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ENG 208: British/Irish Immigration Literature: A Student-Curated Display: Group 3

Group 3

Group 3's project is...West Indian Migrants in Britain

Group 3's members include...Joseph Giannos, Alyssa Manley, Christian Calabrese, Nicholas Monroe, and Molly Jacobs.


Overview by Joseph Giannos

The West Indian people are from three main divisions of countries broken down into the Greater Antilles, that is formed by countries likes Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico; the Lesser Antilles, places like the Virgin Islands and Saint Lucia; and the isolated islands of the North American continental shelf, like the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago (Clarke, 1). Many of these people descended mostly from African slaves, Spanish, or British colonists. However, they are all tied together by cultural values such as religion, writing, and literature. 

The history of many of these West Indian countries is dominated by slavery, colonization and decolonization, and war. For a two-hundred-year span, during the 17th to the 19th centuries, the West Indian countries were dominated by slavery and the slave-trade market. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were brought to the West Indies to farm the land for sugar and coffee beans. Finally, in the early 19th century, the slave trade was abolished, creating the extensive rise of colonialism. British, Spanish, French, and Dutch settlers controlled the West Indian countries for years, until World War II which resulted in decolonization of the West Indies. The end of colonization marked the beginning of self-dependency in many of these countries. Many of the West Indian countries banded together, forming the West Indian Federation which helped them make economic and trading ties with other nations (Caribbean Atlas, 1). However, these countries struggled to gain a footprint in the world, leaving their citizens with no choice but to immigrate to other countries. An influx in immigration by West Indian people took place all over the world, but especially in Britain.  

According to the most recent census report, there are over 590,000 West Indian people in Britain (“Black Caribbean,” 1). The West Indian people are mostly thriving in Britain. Specifically, 27% West Indians achieved grade 5 in English and mathematics in secondary schools. Also, 82% of West Indians own or rent a house in Britain (2). Furthermore, they have carried their strong culture with them to Britain. 

These people brought with them a strong culture modeled around religion, writing, and literature. The West Indian people are mostly comprised of Christians and Protestants due to the extended period of colonialism. They have such a strong sense of faith in their religion because of the hardships they have endured. Furthermore, the writing and literature by West Indians has gained praise all around the world. For example, Sam Selvon left Trinidad and Tobago in 1950 to immigrate to Britain and wrote The Lonely Londoners (“Samuel Selvon,” 2). Another writer, and Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul, was a Trinidad and Tobago-born British individual, who was well known for his fiction and non-fiction novels throughout the world.  These writers wrote extensively about the struggles and culture of West Indians in Britain, and it is for these reasons that these authors are well known West Indians. 

Works Cited

Book Review

Article Reviews

Review by Alyssa Manley 

 John Figueroa was a relevant author during West Indian immigration to Britain. As a Jamaican, he understood the troubles of immigrants trying to find an identity in a new place. His literature and stories reflect his West Indian origin, to give firsthand perspective. 

In British West Indian Immigration to Great Britain, higher class citizens of Britain wonder why Jamaicans would ever want to leave such a beautiful place. The weather is always warm, and the water is clear as day. Logically thinking, though Jamaica is beautiful, Figueroa explains that the standard of living is well below Britain’s. Opportunity was a very relevant word when used in this context. Immigrants saw moving to Britain as an opportunity to stray away from malnutrition, insecurity, and unemployment. Britain was offering an opportunity for a new life, an adventure. 

With this adventure came many obstacles for immigrants. There was a heightened prejudice surrounding these immigrants, especially in a new country. In the article, a certain phrase stood out. “But then you remember that despite the English wife you have Negro blood in your veins. It would be no good; they have got to “keep their country white”; no Negroes.” This negative demeanor towards the West Indians proved that stereotyping was in full effect at this time. 

Though color was an obvious one, there were many underlying social ills that plagued immigrants. One of which is the idea of exclusion. Though included in most social gatherings like cricket, immigrants were rarely, if ever, invited back to a British man’s home. It was this deeper level of British society that immigrants were missing out on. Regardless of the law, there was always an underlying prejudice. There was always a boundary separating the two communities. Color defined a person in the time of West Indian immigration, regardless of the character, personality or intentions of the individual. It was a cultural barrier that inhibited the hopes of West Indians in search of a better life. 

Review by Christian Calabrese

Colin Brock, throughout his time studying British culture in the late twentieth century, covers in great detail the hardships that West Indians immigrants were forced to endure, especially throughout the course of their schooling. It is evident to see that the citizens of Great Britain did not support the West Indians, and as a result they were labeled as working-class citizens and treated as such. They were often victims of racism both directly in the way in which they were treated and the jobs that were available to them. Even worse, the West Indians immigrants were not properly given the opportunity to break through this mold and become something more than the working class, and this notion began with their schooling. Throughout the 1960s and the course of their education, West Indians were often victims to the school system where Great Britain made no changes to adapt for immigrant students, they were completely isolated. Furthermore, the structure of the schools tended to undermine confidence and engendered culture confusion for its West Indian students. The general assumption of the public sphere was that West Indians have no distinctive culture or language differences, so they would be able to quickly learn like the native British citizens, which was not only incorrect but also ignorant. The West Indian immigrants were the statistically worst performing race in the Great Britain school system, behind Asian & Caribbean. The defense the schools of Great Britain had at this time would recommend that the West Indian parents would purchase additional schooling for their children so they can provide a more basic approach to literacy and numeracy skills, which the school system knew they could not actually afford since they are subject to the working class of society. Moreover, a claim could be made that West Indian children were unfairly and intentionally left at a disadvantage to ensure that they remain in the working class, since the schools made no changes to the ways they operated. In conclusion, the West Indians were held at a significant disadvantage since the beginning of their education and as a result, this hindered their full potential as immigrants in Great Britain. 

Review by Nicholas Monroe

In this peer reviewed article, Guy Hewitt and Kevin Isaac discussed how the Immigration Act of 2014 had economically and socially impacted the Windrush Generation. The Windrush Generation was known to have a significant impact in revamping the British economy following World War II. About 550,000 West Indians were called to Britain as the country looked at rebooting its economy. These West Indian colonies were formerly under British rule and were granted passports at the time to aid in the economic recovery. However, xenophobia and racial discrimination had plagued many of these West Indians upon their arrival.

The Immigration Act of 2014 was passed by British Parliament which allowed the Home Office of England to deport West Indians back to their homeland. Many generations of the Windrush Generation had settled in Britain and their ancestors were largely responsible for getting the economy back on its feet. Now, many West Indians families were getting deported and denied healthcare. National coverage began to take place and these new policies were met with quite a lot of backlash. Amelia Gentleman, Channel 4 news, the group Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), and a number of other individuals had spoken out in response to these new unfair policies and came to the defense of the West Indians. 

A petition started by Patrick Vernon on April 6th, 2018 spoke out against animosity towards the Windrush generation and successfully gained over 100,000 signatures. This petition was successful in finally triggering a debate within the British Parliament. The Windrush Generation had now gained national headlines and Parliament was forced to re-examine the British Nationality Act of 1948 on whether the Windrush Generation had an internal migration into Great Britain. On April 22, 2018, the government had finally granted full citizenship to the Windrush Generation. 

Review by Molly Jacobs

A.R. Nicol is the writer of the article “Psychiatric Disorder in the Children of Caribbean Immigrants,” which discusses the impact that migration puts on West Indian children.  Nicol starts by addressing general possible factors and says that change into a new society and teaching a child a new way of living can have a significant effect (Nicol 273).  Child development is affected due to many factors, including discrimination, separation experiences, and the ideas of unfamiliarity and confusion (Nicol 273).  Psychiatric disorders have been evident among young immigrants from the West Indies to Britain- Jamaican families have a history of being sensitive to economic conditions in society, and other factors such as language barriers, disruptive school behavior, and poor family relationships have made an impact (Nicol 274). 

Nicol continues with family patterns in the West Indies and mentions that it is common for kids to be closer to their grandparents or aunt/uncle rather than their biological parents.  This can play a significant role in a child’s life before they even migrate (Nicol 274).  Unemployment also has influenced instability in families, which has influenced migration to Britain (Nicol 274).  Nicol also emphasizes the comparison between West Indies children that were born in the West Indies versus those that were born in Britain.  Some children have migrated while others were born after the migration of their families, but both groups have still been forced to immerse themselves into a new community (Nicol 273).  On the other hand, the effects of growing up with the stressful living conditions of the West Indies show a difference between different groups of children (Nicol 286).

This article does a great job at presenting a study of many different hypotheses for why psychiatric disorders are common.  It suggests various factors, but also suggests that gender plays a big role (Nicol 286).   Based off a study of 204 children of Caribbean immigrants, boys are more likely to be affected by migration disturbance than girls are, which is a bold statement that Nicol succeeds in explaining through potential effects of society and family relationships.