Monday, May 12, 2014

Speech From Goan Oral Histories Book Launch

This is the first post in a long time.

I've been writing more on my Daily Insight site.

The writing below is actually the speech I prepared for the book launch for the Goan Oral Histories Project. This is something that bid for and got money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Selma Carvalho asked me to give a perspective as a "Younger Goan". The speech was very well received - and I was particularly aware of the fact my mum, dad, sister and wife were all in the pressure...

Oh and apologies to any Liverpool fans - I wrote and delivered this before the outcome of the Premiership was decided...

So read, enjoy and and comment.


I’ve got three areas to talk about today - something about the past, something about the present and something about the future. The twist is at 37 I’m representing the young. (Hands up if you’re under 40?)

But my two main points are: one -  this book and being here gives me a sense of where I’ve come from, where I am and where I’m going, and two - integration is inevitable.

First the past. It’s 1980. I am sitting in playschool. We are playing a game.I put my hand down on the table. Someone else puts their hand on top of mine and we take it in turns. Then we put down our second hand. And we take it in turns. Then we pull out our first can imagine my fun as a four-year-old. One time though, as I put down my hand on the blue plastic of the table, I think - ‘my hand isn’t like them, that’s not right.’ It was the first moment I decided I was “different” - my hand was brown, everyone else’s was pink. The challenge of fitting in began…

Fast forward to my teens and in about 1992 I start playing guitar. I hear stairway to heaven by Led Zeppelin and it changes my life forever. It also changes my sister’s and my parents because I practise and obsess over the song for hours. And hours. And hours. The floodgates open: Jim Hendrix, Metallica, Black Sabbath. Now don’t get me wrong - music was *always* around - my dad played guitar - but learning to play heavy metal and getting into the associated scene gave me a group to feel part of. I had blue hair and a long beard. I got tattooed and pierced. I finally felt part of something. In my desperation to fit in, I felt most at home in an anti-establishment scene! They didn’t care what the colour of your skin was - as long as you loved the music. At that point I would rather be judged on my clothes and the colour of my hair than the colour of my skin.

Getting older as I moved into my mid-twenties. I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It had a profound effect on me. There was a section he wrote about the pride and power he felt standing side to side with his own people. Apart from my family, I’d never felt that. Not a real sense of community in the sense Nelson Mandela was writing about.

So when I heard about a young Goan event happening right next to where I worked I had to go along. Up until that point I had not had a very good experience with younger Goans. Nope - I’d been judged a bit for being a heavy metal fan. I’d had a few young Goan friends when growing up but most of my friends were white middle class. I’d already written off the Goan community and turned my back.

As I walked into the pub in Holborn, my expectations were low. I dressed as *I* felt I stood out like a sore thumb. Like my brown hand amongst all those white ones. But I started chatting to people. The music played. I danced. And actually I had a good time! I  thought of Nelson Mandela’s book and resolved to do something.

Over the next few years, I re-formed the YLGS committee, and wrote the constitution. Our events took off. My experience at events was a sense of relaxation. Here were a whole bunch of people I didn’t need to explain stuff to. I didn’t need to explain why my name was James and not Sanjay, why my English was so good, why I ate beef and pork, why my name sounded ‘spanishy-but-I-looked-Indian’ and why my parents being born in East Africa didn’t make me African.

The thing I’m *most* proud of though is the fact that the committee is on its third or fourth version. A whole new set of people keep the organisation going. It’s not the same people year after year.

The organisation started with a clear purpose: build a strong and integrated community of Goans. And I think it’s stayed true to that.

It's because Goans are amazing at integrating. Goans can get on with *anyone* at any point, at any time. We do actually bring people together.

So, the past happened, things change, get over it…

Now my second area is the present. Goa as a culture and area is beginning to appear *everywhere*. Like popcorn beginning to pop. It’s a slow process but it started years ago. At one point there was a Goan family in Eastenders. The Matt Damon film The Bourne Supremacy was filmed in Goa. I go to Sainsbury’s and I see a Goan tomato soup. The Young London Goans Society were featured on Madhur Jaffery’s programme.  People have *heard* of Goa - and as more than just being a holiday destination. I’ve had parents of the boys I teach ask me if I’m Goan because of my surname. To me that’s a huge cultural shift.

And all these little things keep happening. Just last week I got a text from my sister. She was listening to Radio 6 and heard a song that sounded remarkably familiar. It turned out it was a Konkani song! The DJ even explained that it was in Konkani and that it’s the dialect spoken in Goa.

Now I think this book represents something deeper. And I’ve got a metaphor for it. Is anyone a Liverpool fan? So there’s a deeper reason they are top of the league in my opinion. The Hillsborough tragedy happened. But the inquests and investigation is open and happening. It seems as if the *whole* thing is going to receive closure. I do not think it’s a coincidence that Liverpool are top of the league. The club is putting to rest a deep-seated issue.

So for me, in the UK all of these little incidents and references to Goa had no story to give them context. This book is no coincidence. I think the fact that the video interviews are going to be in the British Library *forever* is inspiring. There was no written history until this book - only the stories I heard in my family. I think this book is the most important thing that’s happened in our community for a generation. Why? Because it gives *my* story context and legitimises *my* experience, and my culture - beyond my immediate family. It raises it to a community and cultural level - which is something I’ve always struggled to deal with.

So, the present is happening right now, it changes, get over it.

Which brings me to my final area - the future. I think we can only look forward if we know where we’ve been. The only reason people cling on to the past get all nostalgic is because they’re unsure about the present and insecure about the future. That’s something I’m *totally* familiar with as a person with a Portuguese surname, brought up Catholic, Parents born in East Africa, originally from Goa in India, born in the UK, and  who looks Muslim.

If Goan culture changes and evolves and doesn’t exist in the future - so what? *We* know our story. It’s been captured with this book. I say let’s embrace change as a community. I’ve grown up doing it - my nephews will too.

I recently read an article on online newspaper the Huffington post. The way cultures and people are mixing and inter-marrying - there will be no white people in the US by 2043. I’ll be in my sixties…

So, the future will happen, it will change, get over it.

To finish up I want to paraphrase Russell Peters. He’s an Anglo-Indian, Canadian comedian. And he says something like this.

When I look around London and the UK I see all sorts of cultures and people. Black, White, Brown, Chinese. This kind of thing won’t happen in the future. Do you realise there’s not going to be any more white people? There’s not going to be any more black people. Everybody’s going to be beige. The whole world is mixing. There’s nothing we can do about it. Eventually we’re all going to become some kind of hybrid mix of Chinese and Indian. They’re the two largest populations in the world.

So, my two main points: one: this book and being here gives me a sense of where I’ve come from, where I am, and where I’m going, and two: integration is inevitable. Goans can get on with anyone. We blend in anywhere and everywhere. I'm already beige.

Thank you for listening.