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When asked where we come from, our first thought is usually of what we consider to be home. Home is a place of safety and security for us and our family. It's a place where we belong, where we can be ourselves, and a space that nurtures. Home extends from the house you live in, to your family, neighbourhood, out to the town and country you're from.

Woman on a stepladder painting railings.
Woman painting railings, London by John Gay 1960s © Historic England FF003457

Home comforts

They say that home is where the heart is. Many black and Asian people migrating to England had to leave that home (and often their heart) behind to make a new one here.

Certain parts of England like London easily lend themselves to becoming home for many different and changing migrant communities. Other places may not have been so easy to settle into, but have, over time, built up strong and well established communities of black and Asian people.

To feel at home, particularly when away from it, we tend to surround ourselves with home comforts. Black and Asian people therefore brought with them things like food and drink, textiles, household goods, beauty products and art and music. Shops and markets appeared that offered these items to homesick customers.

Black and white photo of two black women shopping at Petticoat Lane Market. Photo taken from behind the stall and framed by some of the fabrics hanging on display,1946-59
Women shopping at Petticoat Lane Market, Whitechapel by John Gay, 1946-59 © Historic England AA054040

Adapting buildings

Certain communities such as in the example of the Bangladeshi community in Nelson in Lancashire, bought and adapted buildings so that they could house the larger family units they were used to living in in their country of origin. Others have focused more on interior design: the most 'quintessentially English' or ordinary houses can contain microcosms of other countries and cultures as highlighted by the photo project, 'The Front Room: Migrant Aesthetics in the Home', by the writer Michael McMillan.

Green painted door adorned with red and green Chinese New Year decoration.
A front door in London adorned for Chinese New Year © Historic England DP060749

Being able to continue to practice daily and weekly rituals from religious worship, playing sports and socialising with friends is an important part of making and maintaining a home. New spaces or existing buildings have often been repurposed by black and Asian communities as places of worship, youth clubs, and sports clubs.

Exterior, Jamia Masjid, First mosque in Bradford, 24 Howard St, Bradford
Jamia Masjid, the first mosque in Bradford, 24 Howard St, Bradford © Historic England DP143430

People of colour living in England often find they are asked the question, "where are you from?" This seemingly innocent question is loaded with different meanings. Today many people of black and Asian heritage, depending on their individual background, might see England as their only home or they may identify with multiple places. But for many there is no simple answer. Whatever the response, these perspectives enrich England's identity.

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