During the 1960s, in England (and Britain, I presume), ‘Jamaica’ started to mean or be seen by many as the ‘West Indies’. Understandably, the host population wasn’t able early on to distinguish between the different Caribbean people who were becoming larger parts of the population: they were ‘darkies’. Amongst the Caribbean peoples, themselves, differences from the region were still carried clearly, especially the Jamaican tendency to see most others as ‘inferior’ in various ways, hence terms like ‘Small islanders’ for people from the Eastern Caribbean. But, this sea of mostly dark-skinned people also started to confirm lack of difference by they way they banded together as one when it came to long-standing cricket rivalry with England and the blossoming Notting Hill Carnival. I have vivid memories of watching baying West Indians at the Oval, in South London–an ideal venue close to an area, including Brixton, that was becoming home to some of the highest concentrations of West Indians.
As immigrants tried to find their footing on foreign soil, strength in numbers was more easily achieved by being seen as ‘one’. I remember going to social events–weddings, christenings and birthday parties, mainly, where I met for the first time lots of Dominicans, Grenadians, Barbadians, Trinidadians. I could distinguish their accents; I couldn’t discern much else about them that was different except some food I had never had before, like souse and curried chick peas.
So, ‘Jamaica’ was also the many black people whom I saw more in my daily life, as nurses (such as my mother and my aunt who’d arrived in the 1950s), bus drivers and conductors for London Transport (like some uncles), postmen (like my father and uncle), factory workers (like my uncles), building workers, including skilled trades (like my uncle who was a carpenter). The island was also present in food we could get more easily, as our trips to Shepherds Bush Market didn’t disappoint in the search for fresh food and other ingredients to prepare the way we had always done, back home.
I’ve commented before how the inner London place where I spent most of my childhood in London has remained a home of new immigrants, now mainly Somali and Bosnian refugees, Lebanese and Poles, with West Indians and Irish residents seeming fewer (some moved out and up to the suburbs). It’s also become ‘chic’, as young, white residents ‘come back’ and make evident changes in what the area offers in a wave of gentrification. The housing in many parts of London was also good and the Victorian structures of many towns has an appeal that transcends social classes. Its proximity to central London has become better as the transport network expanded and became better integrated, and long commutes became less-desired. Still, it’s funny to go back there and see chintzy cafes as well as Hooka bars; stores selling saris and polish food; pubs turned into food stores; library turned into a theatre; public baths tuned into a block of flats; once-rundown terraced housing now brightly renovated with window boxes and high-end cars parked outside. What marks the passage of time better than White City Stadium, home of greyhound racing, speedway, and major sports, including a temporary home for QPR and a World Cup football match in 1966 (and scene of some of my best 100 meter races 😉 ), be closed and redeveloped as an extension of the BBC empire?