Recording and celebrating minority ethnic elders’ lives
Through a series of projects from 1984 to the present day, Pam Schweitzer has been recording the lives of the generation of migrants who came to Britain from former colonies and other parts of the world in the post-war years. People who would otherwise have left no written record of their life journeys have now had their experience preserved in books such as 'A Place To Stay' (1984), 'Across the Irish Sea' (1989) and 'Mapping Memories' (2003-4). Their stories have also featured in 3-dimensional exhibitions, in specially commissioned films and in theatre productions performed by professional actors, by ethnic elders themselves and by inter-generational groups. [Image: 'A Place To Stay' bookcover]
Pam has set up many projects over the years in which old and young work together on creative projects designed to promote mutual understanding and appreciation. Of particular importance have been oral history and reminiscence projects such as 'We Want to Speak of Old Times' and 'The Place Where I Grew Up' in which elders from minority ethnic groups have worked with young people in schools and colleges to develop inter-generational theatre pieces around the older people’s lives. These ‘legacy’ projects have aimed to promote the elders’ sense of their own value in society, to increase the self-esteem of ethnic minority young people and to support a positive approach to multiculturalism in the curriculum. [Image: Ajoda performing with school children]
“Sites and Signs of Remembrance”: a recent project
This Life-long Learning project of the European Reminiscence Network involved partners from London, Berlin, Dresden and Poznan (Poland). It involved mapping and documenting older people’s responses to the changes they have seen, made and lived through. It explored memories of particular people and places which had been important to them in developing their sense of community and of personal identity. Partners in each country ran their own inter-generational projects at a local level and exchanged learning through a series of international visits. In year two of the project an on-line version of the project was produced bringing together the international partners’ findings. [Image: African elders perform with children at the Tramshed Theatre].
Pam co-ordinated the project in the UK, in partnership with the Humanities Department of the University of Greenwich, the Greenwich Council for Racial Equality and a number of local ethnic minority community elders groups. Students of history and theatre at Greenwich University worked with older people from these groups to record the development of their communities in south-east London and to map the places of importance to them. They did this through a series of group and individual interviews, by creating an exhibition of text and photos and by developing three new theatre productions which they performed as part of their degree course work for a local audience.
“Making Memories Matter”
Making Memories Matter is an inter-cultural project of the European Reminiscence Network involving artists working with individual older people to create ‘Life Portraits’ or ‘Memory Boxes’ around their life experience.
This project has been supported by the European Commission, the Bosch Foundation, the Bridge House Trust and many smaller foundations in the seven participating EU countries.
In the UK, many of the Memory Boxes made have featured the lives of ethnic minority elders. Video: This film shows the process and some of the products.
“Mapping Memories”: Reminiscence with ethnic minority elders
This recent publication features the lives of ethnic minority elders from India, Africa, the Caribbean and China. They retrace their lives in their own words from earliest memories through schooldays, marriage, coming to Britain right up to their present day experience of growing old far from ‘home’. [Image: Mapping Memories book cover]
Alex Kalache, Chief of Ageing at the World Health Organisation, Geneva, said of Mapping Memories:
“It opens a window on to the lives of ethnic minority elders in Britain…. reminding us what a rich and under-used asset Britain has with this cultural patchwork. It highlights the importance of developing an understanding of the forces which have created and continue to create such a mix, especially for the younger generations of our ethnically mixed societies.”
This book includes two specially commissioned films featuring ethnic elders speaking about and performing their past and present life experience. It also has suggestions attached to each chapter for practical work with groups of older people and with inter-generational groups.