Collaborative Preservation of Working-Class Histories: Migration, Food, and Cultural Heritage in the FWWCP Collection (Part 3) By Jessica Pauszek and Vincent Portillo

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Guest bloggers Dr Jessica Pauszek and Syracuse University Fellow Vincent Portillo describe their recent visit, along with their summer school students from the Syracuse University’s Studies Abroad Programme, which took place over a month between May and June 2018. This is the third in a short series written about their visit and the work they have been doing on the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. 

In our first two blogs (here and here) about building the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers (FWWCP) Collection at the TUC Library, we talked about themes of mental health, gender, and sexuality as working-class concerns. Here, we are going to talk about the material concerns of migration as evinced by FWWCP working-class writers, specifically focusing on the roles food and language play in these stories.

Throughout its 40+ year span, the FWWCP sponsored working-class writing groups in multiple areas of London where it originated in 1976. During this time, the FWWCP also gained global membership. Writing groups were forming, for example, in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa, and the United States. As people moved between countries, the FWWCP became an outlet for immigrant writers to share their stories, representing writing across national, cultural, and linguistic borders.

Still, the greatest concentration of FWWCP groups remained in England. Sometimes, immigrants started their own writing groups; other times, they joined already existing groups. Regardless, through their subjectivity as immigrants, they shifted the focus of working-class writing. Rather than solely addressing the concerns of the dominant White, Protestant, English citizen, the FWWCP became a space for the disenfranchised of numerous nationalities, ethnicities, and languages to speak out and have their stories heard.Some groups such as the Ethnic Communities Oral History Project focused on immigrant histories through oral histories and interviews. Other groups such as Centerprise, Commonword, Peckham Publishing Project, and Pecket Well College integrated migration stories alongside other topics such as education or gendered identity. Within these writing/publishing groups, the narratives range from Bengali, Caribbean, Polish, Irish, Iranian, Greek-Cypriot, Welsh voices and more. Interestingly, writers did not only express their own concerns related to migration — the exile and nostalgia felt from leaving their homeland, family, and friends — but they also discussed absences that play out in daily life. For example, it wasn’t always easy finding ingredients, or even the utensils to cook food from the home country.

One graduate student, Gabriela Arguindegui, was interested in the representation of food and migration in the FWWCP collection. She noted, “Reading about how food and culture reinforce identity helped me to better understand the plight of some of these groups and the importance of these recipes to their lives.” In fact, through cookbooks published within the FWWCP, Gabriela saw how writing about food and cooking not only provided a chance to showcase  “the eloquence [of] those who are otherwise marginalized or ignored in society” but also represented a space to share expertise and cultural knowledge.

Often times, this knowledge was conveyed through bilingual texts — Urdu and English; Polish and English; Creole and English; Arabic and English — representing an important sense of rhetorical agency in writing and publishing, which allowed members of these groups to maintain connections to culture and linguistic heritage, while creating a sense of community in their new space. Brittney West, an undergraduate student researching migration in the FWWCP Collection, described the resiliency and hope that she witnessed in “these raw, honest, unapologetic narratives.” She states: “Working with immigrant stories preserved in the FWWCP Collection cemented the idea that writing is more than just a creative outlet. It’s something that commemorates, listens, speaks, and remembers. It’s what some people need to survive change. Writing is a way to remember who you are, where you came from, and who you may want to be.”

The FWWCP Collection contains numerous publications — life histories, memoir, poetry, oral history, fiction, and interviews — that explore food and migration in both English and bilingual publications. You can learn more by visiting the TUC Library. The FWWCP/FED is also on Instagram (fwwcp_collection) and at http://fwwcp.gn.apc.org.

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