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Windrush: My Great-Grandmother's Story

BY BREANNA BURKE (staff writer)


Photo of the Windrush ship (Getty Images)


Our histories are the backbones of our stories. From a very young age, my great-grandmother has told me about her life journeys. I became enthralled by her adventures and lived a thousand lives through her stories. Last summer, she and I sat down on her veranda on a warm, sunny day, and over some lemonade, she told me about one of the most memorable periods in her life: her time spent in Britain.


My great-grandmother was a part of the Windrush Generation. From 1948 to 1970, many

Caribbean people migrated to Britain due to the labor shortage after WWII. The name “Windrush” comes from the name of the first ship of workers that came to Britain during this time. My great-grandmother was among those who migrated in the 1950s seeking a better life so that she could send money to support her children in Jamaica and even build a house for her family.


When she arrived, she was faced with many challenges. Racism in Britain was distinctly present, so she was called derogatory names and often excluded from various parts of society. She worked numerous jobs during the 3 years that she spent there, ranging from being a maid working at a laundromat to eventually working as a secretary. She worked

long hours and had little money leftover after taking out what was needed to to support her

children.


When I asked her what she missed most when she was there—besides her family, of course,—her eyes lit up and she replied, “Mama’s turn cornmeal.” This is a traditional Jamaican dish made with refined yellow cornmeal cooked in coconut milk, along with herbs and spices. She said that life was much duller without its delicious flavor. I also asked her what her saddest moment was while she was in Britain, and her head drooped as she recalled passing a spot of land that was filled with sunflowers. She was amazed by their radiant yellow, and when she

asked someone why they were there, she discovered that it was a remembrance for children

who had died during a WWII bombing. She wept on her way home as she reflected on the

innocent lives that had been lost and the challenging environment she had been placed in.


My great-grandmother never went back to Britain. To this day, her brothers and sisters who

came after her still live there, but she has always said that her heart is in her home, Jamaica.

While migrating to Britain allowed her to provide for her family, it also opened her eyes to

the sorrow that lives in the world.


As her great-granddaughter, I know that her story is also a part of mine. Her being a part of

the Windrush Generation is yet another fragment of the experience of my Caribbean

ancestors, whose spirit of sacrifice and hope lives within me today. Their stories have shown

me how important it is to preserve our history, so we can use it as fuel to positively

impact our futures. My great-grandmother used this experience where she witnessed sorrow and pain to instill in her descendants the importance of spreading light in the world to

overcome that darkness. Her story inspires me each day to do something that will create even a tiny spark in the world with the hope that it will ignite the spirits of those that are suffering.

Sharing culturally diverse stories to educate, inspire, and empower others

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