British history, much like that of most Western nations, is seen as linear, and immigration in all its multifaceted forms is seen as a disruption to this straight line of action. However, Britain has never possessed a simple historical narrative, it is a complex network of crossed histories that have left their traces in every city. It is also a nation whose strength has been built through the work (mostly forced) of other nations all over the world. Though the population may not reflect this to the same degree that it has in the Americas, Britain has been a island of immigrants for centuries, from black and Asian seamen and freed slaves, French Huguenots to Eastern European Jews.
The influences of other nations are archived in architecture, the words we speak and the foods we eat, which have only made this nation richer. I have walked the streets of London countless times, weaving though side streets, small neighbourhoods, and museums and what I have seen is glorious. Modern Britain has reached a wondrous point where (despite the battles and violence that still flare up about identity) all these groups are starting to create a synthesis of being, a new sense of identification that recognises those that inhabit it shores. I, as an American, can listen to English youth speak in a manner that encompasses “proper” English and Jamaican patois and speech patterns and recognise that it is an authentic representation of Britain just as RP used to be. Places like Banglatown/Brick Lane are marketed as fixed parts of the London experience, while the Regent’s Park Mosque sits nestled next to one of the pinnacles of literary England, Baker St. As new groups enter, more mutations and blends are bound to occur, blurring even further what it means to be British.
On a personal note, what drew me back to England was this mix of people and traditions. The first places I saw were filled with immigrants and the descendents of immigrants, which lent a feeling of wild possibility and chance to every place I saw. While I take comfort in many places that are still staunchly traditional, even if it is solely in name, in the end it was foreigners that makes this place continue to be utterly fascinating. And I know many others who have settled for the same reason. For me, Britain continues to be my gateway to the rest of the world, and I look forward to that distant day where people like me, with our funny accents and differing cultures and ways of viewing society are finally seen as what we are: equals and not a part of the problem. When that day comes, I’ll celebrate with a well deserved cup of tea.