Oral History Interview - Cecelia Burke

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Oral History Interview - Cecelia Burke


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Audio recording of an oral history recording with Cecelia Burke, who came to Britain from St Vincent as a child. Despite finding life very hard, she has still brought up her family here.


Q. Alright. Do you want to tell me your name and when you came to Britain?

CECELIA BURKE (CR). Cecelia Burke.

Q. When did you come to Britain?

CB. 1987?

Q. Tell me a little bit about life in St Vincent before you came to Britain. What, for example, did your parents do for a living?

CB. Well, my parents came to England and my grandmother brought up my brother, my sister and me. She was old and so she used to weed the garden and things like that.

Q. Is there a history of military involvement in your family?

CB. No, not in my family.

Q. What proverbs do you recall from your Caribbean years that helped to guide you through life here in Britain?

CB. The way my grandmother brought me up, sending me to school. I just live life going by what she used to tell me. That is how I have survived up until now.

Q. What kind of things did she tell you?

CB. To study hard as I would need my education in later life and she told me to forget about men until I reached a certain age.

Q. What prompted you to leave for Britain and how much did you subscribe to the notion that you were coming to the “mother country”?

CB. I came up here because my Grandmother was getting older and so my parents decided to send for me. As I was the eldest I was to go first, but there was some delay and so they sent for my sister while my papers were being sorted out. We had to go to a solicitor to sort it out.

Q. So your parents were here first? When did your parents come to this country?

CB. was about 6 or 7 but I cannot remember much about that.

Q. They must have come up around the 50s, is that right?

CB. Yes that is right.

Q. They are back in the Caribbean now?

CB. Yes, they have gone back.

Q. What is your strongest memory of the voyage to Britain? You were very young, obviously, and I will take that into consideration but can you remember anything of the journey?

CB. Well, the only thing that bothered me was that I was travelling by myself and they had to stop off at Barbados and the plane was delayed. I was quite worried because my parents were supposed to meet me at the airport so I went and asked if I could use a phone but my parents were already at the airport for me.

Q. You must have been quite worried, I can understand that. You were very young but what kinds of expectations did you have when you arrived?

CB. It was snowing and I only came with summer clothes from home and so my mum had to take me to get some stuff. She would have got them before but she did not know my size and when I arrived in Britain, she went to get them.

Q. Can you tell me the type of schools that you went to and what your experiences of those schools were, as far as you can remember?

CB. Well, as far as I can remember, it was terrible because you did not expect people to call you all kinds of names.

Q. What kinds of names?

CB. Black, nigger and other insulting names. They used to say, “go back to where you come from” and “get out of my way” as they pushed you. Sometimes they would even gang up on you. Some of the teachers were okay but some of them were very harsh and nasty.

Q. Do you think that you have achieved as much at school as your grandmother wanted you to?

CB. No, I just did not get on at school.

Q. Do you think that was because of the treatment that you received which made you feel, perhaps, that no one cared?

CB. Yes. When I used to go to the headmaster to report the treatment I was getting, no-body did anything about it. I wanted to do nursing and when they sent me for a test they said that I was too young and so they put me as a low-grade nurse, an auxiliary. Anyway, I worked there until I reached a certain age and I went to do nursing but because I fell pregnant. I gave it up.

Q. How many children do you have?

CB. Four, I boy and three girls.

Q. How easy have you found it to find work in this country?

CB. Well, it was very hard because the jobs that you really wanted, you could not get because they would call me for interviews and say that I had failed the interview. Even one time, I tried to join the air force and after I had the test, they called me into the office and they said “I am sorry but we cannot accept you. Do you want a cleaning job?” I told him to keep his cleaning job and stick it where he wanted to stick it. So I just gave up. As my grandmother looked after me, I have just continued working with the elderly and I do enjoy it.

Q. Is that what you are doing now?

CB. Yes.

Q. So you find that quite satisfying?

CB. Yes.

Q. What brought you to Hackney?

CB. My parents were living here.

Q. So your parents have always lived here, for how many years have you lived in this borough now?

CB. I have always lived here since I came to England.

Q. Do you think the attitudes of islanders have changed since you came to England? How important is it for you being a St Vincentian or does it not matter? [10.58]

CB. It does matter. Some Vincentians, however, I do not know what is wrong with them, there are certain things which I do not like. For instance, St Vincentian men. (I married two). My husband used to beat me and he used to just take his money and gamble, go to the pub and drink. I find that if you see one of them and you say hello to them, they ask you to go out with them? If you tell them no, they call you terrible names.

Q. But you are saying this applies to men in general, not just St Vincentian men?

CB. Well no. I think it is St Vincentian men as I only used to go out with them and I found that I did not have luck with them so now I just leave them alone.

Q. So you have actually been through abuse at home?

CB. Yes.

Q. What was that period of your life like?

CB. I just got fed up. Sometimes I get upset as really I would like to settle down with my own countryman but I don’t have luck with them. They just treat you how they want to, as if you are a dog or something. I don’t understand it. They expect you to go out to work, come home and cook and they just sit there, which is wrong. The ones that I know have returned home and married Vincentian women. I do not know how they have the strength to put up with them. You have to have strength, faith and courage.

Q. So, you are not living with a Vincentian man no? How much have you mixed with other islanders?

CB. One Jamaican man, who is the father of my daughter. His family has not accepted me. They have a monthly meeting to discuss certain things about their life and people back home etc. They never ask me how my parents and my family are.

Q. How have you found life in Britain generally? [14.58]

CB. Very hard, but I have survived up until now.

Q. What was the worse period?

CB. The worse period was when my husband and me got divorced and I had to bring up the kids alone, Taking them to nannies, then off to work, having to rush back from work and then picking them up. Once home, I had to cook and settle the kids down.

Q. You mentioned your husband. When did you marry and when did you divorce?

CB. We divorced when my last child was born.

Q. So that period was obviously a very painfull period in your life?

CB. Yes, it was.

Q. Are you a bit happier now?

CB. Yes, they have all grown up now and I have my work don’t I, so I am OK at present.

Q. What about other situations outside of school, be it housing, work or just generally. Have you ever found that colour mattered after you had left formal education?

CB. The only place I found colour really mattered was when I was working in the hospital but in any other place, I have not found that. We just work together.

Q. Even though you came over when you were very young, can you tell me the kinds of things that you did for entertainment when you were younger?

CB. I enjoyed Calypso when I was young.

Q. How about now?

CB. All kinds of music really.

Q. How do you think families operate in Britain compared to the Caribbean?

CB. I think the majority are not as close as they are in the Caribbean, although some are and if you are pretty close to the family, you will get through in life, as you can help each other.

Q. How different are children now to when you were in the Caribbean? [18.43]

CB. Well, some are very rude and some listen to their parents. They do not do as they are told and I could not speak to my parents as some children speak to theirs nowadays. Some of the kids nowadays are very rude. The Government has brought in the law that you cannot hit your own child or they will lock you up and take you to court or you could be fined. Kids are told that if their parents ill-treat them, they can go to the police station and report them. However if your child does anything that involves the police, they will say that you don’t bring up your children properly. I do not understand that. So the kids can take you to court and you get charged for it but you cannot discipline them! So what can you do? You have to discipline them otherwise you will get nowhere.

Q. You have lived all the years since you came to Britain in Hackney and you have not lived in any other borough? That is very interesting.

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