Cultural intelligence through intergenerational wisdom
The life my parents and grandparents have led is wildly different from mine. My great-grandparents, from my mother’s side, moved from Punjab, India to England in the '50s and my grandparents followed them in the '60s.
The aim of the game for my grandparents and their extended families was to come together and support each other in building a life in the UK. That involved practically living on top of each other with multiple families under one roof until they found their feet. For my family, they found their feet by, first, working in factories and then, after some time, opening shops. My grandparents worked in a shop for all of my mother’s childhood. My mum remembers living above her parent’s shop and her and her brothers having to be quiet in the house so customers below wouldn’t hear her and her brothers tumbling around upstairs. My mum then continued to grow up in England but moved to Scotland when she married my dad, and they too worked in a shop to support our family, as difficult as that was at times.
My grandfather on my dad’s side had a considerably turbulent time immigrating to the UK. He left India dying of tuberculosis and with one rupee in his pocket, which is worth 0.0095 pounds today! When my grandfather arrived in the UK, due to an immense stroke of luck, paracetamol had just been invented, and so he slowly recovered. When asking my dad about his mum, he recounts her being the town’s babysitter as a way to make money. He tells me that, although she couldn’t speak English, she knew how to mother and so she drew from that ability to make a living for her own children. After moving to Scotland, my grandparents on my dad's side opened shops and my dad worked day in, day out, to support this.
For my dad, his childhood was simple. He drew joy from the simplest of things which is now, honestly, difficult for me to comprehend when he tells me what it was like. He and the other children from the town they lived in would cramp into one room in one of the houses and watch a movie being projected onto a sheet. That togetherness is what created a buzz for him and his siblings which he says lasted weeks and months. He would make Go Kart’s from old, abandoned prams, as long as they still had a good set of wheels. My dad and his family didn’t have much growing up, but they made what they could out of what they had, and that attitude continued throughout my dad’s adulthood as he worked to support me and my siblings.
My grandparents and parents worked in shops for years upon years, and in doing so, they strongly contributed to society and built relationships along the way. They showed up every day, opening in the early hours of the morning and closing up at night, and they did that for both the community and their family. Granted, my parent’s shop has since been sold and both are now in very different jobs, but the shop they worked in was all me and my siblings knew, and I truly think having that perspective is powerful.
Knowing and having that understanding of just how different life was for my parents allows me to appreciate how lucky I am to have what I have. The sacrifices my grandparents and parents have made have allowed me to be the first university graduate in the family and they have consequently given me a great deal more security than they have known themselves.
The things that I (guiltily) take for granted at times are luxuries when I consider how things were for my grandparents and how long and hard they worked to give my parents and, in turn, me and my siblings what we now have.
Growing up in Scotland, my siblings and I had a much more westernised upbringing than my parents did. My Dad’s family moved to Scotland when he was 11 years old and was the first Asian family to live in their chosen area at that time. This is the same area my family and I live in now, but when my dad moved here all those years ago, he faced a great deal of racism and prejudice, from both students and teachers in school, both for being brown and having an English accent. As a result, when my siblings and I were born, he made it his mission to protect us from that experience as much as he possibly could. Things have, of course, changed a lot in the years that passed in between, racism was not so overt, but understandably, that experience is something my dad will never forget, nor will he forget how it felt.
This, in turn, separated my siblings and me from our culture as my parents wanted us to “fit in” as much as possible and thought that by giving us such a western upbringing, we wouldn’t face these issues at school. Looking back on this decision now, there are moments that I do wish I knew more about my culture, but I sympathise greatly with my parents for the decisions they had to make to protect us. Instead, we make efforts to embrace our Punjabi culture where we can now, as adults, and that can materialise itself in my sister asking my gran for Indian recipes, me helping my mum make samosas or my brother participating in Raksha Bandhan every year.
Even our family dog, Leo, has his name written in Punjabi on the side of his toy box.
All of this is to say that there is great importance in remembering where you came from in order to remain thankful for how far your family has come and that it is never too late to embrace your culture and where your family began. Both things are the fundamental makeup of who I am today, and I wouldn’t be where I am without all of those difficult sacrifices and decisions my grandparents and parents had to make, and for that, I’ll forever be grateful.
About the contributor:
Amanjit Uppal is a future trainee solicitor, a Young Women Scotland trustee and a committee member of the Scottish Young Lawyers Association. She is an advocate for diversity and inclusivity in the legal profession and across Scotland and, in doing this, has written for various newspapers, featured on a feminist podcast series, Quine’s Cast, and co-hosted a lecture to discuss equality in the legal profession. This work, amongst other things, contributed to Amanjit being featured on Scotland’s 30 under 30 list in 2022.