend church for family events such as weddings as opposed to traditionally attending every Sunday. Another key point the author establishes is that many of these Italian immigrants within Scotland had now introduced working on Sundays as the author states, “Because of the nature of their work in the catering trades often seven days a week, twelve hours a day there was little time for other religious devotions”. This is something that was newly implemented as this would have not been the case within the Italian community previously as Sundays were seen a sacred which employees would often ensure they would not work.  It was known that the Italian communities, particularly from Northern Italy became heavily involved with their own Italian cuisine and introduced fish and chip shops as well as ice cream shops. For example, the well-established Nardini family within Scotland successfully set up numerous fish and chips shops within Largs as their famous family ice-cream recipe is famously known throughout Scotland.

This article also focuses on the social community and religion as the author argued that both aspects were interlinked with each other. She argues that often a community will only tolerate its own kind of religion, for example, the Italians were known to follow the Catholic religion, therefore, they would often be known to only accept other Italian Catholics as opposed to other Catholics from other ethnic communities such as the Irish. Lastly, Colpi contributes to the issues of the “internal community” between the Italian immigrants that could be distributed to the division within Glasgow between two different types of Italians i.e. based on their origins of Italy. There was a clear confrontation between the two groups as they would actively avoid each other completely. This clearly played a large factor in the difficulties the Italian community i.e. a detached community. Overall ‘The Scottish Italian Community’ by Terri Colpi depicts the Italian Immigrants within Scotland and successfully evaluates some of the key factors of not having a Campiline resulting in the division of the Italian community within Scotland, and the chapter therefore successfully illustrates the Italian Immigrants within 20th century Scotland.