Izzy Mohammed

I was born in 1973, I am a British Bangladeshi, born and bred in Birmingham. I grew up in the areas of Aston, Lozells and Newtown. I was actually born premature in a house on Fredrick Road, 107, which is not there anymore. Then my family moved in and around the Aston area; Saville Road, for about two or three years before we moved to Newtown. We moved to Newtown in 1976, then from 1976 to 1988 we were there and then moved to Lozells and lived there till I went away to University in 1995.

Yea, he was born in 1937, he died in 2003, just some facts and figures: he arrived in 1962 via all that voucher kind of system, and all his life he grew up in Bangladesh. His father, my Grandfather arrived in the UK in 1937 when my Father was only 6 months old. So my Father grew up without a Father figure and without knowing his Father, until 1962 when my Father was brought over by my Grandfather, into the UK, into Birmingham and my father was a 25 year old man. So he kind of grew up without a Father figure and I suspect that probably had a large, quite a huge impact upon him whilst he was growing up in Bangladesh. He was an only child which is quite unheard of in a Bangladeshi community where they are stereotypically large families. My father was an only child as a result of my Grandfather been in this country for much of that period, and so suppose he had a lot to learn and a lot to learn on the job when he became a Father himself.

As a result of that we never had some of those conversation that maybe others have where you learn so much about their lives, my Fathers life and what he experienced as a young man, what he found when he first arrived. So I never got to talk to him about ‘what was your first day like in Britain, what was your life like in Bangladesh. Really ironically it was only when he passed way in 2003 we went to bury him in Bangladesh, becuase he passed away in Bangladesh, so we rushed over very quickly to bury him. Than we found that there was a family member, his cousin, a women three year younger than him, my Aunt, who held the family history and passed it onto me in a three hour long sit down. I learn’t more about him and my Grandfather in that three hour segment than I ever did in my whole entire life.

When he died I did learn a little bit more, and it is really sad because I realised he had his own really rich life in Bangladesh. When he grew up he was a young man and a true Bengali in the sense that he, you know it wasn’t so much the religious side of it he was into, although he became deeply religious later on, but he was more culturally inclined and he really had a sense of Bengaliness about him, he was a proper true Bengali, he loved the poetry, the literature, he was well educated in Bengali terms - over there he had gone to school and everything.

There was lots of expectation on us growing up, so that was one of the challenges that made it very difficult between him and I. You know I always new he loved me, but he also had expectation, the family was poor and he wanted me to go to work very early on, so even though I was interested in collage and education he also wanted me to go and get a job in a restaurant. Either because I could do that full time and ditch the education or maybe I could do this and earn a bit of money part time or if I knew how to be a restaurant worker or a Chef then I always had that as a backup. He would always say that to me, if things don’t workout then you’ve got that as a backup, you could be a Chef.

You know Father had that access to that industry because he had worked in the foundries. The moment he arrived in 1962 he was brought into the same foundry my Grandfather worked in. And that was the crocodile works on summer lane. Not far from where we live now, where my family live now. That factory was called the soury factory, 'soury' means knife and Ralph Martindale that had the Crocodile works, Ralph Martindale was the company, made machetes and knives and they were sent all around the world. God knows what they were used for, but we won’t go into that. It was a place where a lot of the men from the South Asian community worked. A lot of these factories were mythological within the community because so many men worked there that they have this kind of legendary status years later. And these places were still employing into the late eighties before the foundry sector really started to die out. But you know, Dad was made redundant at some point in the eighties and then he, he was already working part time in restaurants as a chef and he just went into that full time.

Our ancestry and our roots are something quite powerful and I think we do want to be connected. I think our Grandparents provide that rooted-ness and it is only when they’re not around anymore or when you have never had that contact, that's when you realise what your missing out on.

The first bit of racism, and it is only reflecting back many years later as an adult, because the first bits of racism that I can recall happened before I could understand what it was. But I recall going to primary school, going to an adventure theme park and there was a big slide, and this would have been in the very late seventies, seventy-nine or eighty perhaps, and there was this big slide and everyone was getting a turn on it and running back up the other side and back onto the slide, and even though it was my turn I found myself being held back until another five people went and then finally he gave up and let me have a go, this chap who was effectively the gate keeper at the top of the slide, this man. And I couldn’t understand why he was holding me back and not letting me go down the slide, it is my turn I have joined the queue just like everybody else. I didn’t, I couldn’t understand that. And it wasn’t till like twenty years later that I recalled the memory that I am suddenly thinking; actually yea that was racism, that guy was a racists and he was preventing me from going on the slide because he would rather have other people go on there. But at the time your too young.

When we were out and about as a family and I was eight, nine, my younger brothers with me and my Mum and my Dad we would possibly head out to Aston Park. You know it would be a family outing, picnic organised and we would head on, and along the way there would be a number of incidents, you know young men sitting on walls shouting Paki, spitting at you and you know my parents would say ‘don’t say anything’ . You know you would be nervous because there were a lot of people there and your Father is a strong man and you always think he is invincible but your kind of worried there are lots of them and if something were to happen your Father wouldn’t be enough to stop it going on really.

I think there is a lot of work to do to better understand the journeys our communities have taken to be here and I think it is important to find, knowledge is really important, I always say knowledge is empowerment and we need to kind of find out more information and more history and our journeys and that will really help us develop our sense of place in the world if we can do that.