This book is not in the pile pictured to the left! It’s the replacement for the upsetting “Outposts” which I tried to read earlier in the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. As I’ve now eliminated all 2018-acquired non-Viragoes or Persephones from the TBR, I gave myself free rein for my final July book and picked this excellent book about migrants in Birmingham from the June 2019 region. A very good choice and I’m so glad I a) bought it, b) read it now.  I also report on reading my very first book in Spanish for Spanish Lit Month!

Jon Bloomfield – “Our City: Migrants and the Making of Modern Birmingham”

(11 June 2019)

Our cityA magnificent book tracing the effect of post-WW2 migration into Birmingham, which works from interviews with 46 people, first, second or third generation immigrants to the UK and Birmingham, who have come from Hong Kong, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Ireland, the Caribbean … plus some other folk such as city council politicians and one farmer who employs migrant workers. I was thrilled to find they included at least three people I know (Immy from the former Impact Hub, Mo from Kuskus Foods and Mr Rehman from one of the local newsagents! – but that’s One Degree of Birmingham for you (a city of a million people, all somehow connected!).

After a history of the city we take a look at people in various types of jobs, from heavy industry which many came to in the 50s and 60s through the service industries to the dirty jobs people don’t tend to want, such as care home work and work in the food service industries. Then there are themes such as race, religion, education, etc. People’s direct experience is quoted a lot, and we’re reminded who people are well when they crop up again in the book. The author, a historian and expert on urban policy, who used to work for the City Council, perhaps labours the role of the council a little, but it has had a major effect on policy and there is other meat in the book. As with Clair Wills in “Lovers and Strangers“, Bloomfield is himself a product of immigration, his grandparents having been Jewish emigrants from Europe to London, and he brings in some of his family’s story, too.

There’s an emphasis on interculturalism throughout the book – a third way between forced assimilation and policies of multiculturalism which can lead to segregation of communities:

For interculturalism, the issue is not to extol the virtues of each culture but, rather, their relationships, the co-existence of people from different cultures and what is shared among them all. Relationships and interactions are seen as crucial. Thus diversity is recognised as an asset but within a context where it goes alongside equality and positive interaction (p. 225)

This does not mean that specific issues in health etc that relate to particular groups are ignored, but there needs to be more concentration on poverty-related issues and issues of class to help bring up the living standards of all Birmingham residents.

It’s not afraid to address difficult issues and there is a good assessment of some that face the city: although it’s a  positive book in the main, it’s not seeing the city through rose-tinted glasses by any means. We have some of the lowest educational achievement records in Europe, with 17% of people of working age having no formal qualifications. Revitalisation will come from the bottom up, and places like Impact Hub, where several of the interviewees have work places, will help to foster this.

I learned a lot from this book – I didn’t know the Islamic Relief charity was founded here – and it was lovely reading about my city, familiar spaces and places and even people! It was published by Unbound last year and I wish I’d been as assiduous in scanning for new titles then as I am now, as I’d have definitely contributed to the crowdfunding (and I saw a few familiar names in the list of subscribers in the back!).

This was Book 13 in my 20 Books Of Summer project and completes my planned reads for July.

Jul 2020 3It’s Spanish Lit Month this month, run by WinstonsDad, and I’m happy to report that I have read my very first book in Spanish! OK, it’s a children’s book but with the help of my dictionary, I understood every (simple) word of it. “I Love My Mums” by Elias Zapple has been translated into Spanish by Camila Ayala Teran – I didn’t quite realise it was translated so hope it’s OK to use. It’s a sweet book with great role model mums who look after the child when they’re ill and cheer them in egg and spoon races and also know how to mend everything! The only unfortunate thing is that, given the way Spanish (currently?) works, the dedication is to all parents and children – padres e hijos – because the masculine represents the general in this gendered language. Anyway, I did feel a sense of achievement having read it!

I’m currently reading “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book”, edited by James Raven and full of wonderful illustrations.