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Vote for an integrated London May 1st (‘hustings’ meeting Sunday 27th April 3 pm at Elephant and Castle)

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Two apparently unconnected, but not necessarily disconnected, articles landed on the minkapedia desk at minkanews this week. The first referred to an event twenty-seven years ago

  • In 1981 the Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Kingdom travelled to Market Weighton in Yorkshire to unveil a plaque to Sarah Andrews.

And the second was an article, hot off the press

  • On 20th April 2008 Mario Vargas Llosa writes an article in El Pais mentioning the Mosley family and Kenneth Tynan.

The first serves to remind us that reverse migration and the process of ‘reverse mestizaje’ between the Latin America and Europe goes back some centuries. (The initial flow of migration from Europe - aka invasion, encounter, discovery - can be dated back of course to 1492. The reverse flow to Europe only really got into its stride from the 1960’s.)

Sarah Andrews is better known as the unsung, and of necessity abandoned, wife of Francisco Miranda, hero of Latin American independence. Miranda came to London 200 years ago and lived in Grafton Road with his wife and they were, it seems, for a while the centre of one of the early ‘Hispanic-American communities’ in London. The process of mestizaje (inter-marriage and cultural mixing) has continued to the point that there are several hundred thousand families here in the UK with part of their make-up, roots and heritage deriving from Latin America. They form a small but significant part of the UK (potential) electorate. In London our electoral impact is reduced by the fact that not all have a vote, that there is not one community but various and there are also many individuals and families, with Latin American roots, who know few on no other Latin Americans. In other words we are not talking about a single homogenous or uniform block of voters.

Vargas Llosa (MVL) in his El Pais Piedra de Toque article exposes several tendencies in - and a not necessarily appealing image of - the United Kingdom. The article is not principally about Britain but focuses on the prensa amarilla (tabloid press: in this case the News of the World) and the Max Mosley affair. The point for us, in this London election edition at Minkanews, is that MVL could not have written the article without a deep and broad knowledge and experience of European culture(s) symbolised by the keywords Mosley, Tynan, ‘the vicio ingles’ and so on. (If you are curious as to what vice Vargas Llosa is referring to or have not heard of the Mosley sadomaquismo scandal, consult El Pais online). The challenge for minkapedia, the collaborative education project associated with Minkanews , is how to deliver the range of learning materials which would help to make accessible ‘a deep and broad knowledge and experience of European culture(s)’. And specifically to understand how in British culture we ‘juggle’ the social forces represented by the nazism of the thirties (Mosley), the libertinaje of the sixties (Tynan) and the integration debate of today.

The contents of the MVL article have, as I see it, several lessons for the election husting meeting with the mayoral candidates on Sunday at 3pm (At the premises of Tiendas del Sur, 93 Newington Butts, Elephant and Castle, London). (1) MVL reveals himself as the urbane mestizo-cultural whose knowledge of the ‘other’ culture(s) (of the place of Mosley in history, of the relevance of cultural critic and playwright Tynan and a thousand other factors) is a base ingredient for his articles. In like manner, ‘London-latino’ (is there no better word?) voters need, it seems, a knowledge-base appropriate to their role in the elections. Assessing the candidates is difficult without this knowledge. Integration without assimilation is precarious without this knowledge. Passing from a multi-cultural apartheid-ness to a multi-heritage society needs this knowledge as a cultural satnav direction-finder. (2) London-latinos and others in cities with local elections need to know that the ‘Mosley tendency’ (for dispossessed indigenes / natives, mainly, but not exclusively, it is supposed lower income English, to vote for extremist parties like the BNP, British National Party) is a threat not only to the democratic process but to the way migrants are treated. Traditionally in the UK there has been a smaller appetite for the ‘totalitarian temptation’ (we need a firm hand / a dictator) than in many countries (of Latin America / of Europe). The aristocracy having long since disowned, at least in public, the Mosleys. Amongst the upper bourgeoisie and the liberal middle classes the issue (e.g. stop immigration) has been almost taboo. In the ‘unworking’ class, those most threatened by new arrivals, the tendency varies over time. Hard though it seems, local politics is the arena where British Latin Americans can make a difference: for example by taking an active part – as some are doing – in the regeneration of housing estates, in programmes of contact with the elderly, in raising the overall level of courtesy and politeness in ‘street life’, in battling the anti-learning cultures in British schools, in reaching out to neighbours in richer and poorer streets where you live with cultural programmes, in using music and dance in youth engagement programmes, in a cheerful ‘hello’ to community support officers when you see them, and in taking part in local politics – registering for the vote, voting on May 1st or joining a local party association.

To return to the phrase ‘reverse migratioin and mestizaje’, the contemporary

population of Latin American is in many instances the result of a European migration to the Americas dating initially from the fifteenth century and (eventually) mixing with the indigenous. A reverse flow is producing a new or double mestizaje. The politicians, as yet, are not ‘anglo-latino’ and do not understand, it seems for all they say, the special nature of theBritish Latin American population . The three main candidates for mayor of London are to the casual observer ‘male and white’ (one claims to be descended from the Turkish upper-class). The electoral objectives for Latin Americans in cities of the United Kingdom range from the general (integrated societies which respect and have a deep knowledge of the multiple heritages of their inhabitants, equal opportunities for all including recent arrivals) to the specific (clear legal status for those born in the UK, a satisfactory resolution of the de Meneses case, positive changes in the state school curriculum). Integration of the population is not the only issue, integration of transport is another. The poor condition of the overground system in the south of London is a continuing sore and joining it up with the underground system should be a priority - a form of transport mestizaje which has eluded Londoners for almost as long as Latin Americans have been coming to Britain. Sarah Andrews and Miranda would be bemused.

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