“Where I Eat My Bread…. Stories of In-Migration To The Highlands And Islands”
By R. B. Macleod
So often immigrants – whether from within or outwith the EU, whether coming here to work or fleeing persecution and poverty – are seen as a problem. If we believed everything right wing politicians and anonymous social media trolls tell us, we would believe immigrants are both work-shy claimants and taking our jobs, are health tourists making it more difficult for us to get medical appointments, want to change our way of life and impose their culture on us and are responsible for every imaginable crime.
As always, the racists and xenophobes are wrong: very wrong. As anyone who has received hospital treatment will know, without immigrants (and their children and grandchildren) the NHS would collapse. Increasingly, the tourism industry relies on immigrants. Those who bring their families here help keep our schools and colleges open. And each new group adds vibrancy to our culture, bringing with them languages, literature, music, art and lifestyles that add to what is already here.
All of this is demontrated in this excellent book. Here we find people from five continents and fifteen countries, those who have been here for decades and those who are recent immigrants and people from various religious and cultural backgrounds. All of them have chosen to live here and all are contributing to highland and island communities.
In his introduction the author points out that “…we are all incomers, we are all migrants…” He compares what he calls New Highlanders to those Scots who in the past emigrated to other lands to make a better life for themselves, in the process helping the development of those countries.
In the Foreward, Highland historian Dr James Hunter explains the methods used by Brian MacLeod. Brian also makes his own position clear, when he tells Dr Hunter:
“Wouldn’t it be good if…we could find a way of having some part at least of Sutherland reoccupied by families who are fleeing – just like our own folk once had to do – from danger and oppression.”
The oldest person featured is 91 year old German born Heinz Voigt. He was drafted into the German army during the second world war, was captured, became a prisoner of war and was sent to California. After the war he, along with his compatriots, was sent to the UK where he ended up working on a farm near Golspie. When it came to repatriation, he decided to stay in Scotland as the part of Germany he came from was now controlled by the Soviet Union.
Three of the interviewees originate from Jordan, each of them having very different lives. Yousra Martin left Jordan to study at Doncaster, where she met her husband. They have lived in Inverness for some time now. She is deaf and could sign in Arabic, but had to learn BSL (British Sign Language),which she now teaches to others. Abs Seoud was born in Inverness but at the age of one his Palestinian father and Scottish-Italian mother took him to Jordan. In the late 1990s he worked in hotels in Dubai before applying to Inverness College to study an HNC (Higher National Certificate) and then worked in catering before setting up a B&B with his Polish born wife. Their son speaks English, Polish and Arabic: a truly international family!
An equally international family is that of Petra and Arafeh Alashi, who also now run a B&B. Arafeh is a Palestinian Muslim, Petra is from the Czech Republic and a Catholic. As well as the languages they bring to the table, they also want their children to learn Gaelic and to grow up Scottish. They make light of their different religions and say of their children: “…if they wish to follow our traditions, Islam or Christianity or not, that is up to them.”
Many of the Eastern Europeans who move here are devout Catholics, and St Mary’s in Inverness now has a Sunday mass in Polish. Its Polish chaplain is Father Piotr Rytel who, as well as his pastoral duties, is football mad and plays for the Inverness side FC Polonia. He is particularly proud of having gone to school with the former Celtic goalkeeper Lucas Zaluska. There is no doubt that Polish immigrants, like the earlier Irish and Italians, have helped revitalise the Catholic Church in Scotland. The first two people interviewed are from the same Italian extended family, now living in Caithness.
There are also powerful, moving and sometimes amusing stories from those who came here from Lithuania, Algeria, Australia, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Peru, Spain, Pakistan and Bangladesh. What comes shining through is how all of these people have enriched the Highlands and how the Highlands has enriched them. Apart from occasional incidents, they all talk about how welcoming Highlanders have been and they all extol the virtues of hard work and mutual respect. In the words of Fazlu Miah from Bangladesh: “You know we have to love each other – otherwise there is no solution.”
This book should be compulsory reading for all those politicians who collude with xenophobia and wish to close our borders. All of us – individually and collectively – would be worse off without all that immigrants down the centuries have brought to this country.
Kevin Crowe, June 2016