The movements of human populations over time and space are breathtaking. The resourcefulness of the peoples who moved on and lived on in the social, economic and cultural fabric of place is endless. Originating well before industrialisation from the boat builders of the North Sea nations, the North Indian blacksmiths, the Moorish and many more travelled the world to survive, to expand and to trade.
Putting the I into Immigrant
By Nina Edge
Without these movements Europe would lack essentials of modern existence such as mathematics, sewers and mortar. The continent has been enriched too by constant cultural fusions, as in Spain plus Indian migrants equals Flamenco. Nomads left India in the 15th century to eventually be known as the Roma gypsies, and brought Rajasthani folk music into Spain. It developed into Flamenco, regarded by the 21st century as quintessentially Spanish. A national treasure.
Likewise Britain plus Trinidad equals Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest street event in Europe, increasingly utilised as part of the UK’s core ‘brand’.
Migration from the countryside to the cities fed industrialisation and will inevitably continue. Demand from second homers, and asset-rich retirees together with planning restrictions have produced a shortage of rural housing. The young in particular are forced to leave.
So too, migration from the cash poor world to the credit rich world. People will flee political and economic catastrophe, some of which will be caused by a changing climate, some caused by unchanged regimes and ideologies. This is widely anticipated as evidenced in the policy work and investment in control frameworks by the European Community.
Alongside the exponential increases in the migrant poor there is simultaneous explosion of a global billionaire elite, a group of worldly mega-mobile high earners who have homes, investments and vast incomes worldwide. Described by Richard Woods (Sunday Times 27.4.08) as the ‘mobilesuperclass’, they are courted by nations who are anxious to benefit from the Midas touch and tax revenues of great wealth. Being mobile is different to being a migrant and both are different to being without mobility. Shifts in global trade have seen specific communities grind to a halt.
The native underclass for whom mobility is unavailable may view immigration as direct competition, having seen their own ability to participate in a UK or even Europe-wide labour market diminish.
Similarly in Liverpool’s epic battle with itself over housing, the immobile express their resentment towards people who have used their power of movement to enter the city from elsewhere. Incomers into areas of high density immobility may be afforded less personal power, less respect, less status that those who have held long term residency. The territory – no matter how degraded by depopulation, deskilling or regeneration-led despoiling – will be contested by those who were left stranded when the tide went out. This is unsurprising, in-comers have not only mobility working against them but experience of the outside world. External experience disrupts the ability of the immobile to adhere to a straightforward narrative that their area is unattractive, themselves hard done by, their future predestined.
The phenomena of local authority or quangos or government agents demonising urban incomers exploits the fear and resentment of the immobile in their populations. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the ongoing contest regarding the compulsory purchase of housing in Liverpool. A series of strategies have been seen at public enquiries and meetings which demonstrate an eagerness to diminish those born outside the city, or to make false claims that opponents of the authorities are also opponents of the immobile. On occasions the demonising of incomers takes place at policy level, for example those who have longest tenure will have first dibs on replacement housing. The most extreme visitation of this strategy of turning incomers into outsiders is to allege - without evidence - that opponents of the proposed demolitions do not really live in the city, but have homes elsewhere in the UK, villas in Spain and great personal wealth.
Allegations of wealth, external homes, and foreign property holdings have a potentially high impact on the immobile implying not only access to choice but indicating the golden barb – that of mobility. The wisdom of using public funds and agencies to discourage populations from settling in the cities is somewhat contrary, given the ambitions of cities to repopulate themselves. However contradictory, this parochial stance serves the purposes of those who use it. There is considerable wealth locked in the land occupied by the immobile on Merseyside.
Despite being born in the UK, I have been accused of immigration, by reference to my skin colour and features, which are patently non-European. Guilty by accident of ancestry. And I have been accused of migration as an English person when living in Wales. Guilty by movement across a sub-border. Currently I stand accused of ‘not belonging’, living in an area where the land is sought by property developers. This failure to belong may be the result of mobility since I moved into the area, and was not born in it. But this is a limited mobility, since it is not sufficient to remove me from the current impasse with the regenerators. Guilty by being mobile enough to arrive but not mobile enough to leave, an immigrant by visual association and a migrant by coming here for work.
At meetings where the demolition of my home is being promoted I am told to ‘go back to where I came from’ and discussed as ‘not from around here’. Presumably my failure to move off the land which is so keenly sought by the authorities has resulted in my definition as an ‘outsider’ despite fifteen years in the city, all of which have been spent in Toxteth.
Yet residents who were born and raised on this site have been described as ‘not genuine residents’, unless they will agree to the demolition of their homes. So ‘belonging’ in this instance is linked with compliance.
The great contradiction in this is of course that Liverpool’s historical roles as centre of shipping and commerce, and as capital of 19th century migration give it the potential to be a place where everyone can belong and which can belong to everyone. The city which based its bid for Capital of Culture status on the slogan ‘the world in one city’ still has some way to go if it cannot extend its world view to the West County, India, Wales or its own citizens.
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