I’m from Newport in South Wales. Actually, I was born in London, but I was brought up in Newport and when people ask me where I’m from, Newport is how I feel. I used to get asked ‘where are you from?’ a lot. And when I replied ‘Newport’, the riposte was, ‘But where are you really from?’ Most often I was asked this by people from Newport. The implication being that people in Newport are white, you are not white, so you can’t really be from here. Or alternatively that people in Newport are working class and have Welsh accents but you are obviously very posh, so what on earth are you doing saying you’re from Newport. I would say this sense of not fitting in because of being middle class and because my Mum is from Burma marked my growing up, my sense of who I am and has really shaped my interest in migration.
And then a couple of days ago I saw an article by Paul Mason called Bad News from Newport. Newport is very strongly Brexit and he was writing about the hardship, poverty and inequality that drove the Brexit vote. What struck me was how familiar it was. I grew up in Newport in the 1970s, and it was a tough place even then. I knew that the reason my equally posh schoolmates would abuse me when I got off the bus was because they too had to prove themselves as belonging to a community that was struggling even then, and the best way of doing that was to find a brown person to spit at. I realised that even today I start from feeling apologetic that I am anywhere, which is quite ridiculous really. So thinking and politicking about migration is personal to me. It’s more than a job, it’s how I work out my place in the world.