So far, the Asian Voices project has interviewed many people from the South Asian community and documented their experiences and memories about coming to England. It has been an eye-opening, fascinating experience to take part in and it will provide an invaluabe archive of the thoughts and feelings of those who experienced this important period in British history first hand. This, however, is not the sole purpose of Asian Voices or indeed oral history as a whole. Looking at some parts of various transcripts it is easy to see why.
“We got Saturday and Sunday off, but we had to go shopping and clean the house. We were tenants but we had to clean the house, and cook for ourselves. We used to cook fish but there wasn’t an awful lot of fish around. We used to put curry powder into it and make a sort of curry. After a few years, there were a couple of shops where we could get halal meat on George St. There was a Pakistani shop there, but we used to kill our own chickens. We used to go to a farm to get chickens and halal them ourselves.” – Sabir Hussain
This part of Mr. Hussain’s interview shows clearly how and why oral history is such a relevant tool for more than just the cataloguing of events. For a community such as South Asian immigrants, particularly in Britain, oral history serves to give people a voice where, in many cases, they haven’t had one before.
South Asian immigrants to the UK possess some of the richest, most diverse and most interesting cultural history, yet in a historical sense it is an aspect of our country’s history which has been overlooked. With oral history, the very people who participated in this movement are able to say what they feel about it themselves before it is too late.
When the British Empire collapsed in the late 1940s due to Britain’s heavily weakened state after World War 2, Britain needed workers. Men like Sabir came from their homes in Southern Asia to aid Britain at a time when their labour was invaluable. Asian Voices has given these people the chance to say what it was like to come to Britain and find work, mostly in industrial jobs, and form a community that has remained strong and secure ever since.
“The first job I did, the name of the firm was TA Corckings. They used to make hydraulic rings for aeroplanes and ships. Technically I was very good and I made many rings and I checked rings and could say whether they were good rings or bad omes. That’s why the firm owner was very taken with me and thought I was a real asset to the firm.” – Sabir Hussain
The purpose that men like Sabir served in those early days of South Asian immigration to the UK is what oral history and the Asian Voices programme is all about. It aims to show the community how and why these men and women came to Britain, and tell the fascinating stories they have about their experiences in doing so.