JYAN Blog

Anusuya Sivaram on Multicultural Coexistence in London

As a student in central London, the vibrancy of the city never ceases to amaze me. Not only does the action never pause, but the city'’s rich multiculturalism is evident everywhere I go. A four minute walk west of my flat leads me to bustling Chinatown, where I can buy anything from a lacquered tea set to a pig uterus. Five minutes southwest leads me to Soho, often labeled the heart of the gay scene in London. Ten minutes to the north takes me to the British Museum, where I can see (but not touch) relics from literally everywhere the British army set foot——which is indeed, everywhere. A few tube stops away is Brick Lane, where I can eat a fiery curry and get my eyebrows done in the afternoon, and dance the night away to an underground British indie sensation. However, London'’s diverse population isn'’t constrained to these artificial oases of difference. As opposed to other places I called home, when I go out, I see people in every size, color, shape, and flavor.
When I first arrived, I was struck by the number of new immigrants the city housed, —literally. The first meal my family shared in London was at an Indian restaurant in King’s Cross run by a Bangladeshi man. My father struck up a conversation with him, asking him about his family and his job. When asked if he was happy in London, there was no doubt in his mind —he was absolutely certain that London offered him more opportunities, more support, and more options than his native Bangladesh had. From welfare and health care, to business opportunities and cultural enclaves, London had everything he felt he needed to lead a rich and productive life. I asked him why he chose London, —there are plenty of other cities in the world that are closer to Bangladesh—, his answer surprised me. In his experience, and the experiences of his peers, London was more racially and culturally tolerant than cities in the Gulf or other European cities, and even more so than America. 

In the two months since I had that conversation, his answer surprises me less and less. Tolerance isn'’t what I experience here—; a celebration of everyone’'s differences and abilities is a more accurate characterization of life in London. Universal health care and professors whose doors are always open provide support, albeit in very different ways. Trafalgar Square hosts celebrations for nearly every holiday in the world, and I can find a protest (and counterprotest) for a plethora of causes on London'’s streets. I can kiss my date in plain sight across from St. Paul'’s Cathedral, and nobody bats an eye. There are Hare Krishna groups passing out fliers to the twenty-somethings queued up for entry into the hottest gay bars in Soho, and Asian immigrants hawking beautiful handmade crosses in Portobello Market. London feels like home because it is everyone'’s home. There is room for every belief and every person——not just a grudging concession in the spirit of “tolerance,” but an active concession to encourage every lifestyle to thrive. Despite the bitter cold, I'’m thriving here as well.
 
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