One phrase we hear a lot in our work at the museum, from children and grandchildren of the Windrush Generation, when they need to know important family or cultural information but a loved one has passed, is “if only I had asked…” followed by the name of the family member in question, or “I wish I had asked…”.
It’s at a time of loss and bereavement when people unfortunately realise what the Caribbean saying “you never miss the water till the well runs dry” truly means. Realising the importance of older age and learning from the life experiences of others may be one of the best things you ever do and that’s certainly true when it comes to talking to the Windrush Generation – whether you’re of Caribbean heritage or not.
The whole country has woken up to the significance of that generation, who despite great odds, raised children and grandchildren that are such a credit to their families and the UK. How they did that needs to be remembered, recorded and shared in these difficult times, especially when many in society threaten the future of Windrush descendants.
The closeness of the extended Caribbean family, where three or four generations live together or nearby, is not a myth. It’s still widespread, even though, like all families, there can be issues! As a member of the Caribbean community and a child of the Windrush generation myself, I know how important it is for family members to talk to each other, not at each other, which unfortunately many of us are rather good at! We need to spend time with each other and have a good old chin wag.
“Listen and learn” is an often-used phrase and it’s especially relevant in this context. Listening to and learning from the Windrush Generation could introduce a valuable Caribbean tradition into British society – the idea of counsel under the village tree, or to put it into a UK context, an Open House policy where elders make themselves available for these important, life-changing chats with younger generations.
Caribbeans have done this for centuries in their island homes, where under many a village tree, elders communed with each other and young people, sharing and explaining cultural traditions, or as the Caribbean saying goes “showing them points”.
In the UK, just like everywhere, many young people are looking for heroes and mentors and the Windrush Generation are more than qualified for these roles, many of them pioneers and achievers, but unfortunately, all too often, unsung heroes. Being around people with such powerful stories to share can be life-affirming and liberating for the next generation, both for those of Caribbean descent and those from other communities.
In just four years, since the museum launched, we’ve seen the growth of groups and organisations focused on Black heritage and long may this continue. The Windrush Generation has so many stories to tell and their 70 years of experience gives both individuals and UK society as a whole so many lessons to learn from, if we are all prepared to listen.
Sadly, as we lose more and more members of the Windrush Generation annually, it’s more vital than ever that we start having meaningful conversations with them, so we can continue to build on the heritage and legacies they’ve provided for us and give them the recognition they deserve. Not just through an annual national Windrush Day, but through the wider stories we share about British history, heritage and culture, of which the Windrush Generation was, and is, such a vital part.
Because, if we don’t listen now, we’ll find out as a country and as a people what “you never miss the water till the well runs dry” really means.
Do you have a story to share? Perhaps you’re a member of the Windrush Generation and you’d like to share your story of coming to the UK? Or maybe you’ve benefited from the wisdom and experience of a family member who’s part of that generation? Whatever your story we’d love to hear from you. (674 words)
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