Migration Tales: Freedom Not Fate
Renu Kenworthy - who I know more familiarly by the nickname Tina - is one of my closest friend's mother. While I was studying Geography for A-Level, I interviewed her for a research project based around the obstacles associated with migration. I was interested in the personal justifications that motivated people like her to come to Leicester: a city that prides itself as being one of the most multicultural in the UK.
My own mother is a migrant from Taiwan, so I can appreciate a taste of some of the hardships that must be faced when traversing the boundaries of culture and ethnicity. The pursuit of a solid sense of identity and community is one that often lasts a lifetime, often travelling through generations of migrant families.
Tina moved to Leicester, UK from a town in Punjab, India in 1993 to avoid her seemingly predisposed fate of becoming a housewife; as a young woman in her early twenties, she had her own ideas about her future that didn’t quite align with those of her parents. She felt England would hold more opportunities for working women like herself - she could determine her own future and be entitled to a sense of freedom most of us take for granted. Tina’s decision to migrate, however, was far from easy - particularly as she was bound down by a marriage arranged by her parents.
She spoke to me about the discrepancy between her expectations of living here and its reality - jarring for someone on the pursuit of a better, more fulfilling life. It takes immense courage to plunge into such unknown circumstances and - despite living in such a multicultural, multi-ethnic city such as Leicester - I reckon we could all empathise more for the long and often painstaking journeys taken by our migrant neighbours.
"At the end of the day, the way things are there, they don’t see you. Your priorities are house and kids. Career comes third. Career probably doesn’t even come. But here, you are running your own life so you can achieve anything. You can be a single mum , you can be an independent woman and you can achieve what you want to achieve.”
“England was nothing like a dream country, but there was no other option for me. I thought, “I’m going to have a holiday, I’m going to have a nice job, career and study”. But that didn’t happen. When I was sitting in the hosiery factory from 5am to 10pm, I was thinking “What am I here for? I never wanted to do this”. But then slowly I had to make the decision to make a change in my life. I started to go to college, to English-learning courses and ESL classes. My kids really helped me to learn the language and I took every small opportunity to learn something.
“When I didn’t know the language, it felt like I was in prison. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t go out. When I did, people looked at me and thought “Who the hell are you? You come to my country and don’t know the language so go home”. But they didn’t know my circumstances. I was trying my best.”
Tina has raised three strong boys almost exclusively with her own hands - whilst simultaneously completing a degree and working tirelessly to fund it all. In my eyes, she is the epitome of success after all that she has been through to get where she is today.
She currently works as a carer for elderly people (as if her story isn’t already impressive enough) and in 2017 I had the pleasure of photographing her wedding with Andrew, who she met a few years ago. She’s an impressive woman and I wish her all the best for all that is to come.
“If I was in India, I would have probably graduated, married, had kids and that’s it - be a housewife. But I always wanted to be a working woman.
"I came here when I was 20 so I’ve lived here for longer than I lived in India. India is my birthplace but this is my boys’ birthplace. This is my home now. We worked so hard to be where we are. “
— RENU TINA KENWORTHY