How has this city shaped you?
Women’s Words Manchester wants to know how the physical act of either living, working and/or growing in Manchester has shaped the woman you are today. If you are 16 years or older, this is your platform. Join our conversation and add your voice to our archive.
To help you tell your tale, I’ll share bits of my own. Hopefully, realising how simple the process is, you, too, will feel comfortable in writing your life-journey down and making it a part of our archive.
I was born in Sri Lanka and only moved to Manchester in August 2005. I moved here because the man I’d met in Poland, lived here. What was he doing in the tiny city of Koszalin, well that’s another tale. But my lovely English husband was on a 10-day holiday in the same place where I was discovering who I was while teaching English. And the rest, as they say, is the story of kismet, karma and the alignment of the stars.
Coming to Manchester was on the one hand really easy. Sri Lanka had been the former British colony known as Ceylon, and given my family background, I had a strong sense of home-coming. I’d always read, and England was the landscape of my imagination. It felt very much like I was living the post-colonial story of returning to the mother-country. The language was my own, the people looked like me, and since our home is in Levenshulme, its multi-cultural vibe is very, very alluring, comforting and welcoming.
But, coming to Manchester was hard, too. No matter how easily I adapted to the culture, I didn’t know many people. I’m a warm, chatty person by nature. Not knowing my neighbours was really difficult. But, I was lucky. Soon, I was working at the University of Manchester, and then, a little after a year I was a student again, reading for my Master’s degree. That changed my life.
Being a student at Manchester helped me meet loads and loads of people. More, it made me confident and able to start growing more as a human-being. Once I finished my MA, a friend who I’d met at university [who also lived in Levy] helped me co-found the Levenshulme Library Reading Group.
That was a second key event in my life as a Mancunian. I met local Levy residents who were passionate about books and reading, like me. I got to know the librarians, and the central hub of my neighbourhood became a familiar place to me. The act of going around local businesses, putting up posters to promote our reading group, allowed me to talk to more residents. I got to know more people.
By the time 2015 rolled around, I’d completed my PhD, had experience working in the community sector and had figured out that what truly motivated me was working with women.
When a conversation on social media arose about setting up a Women’s Institute in Levenshulme, I felt confident enough to put myself forward to join the formation committee. I’m so glad I did. I got to know even more local women. Now I’m our WI’s President. I know at least 54 women (our current number of members) from my neighbourhood. I feel like I’m a part of my community. By giving back through volunteering, I’ve gained even more. For a migrant, home is a nebulous concept. Salman Rushdie famously talks about straddling two stools, being uncomfortably perched on each bum-cheek. And yes, there is a bit of me that will always be Sri Lankan, just as there will always be a part of me that’s Polish. But there’s another bit of me that’s also very, very proud to be British and Mancunian. Identity and home are what you make of them. The trick is to marry all the disparate parts and because of Manchester’s rich, multi-layered identity this is truly possible.
So much of the hate rhetoric is directed at people who appear to be outsiders. There’s no easy answer, either for the migrants or the locals, but I can tell you that being involved in your community helps. I’m not just a migrant, I’m one of the women of my community. I’m not a stranger, even though I’ve only lived in Manchester for 12 years. This is my city. This is my home. And each time I volunteer to sell cakes at our WI stall, or participate in the local jumble trail, I talk to other local residents. They know me and I know them and that’s really important if we want true social integration.
So, how has this city shaped me? It is this city that has allowed me to stretch my wings and complete my education. It is this city that has shaped my passion towards education, integration, community and transformation. It is this city that has given me the confidence to speak my piece and raise my voice!
What does it mean to be a Mancunian?
This is the city of the Suffragettes and Peterloo. We don’t take things like injustice, inequality or bigotry sitting down.
Do you have a story like mine to share? I’m sure you do, because we all do. If you’ve only recently moved to Manchester, do tell us why you’re here. Perhaps you’d like to tell us how becoming a Manc has been for you?
Did you come here to study? That’s how my husband became a Mancunian.
And if you’re a Manc, born and raised, tell us that, too. We really want to capture the essence of this fabulous city with all of its diversity and richness.
Whatever your story, share it with us. You can find out more about me at go.tasneemperry.com