Remember Oluwale was proud to work with the Harrison Bundey Mama Dread Migrant Masqueraders at the Leeds West Indian Carnival in August 2017. As this King David page explains, we created a Carnival King David, who lead over 100 migrant masqueraders through Chapeltown and Harehills on 28th August, Bank Holiday Monday. We handed out thousands of postcards and leaflets explaining our message: All Ah We Are Migrants, all of us have things in common with David Oluwale.

On this page we are telling the migration stories of people already supporting the Remember Oluwale charity, and we welcome other contributions.

This interview was conducted by Heena Siddiqi while she was on placement with us from her digital media degree at Leeds University.

Emily’s Migration Story


Dr Emily Zobel Marshall is a Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Literature at Leeds Beckett University (UK). Emily’s mother Jenny Zobel originates from a former French colony in the Caribbean called Martinique, but grew up in France and Senegal, and her father, the writer Peter Marshall, is from Bognor Regis in Sussex (UK).

“My parents met when my mother came over to England to learn English. 

Peter Marshall and Jenny Zobel, back in the day

In the 1970’s, my parents lived in a commune in London where I was born, then we moved to Wales where I grew up, and then I moved to Leeds to do my degree.”

Emily discussed her grandfather Joseph Zobel’s migration experience from Martinique. Joseph Zobel was born in 1915. “I know quite a lot from my grandfather’s migration and from his life because he was a well-known author. He wrote a book about his experiences growing up in Martinique entitled La Rue Cases Negres, translated as Black Shack Alley, published in Paris, France, in 1950.

Emily with her grand-dad, Joseph Zobel

He grew up in the 1930’s in colonial Martinique, in a very poor village, and all the black families worked on the sugar plantations.” Joseph migrated to Paris in 1946 to study ethnology and drama at university. He became well known as a writer, a poet — and a painter and sculptor. In 1974 he moved to a small village in southern France called Anduze. He died in 2006.

“My grandfather was one of the few that escaped doing hard labour in the sugar plantation, as his grandmother was extremely adamant that he got an education. All the other children were working in the cane fields but she refused to let him work in the fields, even though my grandfather wanted to, as all the other children were and he felt left out. She saved the money to send him to school. He did very well in school, and went on to college.”

 

Joseph Zobel’s book Black Shack Alley tells this story of his life, how his grandmother made so many sacrifices for him, how education took him away from that lifestyle and the poverty at the sugar plantations. He then went on to become a well-known novelist and poet and the book was made into a internationally renowned film in 1983 directed by Euzhan Palcy, a young Martinican woman who became the first black female director to be produced by a major Hollywood studio.

Then Emily discussed what life was like for her mother and grandfather moving from the Caribbean, and their integration into white European culture.

“My mother moved to France from Martinique when she was only a year old with her family, and then they moved to Senegal in West Africa, where her father became a head-teacher in a school. In many ways, my mum was from quite a privileged background because her father became a successful and well-educated teacher and writer. When my mother came to England in the 1960s she got a job with the BBC World Service writing and presenting world music programmes.”

Emily continued: “She had more doors open for her as a black woman in the 1960’s than many other black men and women during that period. But at the same time, when she moved to London she would phone up to try get an apartment and they would say “Yes the apartment is free,” and when she turned up and they would see she was a woman of colour they would say “It is no longer available.” There was that institutionalised racism that she was up against, but my mother also became involved in the hippy and bohemian scene. I lived in a commune for the first few years of my life where there were 17 children and 17 adults and it was a little bubble of acceptance.”

Emily shared her experiences of growing up in Wales and what life was like for her family.

“Growing up in Wales was an interesting experience. There were hardly any other black families but interestingly there is a lot of focus on speaking Welsh, the celebration of Welsh culture, so my father who was English found it harder to fit into this culture, than my mother who was French Caribbean.”

Emily talked about how she started to become aware of the struggles that black people faced.

“From a really early age I became obsessed with reggae music.  Because of her job at the BBC hosting world music programmes, my mum was sent all the new hits from Jamaica. So me and my brother in the countryside of Wales would be listening to all these reggae artists. With the more politically conscious reggae I would listen to the lyrics and that ignited a real interest in Rastafarianism and activism and the history of slavery. That was the main entrance into radicalism for me, through music, but also my grandfather’s story through his film and his books. He would always talk to us about black history, slavery and the Caribbean, that was engrained in our consciousness.”

“I remember there was a boy in secondary school who said your mum is a n****r and I had never been in a fight but I slapped him really hard, I didn’t even have to think about. From this point I became quite racially conscious. I was often called a half-caste at school, I remember drawing a line on this saying ‘Don’t call me that’. The poem by John Agard about the term insinuating that you are only half a person, “so why are you calling me half-caste?” — that really spoke to how I was feeling.”

Then Emily came to Leeds Metropolitan (now Beckett) University to do her degree in English and History. She got a taxi to Chapeltown, where there is a significant population of people of Caribbean and African descent, with her mum. “The taxi driver said ‘You’d be the right colour to go to Chapeltown’ but he was pointing to my mother, not at me. There was a feeling that people were trying to put a wedge between us because of the differences in our skin tone.”

Emily and her Mum Jenny Zobel in their hibiscus flower costumes at the 2017 Leeds carnival. These flowers symbolise the beauty and creativity that migrants bring with them to the new countries

“These accumulated experiences bring you into a sense of awareness, and I have dedicated my life to the study of black culture. I feel very much at home when I’m in the Caribbean, the music really speaks to me. I did my PhD about Caribbean folklore and spent three months in Kingston, Jamaica, doing research, which I then turned into my first book called Anansi’s Journey: A Story of Jamaican Cultural Resistance. That project absolutely engaged me and I was fascinated by the way these cultural forms started in Africa were bought with the slaves to the Caribbean – how they have changed and how they have acted in forms of cultural resistance throughout the plantation period. Also how they’ve been used now, like in the Leeds West Indian Carnival – it has definitely been a lifelong obsession.”

Interview by Heena Siddiqi, August 2017