British Asian citiesThe colonial relationship of the Indian sub-continent and Britain from the 1600s, and the migration of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Tamils from Sri Lanka in the last century have had a major impact on urban development in the UK. The presence of South Asian communities and their contribution to local life have received extensive coverage in the media, in literature, art, music, academic writing, in the reports of local councils and other organisations, in tourist brochures and on websites.
Towns and cities have been imagined and represented in different ways at different times. In recent years, for example, Bradford and Glasgow have vied with one another to be the British ‘Curry Capital’ of the year. Bradford markets itself as a place to go global, and invites visitors to enjoy its ‘world mile’; Manchester too has its ‘curry mile’, and Birmingham its ‘Balti triangle’. Both Birmingham and West London are self-styled ‘Bhangra towns’ because of their music and dance venues and events. London’s East End, in particular its famous high street, Brick Lane, is known historically as home to generations of migrants, including Huguenots from France, the Jews and the Irish, and, more recently, its Bangladeshi population. But – as ‘Bangla Town’ – it is also represented as a site of Islamic centres, ethnic politics, markets and boutique shopping, as well as graffiti and alternative arts.
Leicester in the East Midlands, which by 2012 is expected to be the first city to have a majority of ethnic minority citizens, is the focus of Britain’s Diwali celebrations, with its annual street lights and festivities enjoyed each year by more than 35,000 visitors.
Writing British Asian cities
Between 2006 and 2009, a network of academics, writers, artists and local professionals got together to examine how five British Asian cities had been ‘written’ and represented by different constituencies in scholarship, oral history, novels, art and music, as well as in the media and official reports. The meetings and discussions they held in each of the cities, together with the writings they collected, revealed how each has been portrayed and experienced differently. You can find more information about the five cities – Bradford, London’s East End, Manchester, Birmingham and Leicester here . You will find descriptions, articles, photographs, interviews with local people, and lists of books about each city.
More views of Bradford
Mohammed Ajeeb has lived in Bradford for forty years. As Lord Mayor of Bradford in 1985-6, he was the first Asian Lord Mayor in Britain.
“Bradford means everything to me. Bradford gave me status and respect. It gave me some problems too. It is my home. It is my city. There is a large community with which I can identify myself.”
Isma Almas is a stand-up comedian. She grew up on a council estate in Bradford – one of the first Asian families to live there – and returned to the city after going away to university. Although she remembers the riots and protests, she still feels safe there.
“Bradford feels like a safe place to be.”